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In Spanish-language debate, Julio Robaina brings up Miami fire fee

In the latest debate between the two candidates vying for Miami-Dade's top job, Julio Robaina introduced a new line of attack, blaming Carlos Gimenez for a controversial fire-rescue fee in the city of Miami.

Robaina said Gimenez, as fire chief, helped impose the fee, which the cash-strapped city created in the late 1990s to fill budget holes. The courts eventually declared the fee illegal.

"Commissioner Gimenez, as fire chief you also created a fire tax that later cost millions of dollars to the city of Miami," Robaina said Thursday night on Mega TV's Maria Elvira Live show with host Maria Elvira Salazar.

Not so, Gimenez replied.

"That was approved by the Miami city commission and was put forth by the city manager at the time," he said.

There was little else new in the hour-long, Spanish-language discussion, where the rivals focused once again on the county's looming budget deficit. It was the third debate in as many days for the two candidates, who will face off in a runoff on June 28.

Salazar questioned Robaina's commitment to protecting the salaries of Miami-Dade employees who make up to $80,000 a year.

"The vast majority of the 29,000 employees in Miami-Dade County don't make that much," Salazar said.

Robaina said reorganizing the county and targeting employees on the high-end of the pay spectrum -- he specifically cited Miami-Dade's legal department -- would be enough to close the county's $400 billion budget hole without raising taxes or massive layoffs.

"Mr. Robaina knows very well...that it can't be done," said Gimenez, who is calling for closing the shortfall largely by renegotiating employee-union contracts. "If he does that he's not going to balance the budget...What he wants to do is lay off thousands and thousands of people."

For his part, Robaina continued to try to link Gimenez to a robocall about Hialeah that Gimenez has said he has had nothing to do with.

"You've gotten these calls constantly," Robaina said, "attacking these people who have worked so hard in this exile"

In broad terms, Gimenez focused on his personal narrative, reminding viewers that he moved to Miami from Cuba when he was 6 years old. "I'm a product of this exile," Gimenez said.

Robaina centered on his experience as the former mayor of Hialeah. "I understand very well the different cultures that we have in this community," he said. "We have to face many challenges. We're prepared. We're ready...If you want more of the same, you can vote for my opponent."