Lower-income areas are set to bear the brunt of Mayor Carlos Gimenez's recommendation to close 22 libraries and ax six fire trucks to fix a budget deficit. Those libraries are disproportionately in poor neighborhoods, and the six fire stations set to lose a truck include Florida City and Goulds -- two of Dade's lowest-income cities -- Fire Chief David Downey tells Riptide.
Gimenez opted for those cutbacks rather than raise property taxes or cut other obligations, such as pension plans. As a former City of Miami fire chief, he's still pulling in a six-figure pension.
"He's trying to keep the department and the county in as solid of a situation as possible," Fernando Figueredo, the director of communications for Miami-Dade County, says of Gimenez's proposed cuts. "Look at cities like Detroit that are going bankrupt."
When a candidate fills out qualifying documents for elected office, he or she must list all sources of income. Gimenez indicated three sources before he became mayor in 2011, which included his $126,810 annual pension from his nine years as fire chief in the City of Miami. That's nearly three times the amount he was paid as county commissioner, and it was his main source of income. (He now makes about $150,000 as mayor, which to be fair to Gimenez, is half what his predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, made in the job; Gimenez pledged to cut the salary by 50 percent after voters recalled Alvarez in 2011.)
In an interview with Riptide, Downey says deciding which fire stations to cut services from wasn't an easy choice.
"It was a very tough decision, because we don't have any extra units, and everything we have is necessary," he says. "In fact, I was hoping to go into this budget adding services, because we still have areas that are underserved in Northeast Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, around Kendall Drive west of the Turnpike, and the Sweetwater area."
In addition to Goulds and Florida City, fire services will also be cut in Eastern Shores, Coconut Palm, Haulover Beach, and North Bay Village to help close a $15 million budget gap in the department.
Any cut reduces countywide response times, regardless of the stations targeted. "There's going to be six less units in our system, so that does translate into other units having to come over from their territories, which leaves those unprotected," Downey says.