Back in 2001, it seemed like a harmless, temporary interlocal agreement over water usage between the towns of Medley and Hialeah Gardens.
Well, 13 years later, it’s not so harmless anymore.
At Monday night’s monthly meeting, the Medley Town Council, led by Mayor Roberto Martell, finally drew a line in the sand. Town Attorney Steve Helfman was given the full green light to begin the process of appointing a mediator to “officiate” the dispute between the two municipalities.
It stems from the original agreement made back in 2001 when Hialeah Gardens had some kind of water emergency and asked Medley for help in supplying it water for “an emergency-use” situation.
But one year turned into two years and five years turned into 10 years and the interlocal agreement kind of got lost in the shuffle. Finally, about three years ago, Medley officials discovered that Hialeah Gardens was still using Medley’s water on a regular basis at a minimal cost to them (HG) and billing its residents at a much higher price.
Medley approached Gardens officials about the situation but, to put it diplomatically, there was not a whole lot of cooperation on Hialeah Gardens’ end, according to Medley officials.
“This has been going going back and forth for a very long time,” Martell said following the meeting. “I was informed of the money being spent on it and it took them (Hialeah Gardens) a long time to pay their bills. The last time we had to negotiate a bill with them, we wound up getting 50 cents on the dollar and this just can’t go on any longer. We’re still at it and I can’t continue with this because I’m here to defend my taxpayers’ dollars.”
To the point where things have gotten quite heated between the two towns; Martell did not disagree with that assessment.
“Yes, it has,” Martell said when asked about whether the friction between the two sides had become acrimonious. “My job is … the people of Medley have put me in here to defend their dollar and that’s my job and that’s what I’m doing. We tried negotiating with their mayor but they don’t want to budge, so we have no other choice at this point but to give direction to our town attorney to get a mediator involved.”
Helfman said at the conclusion of the meeting that, having been given a unanimous 5-0 green light by the Medley council, he would be on the phone with HG officials “first thing in the morning.”
“Between the administration and the attorneys of Hialeah Gardens and our town officials, we have a completely different view of the agreement,” said Helfman. “They see it completely different and believe that the use of the water is being used for emergency purposes, which is the constant use of the water as they use it and have been using it for nearly 13 years, which is tens of thousands of gallons of water a month.”
Helfman went on to say that the usage has been steady with no droppage or increase.
“There is no break in the flow, so it doesn’t appear to us that that reflects an emergency,” said Helfman. “You would think that if there was an emergency, there would be a spike in usage for the emergency and the usage would drop. But what’s happening here is that there is a constant usage and it’s almost the identical usage every month year after year and it continues to grow year after year.
“They (Hialeah Gardens) only pay for cost. The agreement that we have is that they only pay for cost but that was as an accommodation to them; the Town of Medley was going to provide the water at cost to make sure they could deal with whatever emergency they had back in 2001. It was never intended to be a regular source of water for them, which is the way it has turned out to be. So we have this dispute and are going to mediate the dispute and hopefully we’ll come up with an acceptable resolution.”
Helfman confirmed that the next step will be the two sides getting together to figure out who the mediator will be.
“We will select a mutually acceptable mediator from a panel that’s listed in the agreement,” said Helfman. “Hopefully we will be able to eventually bring this to some kind of reasonable and acceptable resolution for both sides.”