Palm Beach County said Friday it plans to assume control of the nearly bankrupt Glades Utility Authority, ending a year-long battle over the future of the three-year-old venture.
County officials proposed the takeover plan in 2011 to keep the utility out of bankruptcy. South Bay commissioners repeatedly turned down the agreement. But after a change in city leadership, the South Bay commission this month voted 2-0 in favor of the plan.
County officials, however, questioned whether the vote was legal. Two of the commission’s five seats are vacant. A third South Bay commissioner, Taranza McKelvin, attended the meeting, but left the dais during the vote.
County administrators said they were concerned there was not a quorum present at the time of the vote. But on Thursday, the county received a letter from South Bay City Attorney Thomas Montgomery confirming that the vote was valid.
County administrators said the letter allows them to move forward with the take-over plan, which has also been approved by officials in Belle Glade and Pahokee.
The county plans to complete the utility take over by April 15, officials said.
The Glades utility serves 10,000 customers in the county’s poorest area, but charges some of the highest water and sewer rates in the state. Under the plan, the county will reduce Glades customers’ rates by 6.5 percent. Glades residents will still pay higher rates than county utility customers.
Under the plan, the county’s water utilities department will spend $25 million over five years to improve the Glades region’s network of leaking pipes.
“I just think this is the right approach,” GUA Executive Director Jim Stiles said Friday. “The county has the resources to invest the $25 million, which is what this system needs to be brought up to some type of standard.”
The utility was created in 2009 to take control of the crumbling water and sewer systems in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee. But it has been operating without an approved budget since Oct. 1, 2011.
Stiles said that employees assigned to the GUA will keep their jobs with the county.