Jack Osterholt holds a unique perspective when it comes to South Florida government. He’s run it in Broward, having served as county administrator. And now he’s one of five deputy mayors working for Miami-Dade’s elected mayor, Carlos Gimenez.
Osterholt’s portfolio at Miami-Dade is largely economic — from supervision of Miami International Airport and Port Miami, to the building department, to the economic development in general. He also is a point person for trying to fix Miami-Dade’s failing sewage system, with an estimated $12 billion repair bill.
In past jobs, Osterholt served as deputy state budget director under Florida Gov. Bob Graham, and head of the South Florida Regional Planning Council, a publicly funded planning and research agency. He also worked as an economic-development consultant in the private sector.
Business Monday interviewed Osterholt on Election Day, and he displayed his trademark bluntness in explaining his views on the county’s need for higher water rates, Miami-Dade’s misplaced competition with Broward, and why the Mayor’s Office seems to have a less-than-ideal relationship with the Beacon Council.
The interview was scheduled for 1 p.m., and Osterholt’s office called at 12:59 p.m.
Q. You’re very prompt.
A. It’s kind of scary. I’m never prompt. It’s really bad for my reputation.
Q. How would you describe Miami-Dade’s spending mode right now? Are you cutting back, expanding?
A. It’s necessary to continue to spend money to run the government. We’ve got to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the water-and-sewer system running, for example. That’s not something we can decide not to do.
Q. But you’ve cut back significantly, especially on capital spending.
A. That’s what businesses do. We made choices to postpone this, and reposition this. You can move some of it around from year to year without destroying the continuity [of the budget plan].
Q. You mentioned the sewer system. What’s it going to take to fix those horrendous problems we’ve been reading about?
A. Can we go off record so I can scream and rant and rave and cuss?
Seriously, we’re very concerned. In fact, we just had an hour-and-a-half meeting this morning in Coconut Grove about how we’re going to make sure growth in the Grove doesn’t come to a halt.
What are we going to do about it in the long term? There are three parts. We’re going to spend $3 to $4 billion to try and get ahead of the failure curve. If it costs a dollar to fix something with routine maintenance, it costs six dollars to fix it when it fails. With our sewage-system money, we’re spending everything to fix minor problems and we’re not getting enough bang for our buck
The second part involves the long-term restructuring of county debt to redo the pumping stations and treatment plants. Treating and pumping sewage offshore is not going to work long-term, given federal environmental rules.
Lastly, and the one that no one wants to talk about is the elephant in the room. That’s our rate base. I live in Hollywood, Florida. I paid my water-and-sewer bill last night. It was $134 a month. Here, the average bill is $30 or $40 a month. I pay more in one month than the average person in Dade pays in a quarter.