Earlier this week, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved an 8 percent rate increase to water and sewer bills, which means homeowners will begin paying about $4 more a month on their average water bill. The funds are meant to cover the cost of issuing $4.2 billion -- yes that's with a b -- in bonds to refurbish and fix thousands of miles of leaky old water and sewer lines, pumping stations, and water treatment plants.
The money includes $1.6 billion for upgrades and repairs, $15 million for maintenance, and another $1.8 million in federal fines and federally mandated oversight. The repairs are supposed to bring the county's system into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
But Emilio Azoy, president of AFSCME Local 121, the union representing rank-and-file water and sewer workers, warns that department directors have mismanaged the department. He's calling on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to watchdog the agency before the department begins spending the money.
"Management is often the problem," Azoy says. "Most of the grievances filed by the union have to do with management rejecting proposals by our workers to save the department money. If management had heeded our advice to repair wastewater pumps in-house, raw sewage spills could have been avoided."
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The list of poor management decisions is long, including turning on booster pumps that caused pipes to burst, Azoy asserts, who adds the union will be providing proof at an upcoming federal court hearing between the county and AFSCME. "To protect the public health, our water and sewer treatment plants and the distribution system should not be privatized," Azoy says. "Global corporations, driven by profits, should not determine the quality of your drinking water. I do not want to see any of our water and sewer facilities handed over to foreign corporations, or operated by low-paid transient workers."
Azoy suggests Gimenez put the Water & Sewer Department under management watch to determine if the directors, including head honcho John Renfrow, are up to the task of handling billions of dollars in new projects. He is also asking for a citizen's oversight board to guard the money. "We should allow the citizens to monitor how their money is being spent," Azoy says. "No lobbyists, no contractors, and no county insiders. Every commissioner and the mayor should appoint an independent and fair-minded citizen to provide oversight."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.