July 21, 2014

Hialeah report shows city moving towards privatizing garbage pickup

Despite limiting himself to saying in the last two years that he did not discard privatizing garbage pickup service, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández has quietly taken the first steps to do it, according to a city financial report.

Despite limiting himself to saying in the last two years that he did not discard privatizing garbage pickup service, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández has quietly taken the first steps to do it, according to a city financial report.

On Dec. 10, the City of Hialeah transferred to the Department of Public Works a 35-acre land for $19 million so that it could be rented to a private company to be chosen for picking up garbage, according to the 2013 Hialeah’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), made public last week.

“The Department of Public Works has the intention to use that transferred asset in the framework of garbage pickup,” says the financial report, adding that it would serve to “rent a portion of the land and the solid waste building to the private company hired for that service.”

The land, popularly known as “the yard,” is located at 900 East 56th St., behind the headquarters of the Hialeah Police Department.

The director of the Finance Department, Javier Collazos, who is in charge of the report, was not authorized to give an interview to El Nuevo Herald. Hernández was out-of-town on vacation, a city official said.

The president of the Hialeah chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Yrama Medina, declined to comment.

“I’m not ready to give an opinion about this measure,” Medina said.

In October 2012, Hernández said his administration was studying a way to make the service more efficient and that the privatization would depend on an analysis demonstrating substantial benefits to the city.

That year, the Garbage Department became a city division of the Department of Public Works under the supervision of Armando Vidal. At that time, Hernández told workers that they should not be worried and that their jobs were guaranteed.

Former Miami mayor Maurice Ferré said privatization allows the market to control the price and quality of the service.

“The privatization of garbage is a way to assure that unions remain in an order dictated by the market reality,” Ferré said. “There are services that cannot or should not be privatized, like the police and the firemen, because people require them as a right.”

The CAFR also reveals that Hialeah’s city reserves have fallen to $12.9 million, of which the Hernández administration can use $10.6 million, equivalent to the expenses of one month of city operations.

According to the report, the reserves were $1 million lower in comparison with the previous year, as audited by Alberni, Caballero & Company, LLP, an accounting firm based in Coral Gables.

In 2013, Hialeah reduced its millage rate — the taxable rate of the property value — to 6.302 percent. In 2012, the millage rate was 6.54 percent.

The report indicated that in 2013 the revenue to Hialeah’s general funds were slightly more than $118 million, but spending was $120 million. Thus, the city used more than $1 million of the city reserves to cover the difference.

Ferré said the ideal reserves for a city should be slightly more than 10 percent of its general funds, especially in cities in South Florida, exposed to emergencies such as hurricanes.

The highest expense in general funds in Hialeah is the police budget of $38.2 million, $1.3 million lower than in 2012.

The report also shows incongruous numbers, such as the operative indicators of Hialeah’s city programs, which shows that since 2012, city occupation licenses went down from 17,225 to only 1,581, which represents a brutal paralysis of the city’s economic activity.

Consulted on this issue, a city official told El Nuevo Herald, unofficially, that this was a typo, on a document on which the city’s financial decisions are made.

The Hialeah Council, whose members are currently on vacation, must ratify the document in August. Council vice president, Luis González, said that he would look for a copy of the report to evaluate it. Lourdes Lozano was the only council member who said that she was analyzing the report. The other five council members could not be reached.

“After evaluating this report I’ll take my questions to the Finance Department,” Lozano said.

The CAFR indicates that the Hialeah Drinking Water Treatment Plant was finished last year, a $100 million project built east of the city and funded in equal parts by the city and the county.

The plant was inaugurated in October, a week before the city election in which Hernández ran to be reelected as mayor.

However, eight months later, it was made public that the plant was not producing drinking water. The CAFR says the plant’s “testing period” was scheduled to end by the end of 2014 fiscal year, or, the latest, in September.

The report also highlighted the building of public housing in Hialeah, such as the 72-apartment complex on Palm Avenue and 3rd Street at a cost of $8.5 million funded by the county. A building of 36 apartments across the Hialeah Park Racetrack, and another building of nine apartments half a block from City Hall were also finished. Both buildings were built with federal funds.

Hialeah built the modern Milander auditorium, whose photo was on the cover of the CAFR, with $6.3 million of county funds.

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