County will pay delay costs on Gables sewer project
By Suzy Valentine
A delayed sewage project in Coral Gables has created waste - almost a half-million dollars' worth for Miami-Dade County.
The county commission heard Sept. 22 that failure to lay a sewer line in a 41-month window that expired two years ago led to costs for Coral Gables of $483,814 - expenses Miami-Dade taxpayers must now absorb.
After some criticism of the county's tardiness, commissioners voted unanimously to settle with the city.
"The concern is what we have in place to prevent such a lack of responsibility in auditing, monitoring and supervision of something like this," said Commissioner Sally Heyman. "I hope this is something that will not be repeated. This is embarrassing."
A senior county employee conceded that lessons were learned after the missed June 2003 project deadline.
"This is an item that is by now a year-and-a-half old or so," said Deputy County Manager Pedro Hernandez. "I know that the department over the past couple of years has stuck more rigidly to the guidelines of the construction manual. However, this was an assignment to get a job done by a certain date, and if that date was realized, we could have had a discount or an incentive by having the rates reduced. So in essence, we're paying for the sewage flow we used through the city's lines."
That view, said Ms. Heyman, is overly simplistic.
"There's only so much that can be blamed on eventualities such as hurricanes," she said. "I believe there's also a big issue about why the county charges the city for something that wasn't the city's and we charge it when we use it. It's one thing to have accounting, it's another thing to be accountable."
The timeframe for the project, Mr. Hernandez said, may have been too long.
"I believe initially we had sufficient time to get it done," he said, "maybe too much time. We lost a little bit of momentum in the initial part of it, and then at the end, we tried to catch up and ran into dotting of the 'i's and crossing of the 't's."
Commissioner Barbara Jordan pressed Mr. Hernandez to expand on the setbacks.
"There were delays dealing with restrictive working hours and maintenance traffic," he said, "but I think, had we initiated the project sooner, we could have accounted for those issues during the construction period."
Why hadn't the project started earlier, asked Ms. Jordan.
"We had so much time, we went step by step," continued Mr. Hernandez, "and we weren't pushing it at the beginning."
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa expressed disgust that county residents would foot the bill.
"This is unacceptable," said Ms. Sosa, "and here we are using taxpayers' dollars, $500,000, for our mistakes."
Although he later made the motion to settle with the city, Commissioner Dorrin Rolle also expressed distaste.
"I too am a little bit embarrassed," Mr. Rolle said. "I think it is too much money for us to have wasted - half a million dollars. I wonder whether it was unforeseen delays or we became lackadaisical."
"Sometimes you do what you have to do," added Chairman Joe Martinez in seconding the motion that commissioners approved unanimously, if grudgingly, to have the county absorb the costs.