People were eager to hear Fort Lauderdale leaders' action plans in the aftermath of last month's sewage spills.
City Mayor Dean Trantalis addressed more than 255 people in city hall during a town hall Thursday night.
The topic: aging infrastructure and sewage.
"I'm looking to see they have a plan in the first place and that the plan is solid," resident Juliette Rocque said.
Trantalis opened the packed town hall with a 30-minute speech recapping the December sewage breaks that spewed roughly 127 million gallons of sewage – and he offered an explanation for how the city got into its current situation.
"The prior administration raided utility funds and spent the money to balance the budget for the city's general operations," Trantalis said. "This shell game took $20 million a year that should have been earmarked for utility maintenance and upgrades. In all, they drained $120 million in reserves."
The commission is in its second year of a four-year plan to wean off this practice, so as not to shock the budget. City Manager Chris Lagerbloom told residents during the town hall the city should be able to stop having to move funds in less time than planned, three years instead of four.
Before he was elected mayor, Trantalis served on the commission from 2003 to 2006. He served again from 2013 to the present.
During the town hall, Assistant City Manager Ashley Boxer read aloud questions that were submitted for city leaders' review ahead of time:
"The next question is from an anonymous resident. And it's for the mayor," Boxer said. "I believe you have a long way to go to regain our trust in the cities and commission's competence. ... What will you do to regain our trust and concretely demonstrate your competence to be proactive and cost effective?"
The mayor responded to the question, suddenly not wanting to place blame.
"I don't want to look at the past, I don't want us to talk about who did what, who failed to do what – you know, who, should've, could've, would've. Right?" he said. "We're here today and we as a commission have repeated our commitment to making things happen."
While city leaders maintain the more than 50-year-old pipes are disintegrating and corroding due to age, some people blame the breaks on the pace of urban development in downtown.
City resident Diana Gagne wants to see the city enact a building moratorium. She felt the question was somewhat dismissed at the town hall:
"I want it to be an agenda item at the next meeting," Gagne said. "I really feel the citizens have made it clear that that's what they want."
An online petition that now has more than 2,000 signatures asks the city for a moratorium.
Trantalis said a moratorium wouldn't stop projects that have already been approved.
"We need to have a conversation on that," he said." Previous commissions have voted for new buildings, some of which you see under construction, and some of which that have yet to break ground," he said. "During the next several years, you're going to continue to see impact on development.
Gagne will continue to rally this Sunday, when residents will gather on land in Colee Hammock Park, and on boats in the New River to hold a 'Floatest,' or Floating Protest against the recent sewage spills.
Trantalis worked to assure residents during the town hall that the city's plan for a long-term sewage and infrastructure fix is already underway.
Part of the work to replace a disintegrating pipe in the Rio Vista neighborhood is expected to be done within 90 days.
"We expect the assessment of the entire sewer force main system to be completed by March," Trantalis said. "I promise this: at the end of the day, Fort Lauderdale will have the utility infrastructure that a modern metropolitan area expects and deserves."
After the town hall some residents, including John Roth, were ready to see the plans discussed lead to more work starting in the streets.
"I'm pleased with the quality of the responses that they gave to the public and the question now is, we have to quit advertising and promoting – and roll up our sleeves and get to work, " Roth said. "That's all there is to it."