Miami-Dade County

County commissioner in the water-meter business proposes law to expand their use

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro questions county staff in this file photo from July 8, 2015.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro questions county staff in this file photo from July 8, 2015. EL Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro owns part of a water-meter company in Miami, and he’s sponsoring legislation that would require more meters for condo towers.

Barreiro said the proposed change would not affect the meters he sells. While he markets meters to condo associations interested in tracking water use per unit, his ordinance would involve only the external meters that local governments install for billing an entire building.

Barreiro wants Miami-Dade to require dual exterior meters on buildings with residential and commercial uses — such as a condo tower with shops or restaurants at street level — so that condo owners aren’t charged the higher rates that businesses pay.

“It’s a problem for these residents. They’re being charged commercial rates,” Barreiro said. “It’s not fair.”

The company where Barreiro is an owner, IUSA Water Meters, specializes in what Miami-Dade calls “remeters” but are sometimes referred to as “sub-meters.” The devices allow apartment buildings, marinas and other places with multiple water users to customize water fees rather than equally dividing the cost of water among all users. A building with 100 units might install 100 sub-meters and charge residents accordingly, but would still receive a single water bill from the county.

Barreiro said the idea for his proposed ordinance, set for a preliminary vote Wednesday, came to him while trying to sell remeters to Miami condo towers. “I started going to see condos. And I went to charge them, and said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re paying commercial rates,’ ’’ he said. “And everyone freaked out. I said I have no choice. I can’t separate them.”

It’s a problem for these residents. They’re being charged commercial rates. It’s not fair.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro

He represents portions of Miami where the city’s Miami 21 zoning code encourages construction of mixed-use towers, which typically feature retail on the ground floor and apartments or condos on the upper floors. Published water rates show multi-use buildings, which include both commercial and residential units, are charged commercial rates instead of the multi-family rates available to pure residential buildings. The higher the water usage, the more Miami-Dade charges under the commercial rates.

Best known for running a home-healthcare company, Barreiro said he got involved with IUSA after the recession when he wanted to diversify his income. He said his deal with the company gives him a sales territory that includes Latin America and Florida. The parent company sells governments standard exterior meters in Colombia, Mexico and beyond, but only offers remeters in the Miami area. Barreiro said it’s possible he could try to expand the business to direct government sales in the United States, but that Miami-Dade would not be a possibility as a customer given his elected position.

In financial forms filed annually with the state since 2013, Barreiro has listed his ownership share of IUSA but said it yielded no income. He checked a box saying he owns at least 5 percent of the company.

Rhonda Victor Sibilia, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade’s Ethics Commission, declined to comment on Barreiro’s ordinance but offered broad advice on potential conflicts. “If someone works for an industry and [related] actions come before them, they’d be wise to seek an ethics opinion,” she said.

Barreiro did receive clearance from the Ethics Commission to work for IUSA. On Aug. 14, 2013, Joseph Centorino, executive director of the commission, wrote Barreiro that his work for the company did not present a conflict of interest, even though Miami-Dade licenses sellers of remeters.

“Your association with IUSA Group involves representing the company as a sales representative for the products that it sells,” Centorino wrote, outlining the facts as Barreiro presented them. “You will not be representing the company in connection with any business or regulatory issues it may have with Miami-Dade County.”

Barreiro pointed out the lower rates wouldn’t solve the problem that IUSA’s remeters address: some residents paying too large a share of a building’s water bill, with others paying too little. Barreiro said there’s no reason to think his ordinance would bring extra business to IUSA.

“It’s not for me. It’s more of a rate issue than a meter issue,” he said. “Whether it’s a higher rate or a lower rate, my meters just divide the cost.”