His action are, in part, the result of 10 complaints against WSD handling of excessive charges and penalties in quarterly billings that Souto termed “unnecessarily punitive” in a statement issued by his office on June 30.
“The Kendall Federation of Homeowners and many homeowners as well as businesses have reached out to me with a desire for change from a department they view as unresponsive to customers,” Souto charged.
Sent a copy of the release with Souto’s statement, the WSD initially declined detailed comment until any legislative measures are proposed, according to Jennifer L. Messemer, public information officer for the department.
In one instance, the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) Board of Directors pointed to the South Florida Water Management District’s “Water Restriction Charge” that assessed a laundromat $975 surcharge on a $4,012 quarterly billing. The surcharge is imposed by the district on all customer statements.
Souto said he will ask WSD for “a tiered formula” for such payments to exempt customers experiencing “a high water bill due to leakage or theft” rather than paying the surcharge before a potential adjustment.
He also will ask for a county ordinance to revise WSD water bills charging customers who dispute amounts more than four times the past year’s average quarterly consumption, before such protests are resolved.
Souto wants the department to “update and modernize” current billing methods, primarily by using Internet technology so customers can monitor metering of excessive use. He seeks a report by Sept. 1 to initiate a new billing system that would alert customers “within a reasonable period of time to an unusual water consumption pattern.” Those systems are in place elsewhere in the U.S. to upload timely water consumption data, he advised.
“Quarterly billing is unnecessarily punitive against homeowners and businesses when they are victims of a water leak, water theft or other circumstances which causes a high water bill,” he said.
“The customer has no way to detect a high volume of water use until the billing statement arrives three months later.”
The commissioner’s four-and-one-halfpage release lists several resident complaints about WSD billings that in two cases resulted in quarterly charges of $3,500 and $5,000.
Another carried a surcharge of $1,300 on one resident bill and a fourth billed total $24,567 billed to a Westchester business (owned by Souto), more than five times its average monthly consumption.
In addition to similar complaints, Souto called attention to a four-year effort by Michael Rosenberg, a Calusa area resident and KFHA officer, who received a bill for $476 “after averaging $50-60 per quarter for many years.”
Asked if he was aware of the commissioner’s actions, Rosenberg said, “Not only do I know about it, but this entire fiasco for WSD is because of me. It is my four-year battle with WSD that started by civic activism.
“In July of 2007, I had a very high water bill,” Rosenberg said. “That simple event has led me down a road I would never imagine. Commissioner Souto is going to be a hero with what he is proposing… and he will be with these changes.
“But, you can’t imagine what I had to go through to get my government to listen to me,” Rosenberg added.
Souto proposed legislation to make the WSD more responsive to customers in February 2010, only to have the previous administration kill the proposal. He introduced legislation in 2004 to adjust high water bills of consumers who prove they have repaired leaks in service line pipes.
“One only needs to examine the policies of the [WSD] to realize why the taxpayers and consumers may feel that the county is out of touch [and] want a county government that is fair and equitable in the treatment of people, not an oversized bureaucratic bully,” Souto concluded.
In response to this newspaper’s inquiry, WSD provided this statement:
“The Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department serves the daily needs of more than 2.1 million residents, businesses and visitors by providing high-quality drinking water and waste water disposal services.
“Miami-Dade Water and Sewer, a Miami-Dade County department, operates according to the established Rules and Regulations authorized by the Miami-Dade County Commission. Revisions to these processes whether it’s hearings, billing or other mandated protocols must be approved by the commission before applied by the department. The department cannot comment on legislative measures that have not yet been proposed.”