Miami-Dade commissioners stall billions for water, sewer upgrades

Commissioner: Projects need prioritization

By Ben Candea , Glenna Milberg - Reporter
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MIAMI - With reservations and questions, a committee of Miami-Dade commissioners failed to move Tuesday on the multi-billion dollar funding plan for a massive overhaul of the county's aging water and sewer system.

The county's finance committee was set to approve more than $4.2 Billion in bonds to fund the federally-mandated upgrade to be backed by an eight percent hike in fees. But some commissioners were reluctant to back the expenditure.

"This is being shoved down our throats without us having a single conversation about how we're going to pay for this," said Commissioner Juan Zapata.

However, the county's Water and Sewer Department has been working on an overhaul more than a year, while spot fixing breaches in underground water mains and sewer pipes around the county, some more than 70 years old.

Commissioner Sally Heyman said she was concerned at the lack of detail in the funding ordinance.

"It doesn't speak to a particular area. It doesn't speak to who is going to do the projects, how the projects are going to be prioritized," she said.

The inaction puts the overhaul plan on a precarious deadline. The first phase was approved to address a federal lawsuit last December that alleges Miami-Dade County failed to meet federal water and sewer standards and requirements. Federal regulators have given the county until June 24 to sign off on a "consent decree," the plan that would bring the county into compliance.

Commission Chair Rebeca Sosa sent a message to the committee that she will call a special meeting of the full board of County Commissioners to discuss and debate the plan. In a tense political climate, commissioners are expected to hedge any support for raising usage rates, though Miami-Dade County has some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the country.

"We are now going to punish ourselves for keeping our water rates low for a long, long time," said Commissioner Esteban Bovo. 

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