Reporting Gary Nelson
South Florida Crime
MIAMI (CBS4) — “I’m definitely not happy,” an irate Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo declared at Thursday’s commission meeting.
He was not alone.
Commissioners were steaming, less than a day after learning that Miami finished the fiscal year with a budget surplus of some $45 million. That’s a figure nearly six times what managers had previously reported.
“It’s extremely important that the city staff are truthful and honest, and to hear this out of the blue!” said an agitated Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones. Spence Jones said she didn’t know if the mis-judged budget surplus was due to incompetence or dishonesty.
“Neither case is acceptable,” she said.
Unions representing city employees said they may bring legal action to undo contracts that were sealed after the city declared a state of “financial urgency” and imposed $40 million in benefit cuts on police officers, firefighters and other employees.
“My opinion is it was a well organized scam,” said Armando Aguilar, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union. “They not only bargained in bad faith, but they flat out lied to us.”
Robert Suarez, President of the firefighters union, said service has suffered from a budget crisis that did not exist.
“We have medical equipment that we have not been able to purchase,” said Suarez, who also said fire trucks and rescue units have been left out of service because the department thought the city didn’t have the money to fix them.
This latest fiscal embarrassment comes even as the city remains under investigation for allegedly misrepresenting its financial condition in selling bonds to finance the Marlins stadium complex and public works projects.
The sudden wealth was disclosed as commissioners were considering issuing $50 million worth of bonds to help pay its obligations in the project digging a tunnel to Port Miami. FOP President Aguilar said, “I think everybody in this room finds this highly suspect.”
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff was disturbed to learn that the Miami Police Department finished the year with a $4 million surplus – left millions on the table in a bullet-riddled town with a department short at least 100 officers.
“The police budget is very troubling,” Sarnoff said. “You don’t want the police department having savings. The only saving you want from the police department is lives and property.”
City Budget Director Danny Alfonso told commissioners he underestimated revenues coming from the state and erred on the “conservative side” in earlier estimating a much smaller budget surplus.
“There was no intent to deceive anybody,” Alfonso said. The budget boss said he would offer his resignation if the city manager asked for it.
Commissioner Carollo suggested a head or heads should roll.
“That’s something we’ll be discussing with the management in the near future,” Carollo said.
Commissioners deferred the decision on the issuance of bonds for the tunnel project until 6pm Monday. They want to be sure they have clear understanding of the city’s financial condition, given the budget surplus surprise they got last night.