“If it were possible to commit treason against a municipality, then Moss’ and Howle’s comments today would have bordered on treasonous.”
Most memorable during Tuesday’s Kangaroo (Utility) Commission meeting were statements made by Commission Chairwoman and second-time Vero Beach City Council candidate Laura Moss, by Councilman Harry Howle and by Mayor Jay Kramer.
Despite considerable political pressure from Florida Power & Light and the Town of Indian River Shores, Kramer made it clear he will not “throw the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the customers of Vero Electric under the bus,” simply to appease the Shores. As one online commenter suggested, Kramer is offering a profile in courage.
If it were possible to commit treason against a municipality, then Moss’ and Howle’s comments today would have bordered on treasonous. Without independently-verified facts to support their rejection of the City’s $42.5 million asking price, Moss and Howle continue to push for a sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers to FPL for $30 million. At best, their advocacy on behalf of Shores residents is irresponsible, given the City’s position that a sale at $30 million will lead to higher taxes and higher electric rates for everyone else.
In advising the very Commission responsible for advising him and his fellow Council members, Howle, a self-described Reagan Republican, served up a version of “voodoo economics.” By his own admission, Howle’s standard practice is to shoot from the hip. This morning, rather than simply firing from the hip, Howle was talking pure nonsense when he suggested a sale at less than the City’s $42.5 million “break-even” price would be “an immediate solution to over 30 years of fiscal irresponsibility.”
Ironically, Howle, who along with Pilar Turner, Randy Old and Richard Winger, recently voted to tentatively approve an increase in the City’s property tax rate of up to 10 percent, said a sale a $30 million would “ensure another tax increase isn’t discussed and won’t be for decades.”
With lower electric rates, Shores residents, among the wealthiest in Florida, will, Howle said, be able to stimulate the local economy by purchasing baseball bats for their grandchildren. (I’m not making this up.)
While a number of Vero Beach’s level-headed leaders with considerable business experience are concerned a partial sale at too low a price will result in higher taxes, Howle argued a sale of the Shores customers base at $30 million will lead to lower taxes, and he went on to claim a sale of the full system would not lead to higher taxes. Again, this is pure shoot-from-the-hip nonsense.
Believing the 2012 contract they signed to sell the full system would be executed in the spring of 2013, and faced with the loss of nearly $7 million in utility revenue transferred annually to the General Fund, the troika of Tracy Carroll, Pilar Turner and Craig Fletcher sought to cut spending in the 2012-2013 General Fund budget 15 percent. To deal with the loss of utility revenue, their sated goal was to cut City spending on municipal services by 15 percent a year over three years. Fortunately for the people of Vero Beach and Indian River County, and for visitors to the area, the Carroll-Turner-Fletcher troika met fierce resistance as they attempted to emaciate Vero Beach’s long-valued and respected municipal services, such a police protection, lifeguards, parks maintenance and recreation programs.
If Shoot-from-the-hip Howle wants the public believes the City can transition out of the electric business, maintain excellent municipal services, and not raise taxes, then he is selling a brand voodoo economics.
From statements he made yesterday, it is clear Howle has plans to use any proceeds from a partial sale of the Shores customer base to pay down unfunded pension liabilities. The young councilman is missing the fact that any proceeds from a partial sale will have to be used to meet Vero Electric’s contractual obligations, to protect against contingent liabilities, and to make up for revenue the City will be forgoing as a result of the sale. If the money is used as Howle proposes, higher taxes and higher electric rates are sure to follow. Often wrong but seldom in doubt, Howle simply does not understand the many ways carving up Vero Electric will negatively impact the City’s taxpayers and the remaining customers of Vero Electric.