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Without a hike in garbage fees, a suburban holiday tradition may come to a close in Miami-Dade County. That would be tossing Christmas trees to the curb.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently outlined a series of cuts he promised to implement if county commissioners don’t agree to a 4 percent boost in the fee charged for garbage pick-up. The service is provided to about 340,000 households mostly located outside of city limits.
The reductions include closing some recycling centers and reducing operations at others, discontinuing retrievals of shopping carts and curbside litter, and canceling the post-Christmas pickup of “holiday trees” left on the curb.
“We are at that point where we just cannot sustain the services we currently provide without a fee increase,” said Gayle Love, spokesman for the county’s Solid Waste Management department.
Gimenez had asked for a $25 fee increase earlier this month, but commissioners rejected that plan. In a memo released this week, the mayor said next month he would ask the 13-member board to approve a $19 yearly increase to the current $439 garbage fee. It would take effect Oct. 1 and be the first increase in the fee since 2006.
Most of the 34 cities in Miami-Dade provide their own garbage service and would not be affected by the county’s cutbacks. Miami-Dade provides garbage service to all unincorporated areas, as well as to nine cities: Aventura, Cutler Bay, Doral, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Opa-locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, and Sunny Isles Beach.
Years of flat fees have left the county’s solid-waste division to cut jobs, hold off purchasing new trucks and endure chronic breakdowns for equipment and vehicles in the aging fleet. Solid Waste relies on garbage and disposal fees for almost all of its $500 million budget, and the department expects a $6 million gap in 2018 without the higher fees.
“It is imperative that this rate adjustment be approved,” Gimenez wrote.
Commissioners last year approved an 8-percent increase in county water rates, so higher fees aren’t exactly the third rail in county politics. But there’s resistance. Commissioner Javier Souto, whose western district consists mostly of suburban areas that rely on county services, said even a small garbage fee hike would be unpopular with residents.
“I don’t think my constituents would be in favor of that,” he said. “Many of my voters cannot pay for that. I don’t have Coral Gables or Aventura.”
Under Gimenez’s austerity plan, Miami-Dade would close four of 13 Trash and Recycling Centers, where residents paying for county garbage service can drop off appliances, yard clippings, tires and other bulky items. The centers on the chopping block: Chapman Field, Golden Glades, Norwood, and Richmond Heights. The remaining nine centers would shift from a seven-day schedule to being open from Friday through Monday.
Residents with Christmas trees to dispose of could cut them up and leave them in the regular trash bins, or drive them to one of the recycling centers left open, Love said.
Miami-Dade also would stop sending trash crews to pick up shopping carts left on county medians and roadsides, and discontinue regular litter patrols in the unincorporated areas.
The threatened cutbacks come as commissioners are pressing Gimenez to crack down on illegal dumping of garbage and construction refuse on streets and roads. Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose southern district includes large chunks of unincorporated areas, said Miami-Dade can’t starve its garbage division and expect to look clean.
“Who wants to live in a trash-strewn, littered place looking like a Third World country?” Moss asked.