Miami Herald: Broward officials brace for `dramatic’ service cuts

May 20, 2010

The Miami Herald published the following on May 20, 2010:



A budgetary armageddon is in store for Broward County as property values — and the county government’s revenues — continue to plummet. Commissioners tried to assess the pain Tuesday.


More than $100 million must be cut from Broward County’s budget to avoid a property tax rate increase, and county officials are warning of a “dramatic reduction in services.”

Last year’s budget cuts are still chafing Broward residents, who complained about the shorter library hours and twice-weekly park closures, but county officials said the cuts will get even tougher this time around.

“I feel like the prophet of doom,” county budget official Kayla Olsen told commissioners at a budget workshop meeting Tuesday. “The outlook is not positive.”

When property values plunge, the county’s income plunges as well. Commissioners said they did not want to make up for the lower values by increasing tax rates. Given that, the budget cuts will be in the tens of millions of dollars, about half of that to be borne by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, officials said Tuesday.

Commissioners will meet June 22 for another discussion of the budget, and that’s when specific cuts that will create the “dramatic reduction” will be made public, Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry said after the workshop.

The county budget, about $1 billion, must be approved in September for the 2010-11 spending year.

Henry offered no specific cuts Tuesday, saying her choices were all difficult and she was giving herself a few weeks to decide what to recommend. But she said county employee layoffs, furloughs, further cuts to parks and libraries and other government services were all under consideration.

Commissioner Lois Wexler said it “troubles me greatly” that Henry will wait a month to reveal the painful cuts.

“It’s a terrible situation out there,” she said, citing employees’ worries about whether they will “be employed next year or not.”

Henry said she would meet with commissioners individually, in private, for 1 ½-hour sessions, to see what cuts they could stomach so she can formulate a spending proposal.

“This has been the most gut-wrenching, heart-wrenching exercise,” Henry said. “The low-hanging fruit, they’re gone. We are talking about major impacts on our services. Everyone understands this has been a very difficult economy we’re dealing with, but at the same time we know there are real-world consequences to get this budget in line.”

The county’s three constitutional officers — the sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor — were told to cut about 14 percent from their budgets. None of them has done so.

Property Appraiser Lori Parrish will submit her budget on June 1.

Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has already submitted hers, proposing three days of unpaid furloughs for employees for the second year in a row. But her proposed budget does not make the requested cuts; in fact, it is 3.5 percent higher than this year’s.

One reason: The office faces a 17.7 percent increase in costs for elections because of the August primary and November election.

Of the county’s general fund, the Broward Sheriff’s Office makes up about half, which is why it has been a big focus for cuts. In this year’s budget, it accounted for $425.8 million out of the total $974.2 million. County officials have told Sheriff Al Lamberti to cut roughly $60 million.

He said it was not possible, and submitted a budget that cuts only 1.1 percent.

The forecast for next year is dismal as well, with property values expected to continue decreasing until the 2014-15 budget year.