Aug. 14--Fares for Miami-Dade County's disabled-transit services are no longer slated to go up in the coming budget year.
Instead of increasing to $4, each ride will continue to cost $3.50, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Wednesday. His budget still calls for a hike to Metrobus and Metrorail fares, to $2.50 from $2.25.
"STS patrons will not have to pay anything more," he said, referring to special transit services.
Gimenez made the announcement in an event launching six town-hall style meetings for county residents to ask questions directly of the mayor and his administration and weigh in on the proposed 2014-15 budget. The meetings are scheduled to begin Thursday evening in Aventura.
On Wednesday, Gimenez for the first time tackled a couple of dozen questions posed by residents and county workers on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag "MDCBudget." He addressed Facebook questions for an hour on a live, online video stream broadcast from a conference room on the 29th floor of County Hall. Twitter responses came in writing, in 140 characters or less.
A photo posted on his Twitter account, @MayorGimenez, showed Gimenez, who is no social-media maven, behind a keyboard to type answers. His staff usually handles his posts.
Taking to the Internet for conversation can be a treacherous move for public figures. Last weekend, Florida State University solicited questions for its star quarterback, Jameis Winston, using the hashtag "AskJameis." The social-media campaign quickly drew posts about Winston's off-field activities, including a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault that resulted in no charges.
Gimenez didn't attract much name-calling, though one Twitter post by @SubstitutePapi asked, "When can you stop being p--cks and give us a stadium for our MLS team? #MDCBudget"
Mr. Papi received no response. Neither did several others, even though their questions didn't include any insults.
There was palpable anger toward Gimenez's proposal, which, as presented to county commissioners last month, would eliminate nearly 700 positions, including about 400 in the police department. Gimenez and the commission chose to raise only the property-tax rate for public libraries, leaving a $64 million hole in the $4.5 billion countywide operating budget.
In a preview to what's likely to come in the town halls, most questions centered around layoffs, cuts to public libraries and the state of the transit system. Miami-Dade has a work force of about 25,000.
Gimenez reiterated that he hopes to avoid layoffs by extracting benefit concessions from labor unions -- chief among them making employee health-insurance coverage less generous. He also insisted the higher library tax rate would fund "extra hours and services." While regional libraries will be able to open Sundays, in exchange they plan to close one weekday a week.
Gimenez's only revelation was that STS fares, which serve the disabled, would remain unchanged. The proposed $1.50-per-ride hike was averted because the transit department revised its 2014-15 ride projections. Fewer trips are expected -- continuing this year's trend -- which would save the county about $4 million in fuel and operations costs.
Another $2.5 million in funding was identified from People's Transportation Plan surtax funds the county expects to be left over this year.
Town hall-style budget meetings
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his administration have scheduled six meetings to hear from residents on the proposed 2014-15 county budget. They will take place at 6 p.m.
Thursday: Aventura Commission Chambers, 19200 W. Country Club Dr.
Tuesday: Florida City's City Hall, 404 W. Palm Dr.
Aug. 21: Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terr., Miami
Aug. 26: Palmetto Bay Council Chambers, 9705 E. Hibiscus St.
Aug. 28: West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way, Miami
Sept. 2: North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami Gardens
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