(Special to South Florida Times)- MIAMI GARDENS — Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez took his get-tough budget proposals to a skeptical audience in the state’s largest predominantly black city and heard concerns about African Americans being laid off and fears over public safety. Corrections worker Theophilus Williams said at the Aug. 11 meeting that in recent years he has seen “the same people, who look like us, go out the door.”
“It’s been going on for a while,” Williams said. “The truth is the truth. If you are looking at cutting the budget, look at the employees that are being walked out of the door today. As the mayor, come and talk to the employees and ask what’s wrong.”
Gimenez said he planned to visit all county work sites, speak with employees and organize committees. “We’ll get the feedback in order to make things better,” he said.
“Ninety-five percent of the problems are usually with management.”
Gimenez’s proposals call for eliminating 1,300 county jobs, among them 500 that are vacant. “Unfortunately, 800 employees may well have to be laid off,” he said. “We are looking for ways to reduce that. We do have vacant positions that some can slide into but, at the end of the day, some employees may in fact be laid off.”
Paris Landers asked the mayor whether the proposed layoffs would affect the crime rate and police service. “Everyday there is something else going on,” he said.
The cutbacks, Gimenez said, would not affect those at the street level. “The patrol officers will still be around. With the fire department, all the units will still be in service, all stations will be open. Corrections — we didn’t touch them. We need them.”
Esparanza Reynolds asked Gimenez to explain the pay of five senior administrators the mayor recently hired despite the county’s being in a big budget hole and unemployment rate the highest in the state.
The proposed county budget for $6.114 billion budget shows a $409 million gap.
Gimenez said the new hires “will be my assistants, deputy mayors. They used to be called assistant county managers. We need good people, top-quality people to turn this place around.”
Each will be paid $200,000 a year, which, Gimenez said, was not out of line with “what you pay for top-notch people.”
Gimenez told the gathering at the Miami Gardens City Hall, 1515 NW 167th St., that he plans to make county government “leaner, more streamlined,” with fewer directors and a smaller bureaucracy.
“What I want is less chiefs and more Indians, more people back on the street to provide services at the ground level,” he said.
The mayor said whatever actions are taken to fill the budget hole, he is not proposing any increase in the property tax rate.
“It’s important that the citizens understand that the tax rate will not go up next year and we will not be asking for a tax increase and that the employees understand that things will be tough and we’ll need to tighten our belts,” he said. “Once we do that, we won’t come back next year asking them to tighten their belts one more time.”
Gimenez won election to the top government office after voters ousted Carlos Alvarez in a recall election. The new mayor won praise for his appearance at the Miami Gardens City Hall.
“This is an important moment,” Miami Gardens Councilman André L. Williams said. “Gimenez is hands-on, and right now that’s extremely important to the community. In fact, a Miami-Dade County mayor has never even stepped foot in our city hall.”
The meeting was one in a series Gimenez is holding across the county to explain the budget proposals to residents. Upcoming sessions will be from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at Hialeah High School, 251 East 47th St., Hialeah; Wednesday, Aug. 24, at William F. "Bill" Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Ave., Homestead; and Monday, Aug. 29, at Doral Middle School, 5005 NW 112th Ave., Doral.
For more information, call the mayor’s office at 305-375-5071.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@Bellsouth.net
Photo: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez