BELLE GLADE, Fla. - Palm Beach County Commissioners took a closer look at the economic picture in the Glades region on Thursday. The area on the western edge of the county is being forced to deal with some major hurdles, none of which have an easy solution. Plenty of water surrounds Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay. But maintaining clean, safe water for residents of western Palm Beach County to drink is becoming a big problem and no amount of rain can solve it.
"People, in the Glades, believe it or not, are collecting rainwater to survive," said Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.
The Glades Utility Authority was built just three years ago. But the $58 million facility is deteriorating, both physically and financially. The options to keep clean water flowing are scarce. Managers with the utility have recommended a $17 monthly increase to customer bills to help cover costs.
"We just cannot afford any increases in water rates at this time," said Mayor Wilson.
Glades elected officials hope the county will be able to assist financially, and possibiy even take control of the G.U.A. in the future.
"The only initial thing I see is the county stepping in," said Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser.
With a budget deficit on the horizon for the next two years, the Glades' problems could be compounded by the state-recommended closure of the region's biggest water customer, Glades Correctional Institution.
"If that should become a closed facility and there is nothing to replace it, Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee, we are going to be in deep trouble and it's going to be a black eye for us," said Wilson.
County commissioners say they will work to help with the Glades' growing water problems and the increasing chance that the 300 employee corrections facility could shut down.
"We don't want to patch it up. We want to make sure we are building a strong, sustainable community," said South Bay City Commissioner Esther Berry.
County commissioners are in the process of scheduling a meeting with Glades' leaders to deal with the utility athority issue. As for G.C.I., the state plans to fund the correctional facility at least through September 1, before a decision is made about the future of the facility.
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