carlos-gimenez_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS – Library closures, treating the mentally ill and the state of the fire-rescue service took center stage Tuesday when Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez hosted a town hall meeting at the North Dade Regional Library to discuss his proposed $6.3 billion budget for the new fiscal year.

“What are your priorities and what do we cut?” asked Marilyn Lieberman, a self-styled community activist.
Lieberman said she was disgusted at a lack of services for people with mental illness and how, she said, they are continuously prosecuted and jailed.

“You’re either going to spend the money on diversion programs or you’re going to spend the money building more jails and emergency room services. Those are our choices,” she said.

The county voted in 2004 to build a mental health center to help the mentally ill avoid incarceration and get
treatment instead. Consultant Terry Murphy said $21.2 million was voted for the center but the project is being delayed until 2020.

“This is a misuse of funds. This $21 million should be used for the diversion facility. We have a tremendous population in this county that needs help. The money is there and the voters said spend it. It is 2013 and all we’re doing is using the money to build more jail cells and I think it’s a sin,” Murphy said.

Some residents were concerned also about Gimenez’s plan to close some libraries. An earlier announcement said 22 would be shuttered for lack of funding but the number has dropped to 14.  

Attorney Patricia Martinez said her annual library tax was lowered from $100 to $23 over a two-year period.
Linnea Pearson, a Florida International University professor and former teacher of Travon Martin’s brother Jahvaris Fulton, said one of the reasons Trayvon got into trouble was because he was suspended.

“As an educator, one of my concerns is that when a student gets in trouble, he’s just out,” said Pearson, who is fighting to save the California Club library. She proposed that the library remain open and  named the Trayvon Martin Memorial Library, after the Miami Gardens teen who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012.

The county’s fire-rescue department also came under scrutiny. The department is under a series of “brownouts” or service interruptions that shut down fire and rescue trucks to save money.

Rowan Taylor, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403, in a letter to the mayor, proposed that the department’s emergency fund be used to plug the deficit this year but he is not confident it will happen.

To avoid some of these budget shortfalls, Gimenez proposed a tax increase but backed off when he received little support from the public and the county commission.

The proposed budget includes no tax increases, continuation of the Building Better Communities Bond Program and infrastructure development, at least four new classes of police officers, an increase in public transit fare of 25 cents for bus and rail and 50 cents for paratransit services and an increase in  water and sewer rates.