barbara-jordan_commissioner_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

The jobless situation dominated discussions during two meetings convened to discuss the county’s proposed 2010-2011 budget this week.

County Commissioners Barbara Jordan of District 1 and Dorrin Rolle of District 2 convened the meetings, held separately Aug. 28 and Sept. 1 to get input from residents.

Jordan warned during her meeting at the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens that the budget situation looked bleak.

“For the last several years, we have faced very serious budget challenges,” said Jordan. “Even though this budget looks really bleak, you need to ask questions about those things that are important to you.”

Due to lower property values and resulting drop in revenue from property taxes, the draft budget has a $444 million hole. One proposal to help meet the shortfall is to lay off workers, including 193 positions in the Water and Sewer Department and 237 in other departments such as General Services Administration, Finance and the Office of Strategic Business Management.

Resident Thelma Brentwood suggested the county close some offices close one day a week or a few days a month as an alternative plan.

“It would be nice to keep those jobs and remind our citizens that we are our brother’s keeper,” said Brentwood. “We need to save those jobs, save those people the hardship they would be going through if they lose their jobs.”

Jordan said the proposed budget is only a recommendation that commissioners still have to finalize.

“We are going to be spending our time going through every aspect of the budget, so that we can find out where we can possibly find money to save some of those cuts,” said Jordan. “There are things that are important to our people that we can try to recover.”

Rolle hosted his meeting at New Jerusalem Primitive Baptist Church.

“We could’ve had this at a community center but with these cuts as massive as they are, I thought that we might want to control our feelings in the house of God,” Rolle quipped.

The unemployment situation took center stage also at this gathering, along with the possible elimination of the Office of Community and Economic Development.

“We have too many young men walking the streets not working,” said Mack Samuel. “They’re talking about cutting out programs, when that department is designed to help eliminate and alleviate high unemployment and high poverty rates.”

Jordan also expressed concerns over the possible elimination of the OCED, whose services, budget planners are recommending, would move to the Community Action Agency and GSA. That would mean federal dollars the OCED administers would no longer be monitored by the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Institute.

“This is something that I am going to be protesting against,” said Jordan. “Because I feel that we need it for our community to make sure that we are protecting our investment.”

Proposed changes in the Head Start program were also discussed.  The proposed budget suggests two scenarios. In one, the county would continue to operate the program but the number of days students would be served would drop from 175 to 160 days over the school year and 94 employees would be laid off.  In the second scenario, Head Start and Early Head Start would be privatized.

The abolition of the network of Community Councils in last year’s budget also arose. Those councils allowed residents to control certain issues such as zoning in unincorporated areas of the county. Some of them want the councils to be reinstated.

“I think we really need the Community Council to function the way that it was designed to close that gap between unincorporated Dade and the County Commission and to give us some level of access to information, in addition to the zoning hearings,” said Doretha Graham Nichson.

Rolle acknowledged there would be cuts in the budget but said that capital projects such as the Arcola Lake Park Senior Citizens Complex and Library were  set to be completed as scheduled.

Jordan told her gathering tthat residents need to make their voices heard when it came time for a final budget decision.

“There are things that are important to our people that we can try to recover,” said Jordan. “But you need to get your message to your county commissioner to say what is important to you.”

The County Commission will hold hearings on the budget at 5 p.m. Sept.13 and 23 in the Commission Chambers on the second floor of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW First St.

Pictured Above:  County Commissioner Barbara Jordan