Miami to increase solid waste fee despite objections from mayoral candidates
By Jacquelyn Weiner
With two Miami commissioners running for mayor, votes on a proposed maximum increase in the city's garbage fee had a political tilt last week. The temporary absence of one mayoral contender ultimately opened the door for the increase.
With Michelle Spence-Jones absent, the commission initially split 2-2 over whether to allow the solid waste department to submit a fee increase from $365 to $415 annually to the county for publication.
The "no" votes came from Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez, both running for mayor.
Prodded by City Manager Pete Hernandez, commissioners eventually passed the increase, but not before the majority vote was reduced to two when Mr. Regalado left the room.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff chided the no-voters for politicizing votes.
"It would be great if everybody could vote yes because nobody could politicize it," Mr. Sarnoff said. "Do the mature thing here."
Mario Soldevilla, director of solid waste, told the commission his department wanted the extra money to buy "needed and critical equipment."
"Our equipment has reached a critical state and we really do need to replace it," he said.
Commissioners Sarnoff and Angel Gonzalez voted to raise the maximum fees the department could collect in the next fiscal year, citing the need for flexibility.
"Either we increase taxes or we have to make some real, real tough decisions on Sept. 30" when the fiscal year closes, Mr. Gonzalez said. "People have to start thinking about that."
Mr. Sanchez said he felt such an important decision shouldn't come without all commissioners present.
Departments need to start operating within their budgets, Mr. Sanchez said.
"We cannot continue to live way beyond our means in this city," he said.
Mr. Sanchez suggested that the department focus on recycling and collect trash once a week rather than twice to cut costs.
Mr. Regalado, a dissenter in the initial voting, said he wouldn't support increasing residents' fees.
"It's wrong to send a message that the solution to all the problems is to attack the pocket of the residents," he said.
Mr. Regalado denied he was trying to gain political headway in his "no" vote.
In imploring commissioners to reconsider and back the increase, City Manager Hernandez said the city must have flexibility.
"We're not being wise as to how we look ahead," he said.
Mr. Hernandez pointed out that if the city did change the rate later, a separate bill would have to be mailed, costing $25,000 in postage.
And so the commission brought back the item, only to turn it down once again 2-2, essentially establishing a fee cap equivalent to last year's rate.
Yet just as the vote was being entered into records, Mr. Sarnoff moved to raise the cap to $415.
This time, Mr. Regalado was not on the dais.
Although Mr. Sanchez voted with a resounding "no," the majority ruled, granting the solid waste department its desired fee increase.
"There's your flexibility," Mr. Sarnoff said with a satisfied nod in the city manager's direction.