Disregarding the common good

Residents in Miami-Dade County are increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians. That is why so many supported the ouster of County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas for their blatant disregard for the common good of the community. Those who thought their departure would change the political culture in county government have been disappointed — inefficiency and lack of transparency continue.

A case in point is inefficiencies in Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Department. They give a glimpse as to why voters are frustrated with county government and distrust its leadership.

We all need clean water and we need a lot of it. Most of us take this for granted. Apparently, so do the stewards of our water at the county, who for decades have neglected to properly repair and replace this important infrastructure in a timely way. They have the funding, but the county has been siphoning $200 million derived from fees of the Water & Sewer Department and putting it in the general fund for other purposes.

This is wrong.

Miami-Dade Water & Sewer is a proprietary department similar to the airport and seaport, with the exception that the latter two have some federal oversight, which the Water & Sewer department does not. Officials say that the water fee in Miami-Dade is one of the lowest in the nation, which is true. But instead of using the funds for maintenance and growth, they were diverted to plug holes in a bloated county budget.

The result was predictable and disastrous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Florida and the state’s Environmental Protection Agency found that the county’s aging infrastructure was responsible for many discharges of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay, the Miami River and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in three consent decrees. The initial cost is $1.6 billion with an additional $12 billion soon to follow.

Albert Slap, who is representing the Biscayne Bay Water Keepers, an environmental group that has filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade for violating the Clean Water Act of 1972, says that taxpayers are not getting what they paid for from the county water and sewer fee.

“When people pay their water and sewer [fee], they are paying for a system that complies with the law. And when the county takes that money out of Water & Sewer and drives the system into violation, widespread massive violation of the clean-water laws of the state and the EPA, then it’s a bait and switch,” he told me on my special Issues Reports, which will air at noon Sunday on WPBT2.

This bait-and-switch game in budgeting is not new and it continues. It troubles Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Carlos Zapata, who is vice chair of the commission’s Finance Committee.

Zapata says that the county does “a lot of cost shifting from one area to another, and what it does is take away from accountability and responsibility. You want to be able to measure the good work of one department, but what happens is that the good work of one department is used to subsidize one that is not so good.”

This does not fix the problem, it just makes it worse. Adding to this, Miami-Dade County officials find it difficult to stay within the budget. This presents two problems for Miami-Dade.

First, the county cannot continue to work on a system of dealing with emergencies; there is no long-term planning to prevent the emergencies. Second, the cost of county government is growing faster than the economy. Last year, Miami-Dade County collected 6.6-percent more in revenue than in the prior year, and still there is still a gaping hole in the county budget.

“That tells you there is a problem. We should be able, without having to increase the millage, to collect 5 percent and be able to cover all our costs,” responds Zapata.

In the past, county officials would have taken money from areas like Water & Sewer to fill in the gap. But the last consent decree signed by District Court Judge Federico Moreno prohibits the use of these funds taking funds for unrelated purposes.

Miami-Dade Water & Sewer is but one example of how for decades the county has acted irresponsibly.

County residents are not getting what they need from their government. Taxpayers need to know this. Voters need to ask questions and demand change.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category