MIAMI — Even Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson was surprised at the turnout for her first public meeting on Miami-Dade’s 2009-2010 proposed budget.
About 70 people, some bearing signs and wearing T-shirts proclaiming support for programs endangered by the plan, crowded the meeting room Aug. 18 at the American Legion Park on Northeast Seventh Avenue in Miami.
“I purposely set up three meetings to have an intimate discussion with my constituents,” Edmonson told the group, “but I wasn’t expecting such a large response. I’m glad to see it.”
Edmonson also held two other meetings, on Aug. 19 at the DeHostos-Wynwood Community Center and Aug. 20 at the Joseph Caleb Center in Miami.
With the county facing a $427 million shortfall, the budget proposal reduces or eliminates funding for senior meals, after-school programs, health services and homeless shelters, and could cut 1,700 jobs. The audience was vocal and unanimous in opposition.
Wearing a green shirt emblazoned with the group’s shamrock logo, Katrina Gaura, 19, pleaded at the Aug. 18 meeting for 4-H, which turned 100 in Florida this year.
4-H is the youth education component of the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership between the federal, state and local county government, according to the organization’s website.
“It’s because of 4-H that I’m able to stand here and speak in front of a group,” she said. “The program teaches so many good things, and I want my little brother and sister to be able to benefit the way I did.”
Kalyn Chapman James of Arts for Learning, a Miami nonprofit organization for children, asked Edmonson to preserve arts programs that depend on government funds.
Others spoke movingly on behalf of Miami-Dade parks and recreation, the Miami Children’s Museum, Vizcaya, and Farm Share, a food bank that serves the hungry.
Edmonson sought to establish early-on that the proposed budget was Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s plan, not hers.
“I think the proposal is unrealistic,” she told people in the room. “We can’t cut senior meals…Not one of my colleagues will look a senior in the face and tell them, ‘Go starve’.”
A partial solution, raising the millage, could generate up to $100 million in extra revenue for the county, but that suggestion was met with mixed reactions from property owners.
“This gross mismanagement is not the people’s fault,” said one man identifying himself as a homeowner. “What did the county do with all those tax dollars when property values were so inflated? No one wants to answer that.”
Another man, who said he’d owned his home for 30 years, said “Longtime homeowners will be most affected because we’ve been the most protected, but we’re losing that protection now.”
Small business owners were also irate. Mariano Cruz, 70, complained bitterly that city inspectors were harassing his colleagues to make up for the shortfall.
“They fine people for nothing, and if you try to fight it, they set you up in a kangaroo court. What is the county doing to find new sources of revenue?”
Edmonson replied that her suggestions would be unveiled at upcoming budget hearings, scheduled for Sept. 3 and 17 at the County Commission chambers, 111 NW First Street. In the meantime, she said, constituents could contact her staff with ideas.
“I will vote the way my constituents tell me to, but I need to know you’ll support me,” Edmonson said. “When you tell me not to vote for [the proposed budget], you must turn around and say ‘Please vote to raise the millage rate’ instead.”
For a copy of the proposed budget, log onto www.miamidade.gov/budget
Photo: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson