The Palm Beach County Commission took more than an hour Tuesday to debate the fate of the Glades area’s water treatment system before agreeing to merge its utilities department with the agency charged with providing clean water to residents of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay. Commissioners agreed that without the merger, the Glades Utility Authority would go bankrupt, requiring the state to take control. The authority’swater treatment plant, built in 2008 to provide clean water, was over budget at a cost of $58 million, and commissioners lamented that the federal government contributed just $400,000 while the county and state each provided millions. Commissioner Jess Santamaria blamed Florida’s U.S. senators and congressmen for failing their constituents.
Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, who served in the Florida House at the time funding was requested, disagreed, saying the congressional delegation worked hard to get federal funds for the project. When Santamaria asked who failed Glades residents then, Taylor replied, “Maybe the president failed you, the president at the time.”
Ultimately, the president has veto power and the authority to see that funds are provided for communities in need, she said, emphasizing that Florida’s congressional leaders were committed to delivering funding.
Palm Beach County Water Utilities Director Bevin Beaudet provided a presentation that showed that, while the Glades region currently has clean water, it also has a serious problem with infrastructure leaks that have caused a loss of 45 percent of the area’s water. Beaudet said the Glades Utility Authority is going broke and has no options for additional income through grants or rate increases. Palm Beach County Water Utilities cannot legally subsidize the authority, so the best option is for the two utilities to merge, Beaudet said.
Glen Torcivia, an attorney representing the tri-city area, said elected officials knew of the infrastructure problem, but that it had gotten worse than anticipated. He praised the staff proposal to merge as an excellent first step toward protecting the Glades’ water supply. South Bay City Manager Corey Alston, though, said he did not believe the plan is the best solution and preferred local control over merging with the county.
Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the merge option, with the three cities working out an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, a mediator would be brought in to work through the sticking points. The cities must agree by December in order for the merger to be completed by October 2012, or else the governor could step in.
In other business, the commission approved nearly $1 million for the supervisor of elections to purchase software and modems from Dominion Voting Systems to enable more timely reporting of election results. Dominion must have the software and modems certified by the state, or the county may terminate the purchase agreement. In either case, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the county can use as a backup a remote card reader station, which her office will test during Lake Worth’s November election.
Later in the meeting, in an apparent turnaround, the commission denied $500,000 in funding formedian beautification on Okeechobee Boulevard from State Road 7 to Florida’s Turnpike. The county had previously agreed to provide $500,000 in matching funds required by a Florida Department of Transportation grant funding the $1 million project. The city of West Palm Beach had agreed to maintain the median once finished, but city officials failed to participate in a joint workshop session on road issues last week with the county, Royal Palm Beach and the Indian Trails Improvement District, drawing consternation from Commissioners Karen Marcus and Burt Aaronson. Aaronson said that the money would be better spent fixing potholes since that budget was cut in the last budget hearing.
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