Opa-locka over $1M in debt, votes to use sewer reserve funds

OPA-LOCKA, FLA. (WSVN) - Opa-locka leaders met to resolve a financial crises that has been plaguing their city.

The situation has left the city and its people so desperate and financially unstable that commissioners voted Monday night to take money from their sewer reserve fund to make payroll this week. At the same time, the mechanics who work to keep old police cars on the road said they still aren’t getting paid.

Leo Artigas runs Opa-locka Muffler and employs a shop full of mechanics, so when he doesn’t get paid for the work they have done, it becomes a big problem. “I did the work, so I expect to get paid,” Artigas said.

He told 7News that the the Opa-locka Police Department is not paying them for the services. “The city owes me about $2,800,” he said.

The city is over $1 million in debt, but Police Chief James Dobson said his hands are tied. “It is a small business in the city, and we want all the business to succeed,” he said, “but if the city doesn’t have the funding, unfortunately, right now, we just couldn’t do it.”

Officers were then forced to share cars and, Artigas said, Opa-locka Police cruisers have sat in his garage for a month while he waits for the money. “If I don’t have no parts, or no money to buy parts, how am I going get it to be on the street?” Artigas said. “That’s my concern.”

This is part of a much bigger problem, which led the city commission to vote on whether they should pay employees by tapping into their sewer fund reserves. “We’re in serious trouble here,” said one man during the meeting. “There’s money floating all over the place, but no one is giving accountability for this money.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared an emergency, and the state may be forced to bail the city out.

The commission appointed former mayor John Riley to fill an open commission seat after former commissioner Terence Pinder killed himself before turning himself in on bribery charges. “First of all, I want to really find out the status of the city and what’s been done and what’s not been done,” Riley said.

With that, it will take more time for deliberation and more time before businesses can pay their employees. “Over two months and I haven’t heard from them,” Artigas said.

The police chief told 7News that despite these financial problems, in about a month, the department will receive new police cars, which means less maintenance issues to be taken care of.

As part of Scott’s emergency order, the state is expected to oversee the city’s finances.

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