Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez stunned the packed room July 15 when he announced his budget and the recommended cuts to offset a more than $400 million deficit.
I responded to an invitation and presented myself to the 29th floor of the county building only to find that only journalists were allowed. The invitations were sent to inform, not to invite, Leroy Jones (from Neighbors and Neighbors Association) and I were told.
A young, intelligent man came out. He went back inside upon Leroy Jones’ sage request to let the mayor know that we were outside. He came back to let us in.
Once inside and with the conference started, I understood the rationale of the “journalists-only crowd.” Can you imagine a latriye (Creole for group) of community-based organization directors at a forum like this? Mon Dieu! (My God!)
Mayor Alvarez apologized. He said he wished he were the bearer of better news. But the reality is otherwise.
Alvarez proposed that funding to community-based organizations, libraries, parks, the elderly and cultural centers be terminated.
Commissioners’ discretionary funds and all mom-and-pop programs will suffer the aforementioned fate. All employees will suffer a 5-percent cut. Future positions and retirement benefits will be frozen, until, eternity?
The press conference was presented in its entirety in English and Spanish. Pas de Creole! (No Creole.) Once again, we were forgotten. This was extraordinary for the second-largest immigrant group in the county.
The mayor’s job was to deliver a proposed budget. Difficile, Oui. (Difficult, indeed). But his job ended where the commissioners’ job started.
Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Dennis Moss said it well: “The mayor has done his job, now it is our turn. This is going to be the most painful budget process that we’ve had to go through.”
He asked that the information be transmitted also in Creole (Merci!) and urged the public patience in these difficult times. It is going to be painful indeed! The Tuesday, July 21 commission meeting was a prelude. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered hours before the commission meeting to voice their opinions.
The largest group represented the fire department. A little boy still shaky on his feet came to support his daddy. He proudly wore a T-shirt that read, “Don’t cut my daddy’s salary.”
Others were incensed about the fate of the elders. A dear friend of mine who wished to remain anonymous said, “A community that takes food out of the mouth of the frail elderly is bound to failure.
They should be ashamed of themselves. They are not fit to lead.’’
The dilemma is to raise or not to raise taxes. In order to keep services intact, the millage rate must be increased. But many commissioners refused to make the decision for a tax hike, fearing a backlash from voters.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas announced last Tuesday, “There is one thing that I will not do today: Vote for a tax increase.’’
She said she does not believe that the voters should be burdened with more problems in these harsh economic times.
Chairman Moss quipped, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die! The way I see it, the mayor’s proposed budget is an equal-opportunity disappointer!”
Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, forever the jester, joked, “We cannot look at this budget through the eyes of Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles. We need to look at the size of the budget being cut! We need to restore some of the services that are being cut. If we don’t approve a millage that puts food in the mouths of our seniors, I’ll be one to come to the county manager later and say, ‘We have a problem, we need to feed the seniors today.’’’
But last week, no clear vote came out. The difficult question was left to the property appraiser. Some lauded the decision, others were dismayed by the polarization and lack of leadership. Explaining her indecision, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson reflected, “No one wants services cut, no one wants a tax increase. No matter which way we go, we’re going to be criticized.”
The commissioners looked at the budget with a “magnifying glass” as advised by Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, but found no inspiration.
Meanwhile, agencies that serve the needy and disenfranchised are left to fry in their own juices. All they can do is wait and worry for those less fortunate.
Tomorrow has never looked so uncertain!
Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.