Miami-Dade residents will pay higher trash fees in 2024 after a divided county commission narrowly approved a $38 yearly increase.
The 7.5% increase to the existing $509 fee marked one of the most contentious votes of the year for the 13 commissioners, with a narrow majority at first rejecting the proposal.
Two hours of debate later, a vote switched and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava won a higher fee she said was vital to maintain existing trash and recycling services for the nearly 350,000 households on county garbage routes.
“I’m absolutely grateful that decision was made,” Levine Cava said after the 7-6 vote approving the $547 yearly fee.
Levine Cava’s proposed fee didn’t draw much public opposition: Nobody spoke at the hearing scheduled before the vote at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.
But commissioners said the higher fee would be too much of a burden for residents living on the financial edge and without the time to make a trip to downtown Miami to sit in the chambers awaiting their chance to speak.
“A lot of the folks who didn’t come are working-class folks who can’t leave their jobs,” Commissioner Kevin Cabrera said. “I’m not going to vote for this. I’m not going to continue to increase fees on our residents.”
Cabrera was on the winning side of the first trash vote, which saw Levine Cava’s proposal for a $36 increase fail by one vote. Chairman Oliver Gilbert, who voted for the increase, declared a brief recess.
The swing vote appeared to be Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who favored higher fees but voted against the mayor. He complained the $36 increase wouldn’t put the county’s trash system on sound financial footing or bring in more crews needed to pick up piles of litter regularly dumped across Miami-Dade.
“I don’t want my community to look like other communities,” said Hardemon, who represents parts of downtown Miami and the northern areas of the city. “Sometimes you have to pay for that.”
After the break, Hardemon briefly pushed for an increase of more than $100, Hardemon settled for the $38 hike that will go into effect Oct. 1. Joining Cabrera in voting against the increase were commissioners Cohen Higgins, René Garcia, Roberto Gonzalez, Raquel Regalado and Anthony Rodriguez.
Recycling program wasn’t cut
While the vote tables some of the drastic cuts floated to absorb flat fees — in July, Cabrera briefly proposed ending the county’s recycling program — the higher charges won’t solve the Solid Waste Management Department’s ongoing financial strain.
The administration said a $116 increase is needed to cover collection services in the department’s nearly $700 million budget, and that to cover the gap Miami-Dade will borrow from reserves set aside for landfill extensions and a new incinerator to replace the outdated one in Doral that was shuttered by a February fire.
Gilbert criticized commissioners who balked at the higher fee but wanted to cover the gap with one-time revenues or demand a long-range plan on the future of Solid Waste from the administration.
“If you want to cut services, fine. Make a proposal to cut services,” Gilbert said. “But understand that the fees match the service.”
With Solid Waste reserves dwindling, commissioners and Levine Cava could be wrestling with an even larger fee increase in 2024, when the mayor and half of the board will be up for reelection. “I don’t want to have this discussion in an election year,” said Commissioner Juan Carlos Bermudez, who backed the higher fee, “because I know what’s going to happen.”
The compromise proposal for an extra $2 per household that won Hardemon’s vote came from Commissioner Eileen Higgins. She added a requirement that the administration use the additional revenue to target illegal dumping of garbage and relief for low-income homeowners.
Levine Cava said she wants to shift garbage fees in 2025 to a new property tax on homes that use county trash service, which would mean bills tied to real estate values instead of flat fees.
Commissioner Marleine Bastien voted for the higher fees but said she’s certain many homeowners can’t afford even an extra $36 yearly expense. “Times are tough,” she said. “Folks are hurting.”
This article was updated with the correct sponsor of the $38 trash-fee increase.