Trash Clash

(WSVN) - It’s a sad fact. The City of Opa-locka is a mess. Forget the politicians who have been accused of corruption, forget the highest property tax rate in Miami-Dade County. This is about the garbage piling up and garbage rates soaring. Patrick Fraser has our nightteam special assignment report Trash Clash.

If all Raul Fernandez had to do was run the apartment buildings he owns, he’d be a happy man.

Raul Fernandez: “My wife says my buildings are my mistress. I love my buildings, what can I say?”

But Raul has one big problem: several of the apartment complexes he owns are in Opa-locka.

Raul Fernandez: “Opa-locka is a big, big headache for me right now.

Opa-locka, where in just the past few months, the FBI has raided the city offices, arrested three officials, plus the mayor’s son, charging them with everything from extortion to shaking down business owners for bribes. But rather than getting better, businessmen say things are getting worse.

Raul Fernandez: “They are tripling our rates in some cases.”

The latest problem, commercial garbage rates.

Raul Fernandez: “The rates were $352 a month. That new rate has gone up to $575 per month, plus a 28 percent franchise fee, which bumps that number to almost $700.

The city only allows one trash company — Universal Waste Services — to pick up trash at businesses and apartment complexes.

In October, the city commission allowed Universal to raise the rates, with that 28 percent tax imposed by Opa-locka city commissioners.

Raul Fernandez: “What did I think? I just about fell over backwards.”

Fell over because Raul and other apartment complex owners currently have long-term contracts with Universal at the lower rates, but Raul says the trash company told him the contracts are no good.

Raul Fernandez: “And they said our contract was basically worthless.”

Some business owners paid the higher rates but many refused, in part, because the tenants won’t be able to afford it.

Jonathan Hernandez, property owner: “We would have to increase the rent in order to cover those charges, and that’s just not fair for anybody. Any of the tenants.”

The trash piled up. Then the politicians got involved, and the mess got messier.

After Gov. Rick Scott concluded Opa-locka was being run so poorly that the city was facing bankruptcy, he appointed an oversight board to watch over the finances. That board didn’t approve the new garbage contract with the higher rates, and so rather than draw up a new contract, the Opa-locka City Commission decided to talk about hiring a new trash company, which brought on threat of a $10 million lawsuit from the old trash company.

Douglas Jeffrey, Universal Waste Attorney: “It’s not only illegal, it’s a travesty. I look forward to questioning some of you in the near future under oath during litigation.”

The city attorney’s response…

Vincent Brown, City Attorney: “We won’t be intimidated by legal tactics and we won’t be intimidated and bullied by anybody.”

The waste company’s reply…

Robert Turitto, Universal Waste Services: “The attorney can run his mouth as much as he wants about his new Marine attack in the military. I was in the military sir, and you don’t impress me at all.”

Universal then sued the city to force Opa-locka to honor a contract the state oversight board would not approve. In court, the judge ruled against the trash company.

Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola: “I am going to deny injunctive relief, but I invite counsel to exercise their appellate remedy.”

The attorney for the trash company says it’s just more shady stuff going on in Opa-locka…

Michael Pizzi, Universal Waste Attorney: “The people of Opa-locka are tired of these behind the scenes deals and back room secret deals, and enough is enough.”

After losing their contract, Universal dumped garbage from their containers and took them away.

Opa-locka then held an emergency meeting and decided to allow business owners to choose between two new trash haulers to get the lowest prices. Miami-Dade will now start picking up residential trash.

It seems like good news, but people in Opa-locka are skeptical about this trash clash.

Raul Fernandez: “Both of us have been here since the early 90s. Same thing every year. Year in year out, just gets worse.”

It’s understandable they think that way, because for years, the people in Opa-locka have been dumped on over and over.

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