Miami uncovers surplus possibly worth up to $45M
MIAMI (WSVN) -- City of Miami finance officials have discovered an unexpected surplus worth into the millions of dollars, but rather than a financial relief, it could cause a headache for politicians and union leaders.
The tens of millions of dollars discovered should be cause for celebration for a city that year after year has found itself with budget deficits. Instead, it all adds up to a big mess that pits city administrators against city commissioners against city employee union members.
During a commission meeting on Thursday, Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones questioned Miami Budget Director Danny Alfonso after first being alerted about financial urgency and then receiving news of the surplus. "Never, not one time did the discussion come up. It was, 'Commissioner, if we don't make this decision, the city will be ruins,'" she said.
Alfonso said the windfall came out of the blue, and his department has yet to determine the exact amount of the newfound surplus. "The number in the end will more likely be somewhere around $37 million," he said. "It could be 35, it could be 40, it could be 33. We just don't know. I'm very comfortable saying that it is definitely gonna be more than $30."
Though news of millions of extra dollars seems positive, city employees who took benefit cuts, salary cuts and more under "financial urgency" are now upset because the city budget director admitted that he knew that the city would have a surplus as far back as August, when the city began negotiations with the union.
Unions made their concessions as city administrators kept the information to themselves. Now the unions have to fight to get their benefits back. That could include rolling back pay cuts or even getting new uniforms.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said this is all about the city being conservative. "The budget department was very conservative in their projections," he said. "We didn't want to project a windfall, but it turned out that the State of Florida, the FPL franchise, FEMA, they all chipped in money, and the surplus grew. After Thanksgiving, the manager will be talking to the unions to see what can we do with some of that money."
Fraternal Order of Police President Armando Aguilar said this conservatism has already cost city employees. "I mean they tripped us up," he said. "Most of our benefits, once again this year, about $11 million to $13 million in concessions, and we had to do what we had to do because the end result would have been the commission would have just taken it because of the financial urgency law."
About $12 million of the money in surplus is coming from the state, distributed to local governments. The City of Miami claims it never expected to receive as much money as it did, noting that in years past, they never received money from the state. Another $16.5 million came from reserves for emergencies that was never used for the year.
A pending audit is expected to reveal exactly how many millions of dollars the city will have to work with. The mayor has said he plans to talk to the city manager to get some of that money to the unions, but more than likely it will all end up in a reserve fund.
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