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Miami-Dade commission cancels meeting amid outcry over budget cuts

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade commissioners have canceled their July 30 meeting.

The scheduling decision would rarely be news, considering the board usually strikes the last meeting in July from its calendar to take off for its annual, month-long August break. Indeed, they had planned to cancel the July 30 meeting for weeks.

But this year, the cancellation came as activists concerned about proposed cuts to the county budget hoped to make their case next week for commissioners to reconsider keeping the property-tax rate flat -- instead of raising it to maintain services.

A public hearing on the tax rate was held last week -- less than 24 hours after Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed his proposed hike in favor of a flat rate that would result in the potential closures of 22 public libraries, elimination of six fire and rescue trucks and layoffs of up to 400 employees. Library and fire supporters wanted another stab at changing commissioners' minds before the county mails residents their tax notices in August.

The board could lower but, for all intents and purposes, not raise the tax rate in a budget hearing in September. Raising the rate, though technically feasible, would require reissuing the tax notices -- an expensive and impractical endeavor. Municipalities rarely, if ever, take that extraordinary step.

The League of Women Voters urged commissioners in a statement early Wednesday to hold a hearing on the cuts. 

"The changes made to the originally proposed 2013-14 County Budget did not afford Miami-Dade citizens an opportunity to be heard," the statement said. "The rushed decision was made without notice, therefore leaving citizens out of a decision-making process that will close libraries and fire stations in their communities."

Gimenez sent commissioners a memo Tuesday saying he would not have any veto items and the administration would not have any agenda items for July 30. "There is much work to be done during the summer recess in regards to the Fire and Library budgets," Gimenez's memo said, asking for the meeting to be canceled "so that staff can fully focus on the budget process."

Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa then sent her colleagues a memo requesting their signature if they supported canceling the meeting. Seven of 13 commissioners -- Sosa, Bruno Barreiro, Lynda Bell, Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Javier Souto, Xavier Suarez and Juan C. Zapata -- signed on, so the meeting was canceled.

As a result, a pro-labor union group canceled outside Sosa's district office planned for Thursday.

"We have received hundreds of calls from concerned citizens and scared seniors asking what they could do to stop the fire rescue service cuts," Fred Frost, director of governmental affairs for South Florida Voices for Working Families, had said in the news release announcing the demonstration.

"We are telling them to call their County Commissioner and ask them to reconsider their vote at the scheduled County Commission meeting on July 30th."

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