Miami-Dade finds $2 million, halts plans to close clerks offices countywide

Miami-Dade won’t be closing satellite clerks counters from Miami Beach to Sweetwater next week, with officials announcing the discovery of $2 million to patch budget holes and avoid the pending elimination of about 70 county jobs.

“Those layoffs, I’ll be rescinding tomorrow,” Harvey Ruvin, the county’s elected clerk, told Miami-Dade commissioners Wednesday.

His remarks ended, for now, a budget crisis he revealed to the public in dramatic fashion last week by posting a notice that the county’s seven satellite clerks offices would close on Sept. 8 if Miami-Dade could not deliver $4 million for his $90 million budget.

Cuts in state funding were at the heart of the problem, with Florida lowering allocations to clerks offices statewide. With the Legislature out of session, Ruvin said county tax dollars were the only solution to avoid cuts to the network of neighborhood clerks offices from Sweetwater to Miami Beach that let residents pay tickets, get marriage licenses and file court documents without driving to downtown Miami.

Those layoffs, I’ll be rescinding tomorrow.

Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade clerk of the court

Ruvin used the planned cuts to establish a high-stakes budget showdown with the 13-member commission, scheduling the closings and job cuts to take place the morning after the board is scheduled to give preliminary approval of Miami-Dade’s $7.4 billion budget.

But despite the dramatic plans, county officials on Wednesday announced they had found the money needed to keep services operating as they are now.

“We were able to find some money,” Ruvin said. “There were monies in the county budget for us that we weren’t going to use this year.”

He has identified savings in his budget. He really should take the credit.

Miami-Dade budget chief Jennifer Moon

Ruvin and Mayor Carlos Gimenez used a Wednesday budget hearing to reveal what they described as a temporary solution to the revenue shortage. The clerks office would have an extra $2 million to spend for the first six months of the budget year that begins Oct. 1 — and both men said they would lobby Tallahassee for replacement funds in 2018.

“It puts the focus where it needs to be,” Gimenez said. “Which is the state of Florida.”

Jennifer Moon, the county budget director who has been negotiating with Ruvin’s staff over a potential rescue, said the $2 million doesn’t represent dollars diverted from Miami-Dade’s regular budget. Instead, she said, Ruvin will generate the money through savings from existing operations.

“He has identified savings in his budget,” Moon told commissioners during the hearing. “He really should take the credit.”

Ruvin said the extra money represents the portion of the $20 million Miami-Dade earmarked for his 900-person office in 2017 that wasn’t going to be spent before the budget year ends on Sept. 30. Facing the cuts in state funding, Ruvin said austerity measures he imposed throughout the year generated the surplus, which ended up allowing for the last-minute reprieve.

“My people informed me of it only a couple of days ago,” he said.

Moon also said the savings could be permanent, and enough to get the clerks system beyond the six-month period if Florida declines to come through with extra funding. “If there is a problem in six months,” she said, “there are still savings.”

County officials were reluctant to commit new dollars to Ruvin’s office, which relies on tickets, fines and filing fees authorized by Florida for the bulk of its funding. Each year, Florida has kept a larger share of that revenue stream, leading to cuts in clerk offices statewide.

Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of the County Commission, said he is not eager to fill in budget gaps left by Florida.

“County funding means you own it,” he said.