Newly appointed City Manager Gary King amended the city's proposed budget last Friday, catching both council and city employees unaware.
Mr. King slashed $6.2 million from the previously submitted - and largely uncriticized - $138 million operating budget by tendering unspecified payroll cuts equating to 6.7 percent across the board. This would allow the city to retain reserve funds rolled over from money saved this budget year that was proposed to supplement the budget for next.
If the savings are realized, the $6.2 million could simply roll over again to 2012 in case revenues from property taxes continue to drop. If not, well, Mr. King would have the option of coming back to council with a budget amendment some time next year, tapping those reserves.
Count us among those who are in favor of saving money.
Count us among those who are in favor of cutting costs.
But count us, too, among those who are confused as we're not sure how, exactly, either of these things are going to occur under Mr. King's proposal that was tentatively approved Tuesday night at a decidedly raucous public hearing that ended in a 5-3 vote split along "party lines."
Mr. King assured both board critics and crowd-mostly city employees crying foul-that he is not proposing layoffs.
But he declined to provide details as to how, then, the savings would be realized, citing pending contract negotiations with the city's labor unions.
Details-some anyway-are needed as it's impossible to substantively cut payroll without cutting people or wages and benefits, something the city may find impossible to do unilaterally.
And it's the public - those of us who own property and so pay the freight - who will share any impact with city workers.
Understand, Mr. King's budget plan does not call for cutting the tax rate but instead addresses the issue of whether the "reserve" money saved from this year's budget should help fund spending for next year or whether it should be banked.
Either way, we pay.
So tell us if we are looking at service cuts as payroll is slashed more than half a million dollars per month, whether service levels will remain the same, or if we will pay the same for less next year.
With some specificity, please.
Convince us the plan is doable, that it's not groundwork for some substantive layoffs; mere political pandering; or a pre-emptive strike on the unions which, yes, should be asked to make concessions, but at the bargaining table, not from the dais which, as the city of Miami is already learning, just lands you in litigation.
The public deserves some answers. So do the city's employees.
And so does city council which, in essence, is being asked to buy a pig in a poke.
- Breeze editorial