The Miami-Dade County Commission approved two legislative items this week that focused on keeping money in residents' pockets and saving water. The resolutions, sponsored by Commissioner Javier D. Souto, seek to revise current policies by Miami-Dade Water & Sewer (WASD) that are unintentionally punitive towards some residential customers and businesses.
For the first item, Commissioner Souto is proposing that WASD modernize its billing system and offer residential customers monthly statements as opposed to quarterly so they can detect any anomalies in their bills due to water leakage. A monthly bill, according to Souto, would minimize customers' liability should a water leak occur on the property and allow them to address the issue sooner, avoiding higher water usage costs. Last year, WASD received 16,364 complaints regarding high water bills.
In addition, the item also asks WASD to provide customers the ability to check their water usage on a weekly or monthly basis. The department's current policies and procedures provide for an adjustment to a customer's water bill if the high bill is due to a concealed or underground leak on the customer's property, a leak on the outlet side of the water meter, an incorrect meter reading, or vandalism. However, Souto's legislation states incidents of complaints from customers describing unusually high water bills where the customer has appealed the bill through WASD's administrative hearing process, but did not receive any credit adjustment. The Board also approved WASD submitting a list of all customers who have appealed their water bills and customers that have received adjustments to their water bills since January 1, 2007 to further analyze these grievances.
"There are many reasons a water bill may be high through no fault of the customer, such as water leaks, water theft, and other circumstances. If consumers don't get a bill until three months later, they're now stuck with a high bill and wasted water," said Commissioner Souto. "Quarterly billing can be unnecessarily punitive against homeowners and businesses. We could be saving over 400,000 residential customers a great deal of money, not to mention curb wasting water by addressing these issues sooner."
In response, WASD will provide a proposal for improving and modernizing its billing system using the latest technology to include either offering the customers the option of monthly billing or quarterly billing, or in the alternative establishing a consumer friendly website with technology that allows residential and business customers to detect any unusual water consumption pattern on a weekly or monthly basis.
The second legislative item passed seeks to further examine a surcharge placed on residents and businesses who consume large amounts of water. However, this surcharge has been criticized by some business owners who rely on high water usage to operate. The Kendall Federation of Homeowners presented the case of a Laundromat business which consumed $4,012.00 in water and was assessed a $975 surcharge identified on the WASD bill as a "South Florida Water Management District Water Restriction Surcharge Phase I." This is a County tax and not a State tax. Additionally, SFWMD's Executive Director stated SFWMD did not request this surcharge, has not encouraged Miami-Dade County or any other municipality to place any kind of surcharge on a water bill, and does not get a penny from this surcharge.
Furthermore, Souto finds it punitive against residents and businesses that experience a high water bill due to a leak or water theft. "Not only are they responsible for the wasted water which is often in the thousands of dollars, but the County pours salt on the wounds by taxing you at the rate of 25 percent on the water that was lost to a leak or to water theft," said Commissioner Souto. "Just this week, there has been a case all over the media concerning a famous Cuban actress who is now elderly and received a water bill for almost $7,000 and the Department's refusal to assist her led to her being hospitalized for heart problems. There is another case of a reporter and well known radio personality who received a $2,000 bill.
The resolution proposes that this surcharge be named the "Miami-Dade County Water Conservation Surcharge" so that consumers and ratepayers know that if they have a concern with this surcharge, and asks WASD to re-evaluate the surcharge's punitive effects on businesses that by nature must consume a large amount of water, such as Laundromats and car washes.
According to Commissioner Souto, one only needs to examine the policies of the Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department to realize why the taxpayers and consumers may feel that the county is out of touch with its taxpayers and consumers. "The residents, voters and taxpayers of Miami-Dade County have sent a clear and decisive message that they desire a county government that is consumer friendly, fair, transparent and responsive to the taxpayers that sustain it through their hard-earned money. The change in government, with the election of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, has brought renewed hope that the residents can finally attain the type of responsive government that they deserve. However, this requires a complete shift in the institutional philosophy that has permeated the County for many years," said the commissioner.
For more information, please contact Commissioner Souto's office at 305-222-2116.