Miami commissioners have added $300,000 to the budget of the agency that manages Virginia Key Beach, an expense that supporters say will improve maintenance at historic Black Beach Park and help administrators plan to build a long-awaited museum.
The 3-2 vote was the hottest topic at an hour-long budget hearing on Thursday night that saw commissioners approve a $1.5 billion comprehensive spending plan for city operations, in more smaller budgets for semi-autonomous city agencies such as Virginia Key Trust. The new fiscal year begins on October 1.
The approved budget is approximately $200,000 higher than last year. Commissioners lowered the property tax rate, minimizing the increase in the average homeowner’s tax bill and eliminating just over $7 million in tax revenue, according to a city estimate.
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The Virginia Key Trust came under scrutiny from some trustees who believed the agency was spending too much on salaries. In an earlier budget hearing, commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Díaz de la Portilla cited the findings of an unfinished audit when they criticized the Trust’s management.
On Thursday, Trust Chairman N. Patrick Range II acknowledged that the agency could work on managing payroll expenses, but he dismissed any suggestions that there was serious mismanagement or waste at the Trust. He also noted that the Trust has not yet responded to the audit findings.
Range, grandson of Miami’s first black commissioner, Athalie Range, said the budget increase sought by the Trust allows the agency to hire park staff and an education specialist to develop a program for the untapped Black History Museum.
He also noted that the beach park had no city park department staff on the island, leaving the agency to fend for itself.
“One thing that I think would take half of our payroll off would be if we had the support of the parks department, as the largest park in the city of Miami,” Range said.
“It’s fair,” Díaz de la Portilla said.
The approved increase brings the Trust’s overall spending plan to approximately $1.6 million.
Commission Chair Christine King, the only black commissioner and representative of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, decided to accept the Trust’s funding application and pledged to work with Range and Trust staff to look for ways to reduce expenses while investing in the work that needs to be done to unlock county dollars that are available for building the museum.
“I would like to say it’s a shame, it’s a shame for the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County as a whole that we don’t have a museum that is representative of our African culture,” King said.
King defended the Trust’s demand for more money, arguing that staff are needed to run the park and come up with a plan for the museum – the kind of plan county officials would need before releasing about 20 million dollars in voter-approved bonds for the construction of the museum. .
Carollo said he couldn’t support the budget increase, but wanted to work with Trust leaders to reduce spending. Díaz de la Portilla said he could not vote for a plan where more than half of the budget pays salaries. In a separate pledge, he pledged to dedicate $150,000 from his district fund to building the museum, emphasizing that he wants to see a museum built, not more staff for a trust without the facility.
Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla voted against the budget increase. King and commissioners Ken Russell and Manolo Reyes voted in favour.
The largest budget passed with minimal debate. Activists asked commissioners for a $150,000 boost to the city’s resilience department to fund more positions, but the commission did not add the jobs. Russell said he hoped the Resilience Department, which is a stand-alone task force for the first time in two years, would assess its needs and seek additional funding midway through the budget year if needed. needed.