Miami projected a $30M budget hole. Now administrators say they found a lot of money.

·4 min read

Miami’s city government projected an almost $30 million budget hole as the fiscal year closed in September, a gap that led commissioners to cut more than 100 public safety jobs, close the municipal mini-dump, shorten hours at a popular public pool and cancel city-sponsored parades and fireworks displays.

Slumping revenues from a COVID-addled economy were to blame for the hit to Miami’s $1 billion budget. Now, the city has found the proverbial $20 in its pocket — in this case, more like $28 million.

Administrators say their previous projections, using data from May, greatly differed from actual revenues, according to an internal budget memo obtained by the Miami Herald on Wednesday. The unexpected revenue lessens the financial blow, which gobbled up a previous surplus, ate into reserves and threatened to force cuts.

“Actual revenue performance was more in line with the original budget and sustained through the economic shutdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially at the end of the fiscal year,” reads the memo. “Overall, revenues performed 3.4%, or $28.2 million, better than projected based on May data.”

The document states that a combination of unexpected franchise fees, taxes, direct revenue to the city for services and one-time settlements pushed the city’s financial position onto stronger footing. Austerity measures across city departments also cut expenses more than anticipated.

The additional cushion allows the city to adhere to its financial regulations that require percentages of revenue to be put away in reserves. With a smaller deficit of about $2.7 million, some controversial cuts are now expected to be restored.

The budget office is recommending the city give employees raises, fund 80 jobs in the police and fire departments and pay for other high-priority projects that would’ve been sidelined.

It is unclear if any other cutbacks, from pool hours to a controversial shakeup in the city’s resilience office, will be immediately reconsidered. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city could revisit some other changes when it reviews the budget in the spring.

“I think everything is on the table. It’s going to be driven by revenues,” he told the Herald. “We’ll probably take a look at it during the mid-year.”

Suarez, along with commissioners and city staff, are expected to formally announce the budget revelation at a press conference Thursday morning.

City of Miami budget update, Nov. 10, 2020 by Joey Flechas on Scribd

On Wednesday, commissioners were relieved the projections were too conservative.

“I’m so glad that now we don’t have to take radical measures that affect people’s lives,” said Commissioner Manolo Reyes.

One commissioner who has previously doubted the budget office’s work remained skeptical. Commissioner Joe Carollo said it would be harder for municipal employees and the public to trust the city’s staff going forward.

“I do not understand or comprehend how we were being told by the budget director that we were so far into the hole, and now we’re not,” Carollo said. “I know we’re called the Magic City, but I just don’t believe that this was magical.”

Part of the angst stemmed from proposed cuts and wage freezes that impacted three large labor unions representing police, fire and general employees. The budget crunch underscored negotiations with Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police, which sparked a squabble among union members this week.

Police union president Tommy Reyes had been struggling through negotiations with the city when he received a call from the city manager this week informing him of new revenue projections.

Reyes had previously been told the city planned to eliminate more than 60 positions if the union couldn’t come up with about $5 million in cuts. On Tuesday, Reyes said discussions with City Hall seemed to come to a halt about two weeks ago and that he hadn’t heard from City Manager Art Noriega in 11 days.

After hearing of the improved budget outlook, Reyes said he believe the city was not as hard up as officials were making it out to be.

“We kind of predicted this,” he said.

Saying it was a win for everyone — police, city officials and residents — Reyes criticized the city for a lack of planning and said these numbers should have been available several months ago. In an already difficult atmosphere, he said, officers were stressed by the city’s demands.

“It takes a toll on someone’s health,” he said. “There’s a stress level. It would have saved us a lot of heartache.”