OPA-LOCKA, FLA. (WSVN) - Opa-Locka residents were frustrated after receiving significantly high water bills, but after the 7Investigates team looked into it, they are now getting a refund.
“After years of battling, it did get to the point where we were frustrated, but now, it’s a good, just reward for everybody,” said George Suarez, one of the class action plaintiffs in the case against the city.
Water woes in Opa-Locka were finally resolved during Wednesday’s city commission meeting.
Suarez said he is thrilled and thanked his wife for getting the ball rolling.
“She was the one going knocking on doors, ’cause she was not gonna take it,” he said, “and we met a lot of beautiful, lovely people in this city that were going through the same problem, and we needed to fix that.”
It started back in September of 2016 when he got a $1,100 water bill from the city.
Opa-Locka’s water billing and meter reading has now been taken over by Miami-Dade County.
County officials replaced more than 4,000 of the city’s 5,200 meters.
Some were incompatible with the county’s system, others were outdated, not calibrated or just broken.
A meter reader, who didn’t want to be identified, told 7News it was by design.
“Because they inflate the number,” he said. “They manipulate the bills, and they have been doing that for a long time.”
Attorney Michael Pizzi filed the now successful class-action lawsuit against the city.
“On top of all of that, the county has changed the water meters, the county’s doing the billing and now every single water customer, every water customer in the entire city who has a valid claim can submit the claim to an independent third party, and if there was an overcharge, they either get cash or they get a credit on a future water bill receivable.”
The settlement agreement called for $3 million to be divided into two: “The city will pay $1 million to a cash settlement account. The city agrees to provide a credit up to $2 million to be applied towards the accounts receivable balances on city water accounts for water charges during the class period.”
Bills from April 1, 2012, through December 31, 2019, will be covered.
Suarez said it’s a case of the little guy coming out on top.
“Especially for the ones that didn’t have a voice, that were afraid to come out and tell the city that they were wrong,” he said.
The commission has approved this move, but the state oversight board, as well as a judge hearing the suit, also have to approve it.
At that point, an independent claim administrator will be hired, and the notifications will go out to Opa-Locka residents with information on how to apply to get their portion of the settlement.
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