Village leaders are looking at changes to two high visibility programs in the 2024 budget — policing and athletics — both the result of the island’s increased population and strains on existing staff.
Village police will be asking for additional levels of overtime to fill gaps created by the higher level of visibility sought by the Village Council. And in the parks and recreation budget, officials will be seeking to hire (or contract) a professional staff to manage the island’s athletic programs.
Alongside those changes will be the big-ticket initiative to combat sea level rise and flooding. The island is planning $250 million on several resiliency projects, with some expected to head out to bid in the coming fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The two new policy thrusts came up at a May 16 strategic meeting arranged by Manager Steve Williamson and all of the island’s department heads. He asked Village Council members to prioritize in advance of the first budget workshop June 28.
“We can’t do everything,” Williamson said. “I want to walk out of here with our priorities set.”
Deputy Police Chief Jason Younes said that traffic safety is the department’s number one goal, citing enforcement of new e-bike and scooter rules, more activity at the beach, and efforts to deter juvenile crime. The Village has shelved, for now, tougher laws on scooters and e-bikes but additional regulation could come via an agreement with Miami-Dade County in the coming year.
“We are being pulled thin, and that is why we are asking for the OT increase,” Younes said. But Council Member Allison McCormick questioned the approach, saying the department should be prepared to explain why overtime was a better solution than simply increasing staff if the demands are expected to be long-lasting.
In the athletics department, Parks and Recreation chief Todd Hofferberth said demands of multiple youth programs had outstripped the ability of the staff to manage them optimally. The department will be working to replace playing fields at MAST Academy while it works on a longer-term project to create playing fields on Virginia Key with the City of Miami, but those sites are years away.
The budget balancing also will have to account for the outcome of ongoing labor talks with the Village’s unions. Workers have proposed a set of wage increases to match inflation, including doing away with a salary cap for the first year of a new collective bargaining agreement. The Village has yet to present its first wage offer, but Williamson said last week he wants to quicken the pace of talks.
One potential thorny non-economic area will be changes to the island’s zoning code. After a bruising fight to win passage of the 2040 Strategic Vision Plan, Mayor Joe Rasco questioned a proposal from the administration to start looking at zoning changes to the island’s commercial corridor.
“Based on what we just went through, why would we do this?” Rasco skeptically asked. But Council Members Frank Caplan and Brett Moss said that public unease over development is precisely why the Council should fix loopholes in the zoning code now.
“They are going to continue to build what we don’t want,” said Moss. “We need to do this,” echoed Caplan, who said the faults that allowed unpopular designs to move forward have created an opportunity for action.
Perhaps the tensest discussion came over the degree of project analysis Moss sought for elements of the resiliency projects. Although the council has voted to hire the Black and Veatch firm to essentially coordinate and run the overlapping drainage and undergrounding projects, it has yet to approve the firm’s first $1.3 million work order, clearly irritating Williamson and the Village’s chief resilience officer, Roland Samimy.
“We have to get going,” Williamson said at a council meeting earlier this month. “We should have started this a year and a half ago.”
At the strategic session, Moss spoke about his desire for deeper analysis and metrics of the program management costs.
“We would need a team of analysts to do that,” responded Williamson. “We can measure all we want. I choose to get things done.”
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.