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City of Miami considers suing county over coronavirus relief funds

Miami mayor says city was supposed to receive $81 million from CARES Act

MIAMI – Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Tuesday that the city is considering taking legal action against Miami-Dade County for withholding coronavirus relief funds that he says were meant for Miami residents.

Suarez said the county participated in “bad faith negotiations” and ultimately took away $81 million in CARES Act funding that was meant for city residents based on population.

“The current county proposal on a reimbursement basis would get our citizens potentially as little as $8 million, which is 10 percent of what we should get based on population,” Suarez said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Tuesday afternoon that cities may submit invoices for any COVID-19-related activities to receive reimbursements and said the CARES Act money is already going to programs for all residents throughout the county, whether they live in a specific city or an unincorporated area.

“All residents will get their fair share,” Gimenez said.

Suarez said the city attempted to negotiate with the county to allow 75 percent of the funds to go to the city, while the county kept 20 percent.

“We were negotiating in good faith with Miami-Dade County,” Suarez said. “Not only did they not accept that. They negotiated the whole time in bad faith and never rejected any of our offers, had offered $135 million a week before, according to their own briefings of their commission, and then all of a sudden without any notice passed spending yesterday that would have reduced the amount of money that cities get dramatically to only $30 million for reimbursements.”

Suarez used Atlanta as an example of what cities should be receiving based on population. He said the city of Miami currently has 468,000 residents, while Atlanta has 506,000. He said Atlanta received $88 million directly from the government.

Suarez said he is working with other mayors throughout the county see what their legal options are.

“I think that the county is supposed to waterfall the money down to its municipalities,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told Local 10′s Christina Vazquez. “The mere fact that a city is not over half a million should not preclude it from getting money, which is what the law did.”

Gelber said he hopes Gimenez and the Miami-Dade County Commission can negotiate a plan that is fair for everyone.

“The cities need to band together really and deal with this the way anybody would,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s just applying pressure or if it’s legal action. I think that’s something that probably needs to be determined, but I would urge the county mayor and the commission to try to negotiate something that’s fair.”

Mayors from several municipalities are meeting with the Miami-Dade County League of Cities to determine their next steps.

Testing sites, the senior meal plan, small business program, hotel isolation program, housing, city transit programs and contact tracing are some examples the money has been used for that affect all 2.8 million residents, Gimenez said.

The mayor said cities will not receive “blank checks” from the county, and maintained that the county has to make sure the funds are going to COVID-19-related activities.

“Miami-Dade County is responsible for this money,” he said. “Miami-Dade County has to ensure that every cent is spent on a COVID-19-eligible activity, and if money is not spent on a COVID-19-eligible activity, then that money has to be reimbursed to the federal government, and who has to reimburse that money? Miami-Dade County.”

Gimenez said the federal funds must be spent by Dec. 30 and if any city has additional programs they want to implement, they need to speak with county officials so they can determine whether the county has the budget to approve those programs.

“This money is meant to go to the people of Miami-Dade County,” he said. “It’s not meant to go to the governments of Miami-Dade County.”

There are also FEMA dollars that can be leveraged to cover expenses like sanitation or investments in PPE.

There is a concern that smaller cities could find a reimbursement system financially difficult. They may not have the financial resources to front the expenses, creating a cash-flow problem.

Right now that is under review. Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon said this morning spreadsheets were sent to each of the 34 municipalities as they work to capture expenses and how best to tap into the various pots of federal funds.


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