Garbage industry giants find opportunity in Hialeah neglect

According to Hialeah's public works director years of neglect sent city's garbage department into a 'downward spiral'

HIALEAH, Fla. – Garbage management is at the forefront of change in Hialeah.

The city's residential garbage pick up operation has suffered neglect for years. The last time the city bought a trash dump truck was in 2001. Solid waste fees have not been raised since 1989.

And now veteran Hialeah politicians who for years did not do anything to stop the neglect of the garbage department want to privatize.

"Politics in Hialeah don't always make sense," Maria Fernandez, of Andrew Hauling, said in Spanish. "There is a lot of money there. We don't know what's going on and how it is going to affect us."

Andrew Hauling is a family owned waste management company in Hialeah. They have been in business since 1992. And they deal with garbage from warehouses, cafeterias, restaurants and other businesses. They are among the garbage collectors who fear the powerful garbage industry giants coming to Hialeah.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, 53, a former Hialeah councilman who was raised in the city, is a supporter of privatizing solid waste. Hernandez was first elected to the city council in 2005 and was council president before he became mayor in 2011.

Hernandez's predecessor, two-term Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, had already seen the need for a financial study of the city's garbage department. The study suggested adjusting the monthly fees, establishing a vehicle replacement fund and moving into automation technology.

The city only implemented automating the recycling program.

Some who follow the Hialeah political soap opera believe the neglect was an intentional political move. Critics of privatization believe inefficiency creates an ideal environment for privatization and the potential to fuel corruption through under-the-table financial dealings.

Former Hialeah councilman Herman Echevarria supported Hernandez campaign. This has given room to speculation that Echevarria may have a monetary interest in the garbage deal, sources familiar with Hialeah politics said. Echevarria is not a registered lobbyist with Miami-Dade County. His wife, Alexia Echevarria, appeared in Bravo's reality show, the Real Housewives of Miami.

Armando Vidal, Hialeah's public works director, took over the city's garbage department in 2012. According to Vidal the neglect sent the garbage department into "a downward spiral" and the city plans to fix that with private services in place no later than March 1st.

Vidal puts the operational losses at $16.5 million from Oct. 1, 2004 to Sept. 30, 2013. Hernandez authorized a second financial study in 2013 that concluded the solid waste program would lose about $19 million by 2022.

Hernandez asked for a study in 2013 that concluded privatizing could save the city millions, while keeping the service fee at $27 a month -- which has a turnover of about $12 million annually. Otherwise, it suggested monthly garbage fees had to be at least $34.75 and an estimated $19 million investment had to be made in nine years.

The first concrete move toward the privatization of trash collection was Dec. 10, 2013. Records show the mayor and city council approved the internal transfer of 35.4 acres at 900 East 56 St., valued at $19 million.

An internal report said officials planned to lease a portion of the land and solid waste building to the private contractor. The deal would ask the contractor to consolidate its fleet with the city fleet and lease some of the land to a third party for a recycling/trash transfer station.

The city was considering hiring Progressive Waste Solutions, Southern Waste Systems, Waste Management, Waste Pro of Florida or World Waste Recycling. A board looking at the options was set to meet at City Hall Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss the three candidates for proposals.

"They are going to go to war for Hialeah," Fernandez said in Spanish.