HIALEAH (CBSMiami) -- Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez delivered his annual State of the County speech Wednesday before a packed house at the Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment in Hialeah.
He spoke for about 45 minutes and reflected on his past year in office and promised to do more for Miami-Dade County.
"We still have a long, long way to go. Last year was difficult but I will never stop fighting for citizens of Miami-Dade County and for what I believe is the right thing," said Gimenez. "With every difficulty comes opportunity. I'm very optimistic with Miami-Dade County in general, as the state of the economy improves, people want to live here, businesses want to relocate here, our real estate market continues to improve."
The mayor stressed the importance of managing the growth of the County, the need to improve infrastructure, promote tourism and expand economic opportunities.
He mentioned his support for a new Miami Beach Convention Center and a vision for a convention center in downtown Miami. He also talked about his push for Baylink, a light rail system that would connect downtown Miami to Miami Beach.
However, his biggest challenge as Mayor is to balance the budget.
Gimenez is under pressure to resolve a $42 million shortfall in this year's $4.4 billion operating budget.
If he proposes tax-rate increases, public anger will start to boil. If he proposes budget cuts, which he did last year after aborting his tax-hike call, unions and activists will be angry.
"Let me be clear on this, raiding reserves is not the answer. The citizens of Miami-Dade County have given us responsibility over their money. I was elected to restore fiscal discipline and protect the taxpayers. It's a duty I take very, very seriously. This is why we will present a balanced budget that reflects this stewardship and holds the line on taxes," said Gimenez.
He's already received harsh criticism for decisions he's made in the past year.
Most recently, Gimenez wanted to keep requiring most County employees to contribute 5-percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs, and warned that his budget did not have wiggle room to eliminate the concession. Commissioners disagreed and repealed the pay cut imposed on those employees.
"We can't print money," said Gimenez. "We were counting on that five percent contribution to be maintained, that was part of the budget, commission knew that, unfortunately they gave that 5 percent contribution back to employees, that creates a hole, with that we have to balance budget not like we can run a deficit."
The Mayor did tout the successes of both Miami International Airport and Port Miami. MIA had over 40 million passengers in 2013, making it one of the best and busiest airports in the nation. And Port Miami, the Cruise Capital of the World, continues to be a leader in cruise and cargo traffic, soon to be one of the few ports on the eastern seaboard capable of servicing the new larger ships that will cross the widened Panama Canal.
The Mayor also mentioned the David Beckham soccer deal and said negotiations are still underway to find County owned land where Beckham and his investors can build a major league soccer stadium that is privately funded.
"Yes MLS," said Gimenez. "We continue negotiations with David Beckham on finding a home for his MLS franchise."
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