Reporting Lauren Pastrana
MIAMI (CBS4) – More than 140 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue employees could lose their jobs under the proposed budget after the mayor’s sudden about-face on the property tax rate.
Rather than raise the millage rate as initially proposed, Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez instead decided keeping it flat was the better option, at the expense of county services and jobs.
“This really just the beginning of the fight on this issues,” said Rowan Taylor, President of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403.
Taylor tried to convince commissioners Tuesday that leaving the millage rate as it stands would spark layoffs within a department already operating with a shortage of about 100 firefighters.
Taylor said he spoke with the mayor last week and had no idea of his change of heart.
Gimenez, after hearing from concerned residents, opted to keep the property tax rate as-is.
“I’m unapologetic for listening to the wishes of the people of Miami-Dade County,” the mayor said.
In an 8 to 4 vote, commissioners essentially signed pink slips for 40 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue recruits currently in the middle of their training.
“This is the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever seen our government do,” Taylor said.
More than half of the recruits are veterans.
They have more than 50 children among them and 5 more on the way, according to one recruit.
Many have sacrificed time with their families to pursue a career with the department.
“This doesn’t end here with us,” recruit Carlos Alvear said. “This sacrifice will not only affect us, it will affect every citizen in Miami-DadeCounty.”
Alvear is a Marine Corps veteran, a husband and father of two boys.
“It was just a few days ago that I was reassuring my sons… that this sacrifice that I was making, this sacrifice of time with them, with my wife, with my family was for the better,” he said.
His fellow recruit, Karen Rios, also has two kids.
She didn’t tell them about the possibility she might not have a job because she didn’t want to worry them.
Rios gave up a position with another fire department, including a pension and seniority, for a chance at her dream job.
“Everybody leaves those places for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue because this is where we want to work,” Rios told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana. “For us, it was quite a hit today.”
In all, 149 fire rescue workers could be laid off and 6 fire rescue units could be eliminated.
“To see lives used as political pawns where you can have seconds that matter taken away from you, it hurts,” firefighter John O’Brien said.
Union President Taylor said the job cuts can be avoided, if the commission considers other options.
“We’ve identified almost $12 million that the county can use to fund the department,” Taylor said. “Reach out to the mayor. Reach out to commissioners. Ask them to properly fund the department.”
Under the proposed plan, 22 libraries would be shut down and more than 200 library employees would be laid off.
Before the final budget is approved, two public hearings are scheduled for September.