North Miami - NMB

Council approves higher water rates

North Miami Beach council members on Tuesday tentatively approved a water rate hike of 9.5 percent for their water and waste-water customers.

The city, which owns and operates the Norwood-Oeffler Water Treatment Plant, provides water and sewer service to about 32,800-metered connections in North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles Beach, Miami Gardens, Aventura and a portion of Northwest Miami-Dade. The proposed rate hike would apply to all users, not just those in North Miami Beach.

City Manager Ana Garcia reminded the council that a 2007 water rate study recommended a 10 percent increase for five years.

“Two of those years were not realized,” said Garcia. Due to the declining economy at the time, water rates were frozen for 2011 and 2012.

Without the rate increases, the city’s water fees won’t adequately fund capital improvements, according to the study’s figures. This year, there was a $2million shortfall that is expected to be carried over to next year’s budget.

The vote was unanimous. Councilwoman Phyllis Smith originally opposed the rate hike but she changed her mind after she said she realized it would cost residents more in the long run.

“I understand the pain. I understand when the bills are due, and you have to juggle, who do you pay? But if we don’t take this rate hike and protect our investment, your hike is going to be another half a percent higher,” said Smith.

Fees for the average residential water customer would go up about $2.50 each month from about $26.31 to about $28.83, said Public Utilities Director Barbara Trinka. But small residential customers could see a slight decrease.

That’s because the new water-rate system, known as blocking, would lower the cost for the first few thousand gallons of water used by customers.

But the rate structure was confusing to most of the residents who packed the council’s meeting Tuesday night. To satisfy their concerns, Garcia said she would have a staff person answer each question individually. Twenty-six residents provided their contact information for a personal consultation.

Resident Marie Gabellus, said her quarterly water bill was around $190. Gabellus said she was hoping the council would go to monthly billing.

“The bill is too high. I’ve been two years out of a job and it’s easier to pay twice, not every three months,” said Gabellus.

Currently, a new system to do that won’t be fully operational until 2016, at the earliest, said Patrick Rosiak, Information Technologies manager.

The council also approved nearly $115.8million for the 2015 budget. Council member Beth Spiegel voted against it.

A resolution to keep the property tax rate the same passed unanimously. The tax rate will be $6.60 per $1,000 of taxable property value, the same rate the city has levied since 2011.

The final budget hearing will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at City Hall. A council meeting will follow at 7:30 p.m.