MIAMI (CBSMiami) — As workers attempted to fashion a temporary fix on a broken 14-inch sewer pipe in George English Park on Monday, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis placed blame for this break and seven others on prior city leaders.
“What we’re witnessing here is the result of neglect and indifference that previous administration perpetrated on this community.,” Trantalis told CBS 4 News.
But new questions are now being asked about Trantalis’ own commitment to fixing the infrastructure issue during his years on the city commission. At issue is a vote in 2018 for a $200 million water and sewer bond. The vote came more than a year after a major sewer spill in the Tarpon River exposed major problems in city infrastructure. During that 2018 meeting, former Mayor Jack Seiler said the bond money was necessary.
“We all recognize $200 million is not gonna solve the infrastructure issues, but it’s gonna get us on the path without any further delay,” Seiler said. “I don’t know how we can complain about the infrastructure and then not fund it.”
Trantalis questioned that view.
“Do we need to borrow $200 million tonight?” Trantalis asked during the meeting two years ago. “Let’s see what we have in next year’s budget to be able to try to fulfill future needs. Why are we borrowing all this money when we don’t know that we have to borrow all of it?”
When the vote came, Trantalis was the lone commissioner to vote against the bond issue for the water and sewer system.
On Wednesday CBS 4 News asked Trantalis about that 2018 vote and whether it undercuts his blaming of prior city leaders for the current sewer pipe troubles.
“The reason that I voted against it is because we had this long practice of siphoning money out of the water and sewer fund to the tune of $20 million a year,” Trantalis explained. “If we stopped doing that, which is what I advocated, we would have the money to be able to engage in this repair and replacement program.”
Trantalis said he disagreed with a city philosophy to borrow millions from water and sewer fees to balance the city’s budget. He wanted that money spent on improving the water and wastewater systems.
“The idea is to reduce the amount of pressure that we put on our homeowners and rate payers and to try to still get the job done and I thought that we were very shortsighted in borrowing $200 million at that point,” he said.
Trantalis said context on the 2018 vote is crucial.
“Anyone who wants to take that moment out of context can certainly interpret it any way they want,” he said.
But it’s not entirely accurate to suggest that past city leaders did nothing to deal with aging infrastructure after the Tarpon River spill. They spent and allocated millions for repairs and upgrades, created a “Go Big, Go Fast” wastewater upgrade program and created an infrastructure task force. Trantalis says they were largely unsuccessful.
“To this day that task force doesn’t know what it’s mission was,” he said.
Another important question is what did Trantalis and his administration do with the $200 million in bond money available at the beginning of 2018. He said there were some delays in getting started, like replacing the city’s Public Works Director, working with former City Manager Lee Feldman and the routine work flow of major construction projects. Trantalis said on Wednesday that some of that money is now being used to pay for a $65 million pipe replacement through the heart of the city.
Trantalis also said his administration is phasing out the spending of water and sewer fees on other city needs.
With all the recent breaks, damage to the environment and disruption to businesses and residents, Trantalis says he is focused not on the past but getting things fixed in the future.
“We’re catching up,” he said. “We’ll get it done.”