The high(er) cost of our water

Proposed water service rate increase for Miami-Dade

Lester Sola, director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, talks about a proposed 6 percent rate increase on water service.
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Lester Sola, director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, talks about a proposed 6 percent rate increase on water service.

The usually painful Miami-Dade County budget season is almost upon us.

In the next few weeks, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez will receive year-long spending proposals from county departments.

Mayor Gimenez has steadfastly refused to propose any increase in property taxes for local residents. Tax increases are seen as political suicide in a community sick and tired of being taken for a financial ride.

Taxpayers have praised the mayor’s resolve. Last year, public libraries were in dire straits. More money was found to keep them open, but not through any property-tax hike. Millions were needed to replace the historic downtown courthouse. Taxpayers rejected a referendum, and the county did not step in.

This year, again, local residents will be asked to pay more, not for libraries or a courthouse, but for the county’s water and sewer infrastructure. Commissioners are set to consider a rate increase of 6 percent for customers — the third request in as many years.

And unlike previous increases that ended up on the bills of only those who use more water, this hike would hit the 2.3 million county customers who, together, use 300 million gallons a day.

OK, you can stop yelling and cursing now.

Convincing taxpayers to support this measure is the mission of Lester Sola, the newest director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department.

Mr. Sola told the Editorial Board he has launched a countywide campaign to get the word out to residents. A county veteran known as a fixer of ailing departments, Mr. Sola is trying a more open approach: He’s preempting the sticker shock of a rate increase by publicizing it way in advance of those budget public hearings.“We want to explain to people the value of water,” Mr. Sola said. It should be obvious — just ask parched Californians.

Mr. Sola will take part in 16 public hearings throughout Miami-Dade in the next few weeks to answer any questions from residents about the proposed rate increase, which he says is fair and sorely need.

The crux of his pitch is that we’ve been lucky to pay so little for water service for so long. Admit it, when you open your quarterly WASD bill, you’re often surprised at how little you have to pay.

Under the department’s proposed budget, the average customer will be asked to pay $2.77 more a month, bringing an average monthly bill from about $45. 39 to $48.11, less than $10 every three months.

Mr. Sola said that’s still a deal. In Broward, similar customers pay $71.20 monthly for the same service; in Palm Beach, the cost is $56.69.

Adding to the urgency is a massive $1.6 billion federally mandated capital-improvement project, the largest in Miami-Dade’s history. It will extend over 15 years and upgrade the sewer-system infrastructure for the future, taking into consideration environmental issues and sea-level rise.

Water and Sewer also needs more money because the overhaul of our aging sewer pipe infrastructure means other components must be upgraded, too. These include the removal of most residential septic tanks and upgrading an archaic customer-service system, all for taxpayers’ benefit.

Mr. Sola makes a good case for the rate increase. It’s hard to go against investing in water and its preservation. Plus, even though residents are getting a deal now, they ultimately are shortchanging themselves.