Miami-Dade Mayor: No Police Layoffs

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday he will no longer seek to eliminate 110 police officer positions in his proposed budget, after finding yet another wave of new revenue.

The mayor’s announcement at an afternoon news conference appears to remove the most contentious element of his proposed budget. Several county commissioners insisted earlier this week they would not endorse police cuts. Commissioners must approve the budget before Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins.

Miami-Dade’s police department still faces staffing cuts in its civilian ranks, with 34 “non-sworn” jobs slated to be eliminated in Gimenez’s latest budget draft. But administration officials said some of those jobs will be saved thanks to a new labor deal Gimenez also announced Thursday with the largest county union.

“I never wanted a single police officer to lose their job,” Gimenez said.

Though the police union has yet to have official labor talks with Gimenez, the mayor so far has directed almost all of his new found revenue to saving police jobs. Gimenez had proposed about 300 non-police layoffs throughout the county bureaucracy, with the proviso that unions could “buy back” positions if they agreed to new labor agreements with savings for the county. A string of preliminary union deals Gimenez announced this week would rescue an unspecified number of jobs, the mayor said, provided they’re endorsed by union members and county commissioners.

While other unions are negotiating in part to avoid layoffs, the county Police Benevolent Association now faces no job cuts for its members. Gimenez said Thursday he could save the police jobs with about $9 million in new savings comes from selling county-rescue helicopters and switching to leased arrangements, and from recent news that the Jackson Health System would leave the county’s healthcare fund and create its own insurance program.

The $6 billion budget Gimenez proposed in July contained flat rates for the property taxes that fund the bulk of Miami-Dade’s government payroll. Rising labor costs and other expenses created a revenue squeeze that Gimenez proposed closing with service cuts, higher transit fees and countywide layoffs and elimination of vacant positions. At a budget town hall meeting at the West Dade county library, Gimenez told the standing-room-only audience: “I could have taken the easy way out and raised taxes.”

Thursday’s retraction of the police job-cut proposal comes two days after the police union helped Daniella Levine Cava win a rare upset of a sitting commissioner, Lynda Bell, who was the most vocal supporter of Gimenez’s initial demand for widespread pay concessions from all county unions. Gimenez dropped that demand several weeks ago, shifting instead to changes in union healthcare plans for budget savings.

John Rivera, president of the county’s police union, offered limited praise of Gimenez’s announcement.

“In politics, there’s no such thing as a coincidence,” Rivera said, referring to Levine Cava’s win. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s doing all these things now to soften his image.”

The mayor’s initial 2014-15 proposed budget had called for the elimination of 228 sworn officer positions, which prompted an outcry even from police brass. About half the targeted positions were investigators or officers assigned to work cases.

The number then went down to 110 two weeks ago, with Gimenez announcing new money from unspent dollars this year, a diversion of about $1.5 million in hotel taxes ear-marked for the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and healthcare savings tied to supervisors and other non-union workers.

Gimenez said he could forgo more reductions if unions agreed to new healthcare plans that would include higher premiums and co-pays for some workers and reduce the county’s overall medical expense by about 15 percent. On Thursday, Gimenez announced the biggest agreement yet in the ongoing negotiations.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 199, which represents some 9,000 general-government workers, including civilian police employees, on Thursday became the fourth union in three days to settle with county government, which is required to renegotiate collective-bargaining contracts every three years.

“We got a deal,” said Andy Madtes, the union’s administrator.

Madtes had been the first union leader to sit down with Gimenez’s negotiators to try to hash out a settlement. The relationship between the administration and labor had eroded over the past couple of years, with Gimenez continuing to push for benefit concessions from workers instead of service cuts, layoffs or a higher property-tax rate.

This week’s agreements marked what unions say is a shift in attitude from Gimenez. His administration has agreed to give workers a cost-of-living increase in 2017 if property values increase more than projected.

In AFSCME Local 199’s case, the county also agreed that, in addition to those increases, the union’s members would see a restoration in 2017 of the 1 percent salary cut they agreed to three years ago to help Miami-Dade during the bad economy. That restoration would also be contingent on better-than-projected tax rolls in 2015 and 2016.

Under the deal, the county will in turn redesign its employee health insurance to offer a limited physician-network plan and increase premiums for existing plans.

By getting AFSCME Local 199 to agree to the new coverage along with the three other unions that settled this week, about 15,000 of the county’s 25,000 workforce will be covered by the retooled insurance option — potentially saving Miami-Dade $15 million a year.

Gimenez’s administration is hoping to save up to $50 million in the $4.5 billion operating budget for 2014-15 if the remaining five collective-bargaining units that have not reached agreements also accept the healthcare changes. With union savings, Gimenez said Thursday he wants the extra revenue to go to reversing recent cuts in how often the county mows the grass in Miami-Dade parks and roadways, undo planned cuts to the 311 call-in answer center, and avoid lay-offs for “priority” positions throughout the government.

While the recent union deals could put pressure on the other units to negotiate, those units have their own specific pending grievances or contract sticking points that would first need to be sorted out. Some unions — such as the police — have two bargaining units.

The unions to have already settled are AFSCME Local 3292, which represents solid-waste workers; AFSCME Local 1542, which represents aviation employees, and Government Supervisors Association of Florida OPEIU Local 100, which represents supervisors and professionals.

“I know that working together, we can all find innovative ways to responsibly manage Miami-Dade County’s future employee costs while remaining committed to ensuring that our government is more efficient in its use of hard earned taxpayer dollars,” Gimenez said in a statement.

From The Miami Herald

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