Clearly annoyed at Indian River Shores Brian Barefoot’s propaganda-laden letters and statements accusing Vero Beach of “abusing monopolistic privileges,” the Vero Beach City Council yesterday, by a 3-2 vote, affirmed the City’s willingness to seek Florida Public Service Commission approval of its electric rates. Council members Pilar Turner and Harry Howle opposed, Councilman Richard Winger’s motion.
“I think we should take action to stand by our earlier offer to have the PSC review Vero Electric’s rates,” Winger said during discussion on his motion to instruct special utility counsel Schef Wright to contact his counterpart for the Shores to seek cooperating in requesting a PSC review of rates.
“I think our rates are proper,” Winger said, adding, “but I’m not the PSC, and I certainly would never object to having our rates looked at.”
“Other than taking a grandstand against Indian River Shores, what are you going to accomplish?,” Turner asked. “Is there anything wrong with our rates? I don’t think so, either, except that they are higher than FPL.” (Every other electric utility in Florida currently has rates higher than FPL, but no one is arguing those rates are unreasonable, or that they constitute an abuse of monopoly privileges.)
“I think we need to put the (Barefoot’s) claims to rest. I can see nothing wrong with seeing if the PSC will look at our rates,” Winger replied.
Following Winger, Vice Mayor Randy Old said, “I completely agree. We should at least get somebody that can independently review our rates. It’s a good idea to stand up and say, ‘Here, judge us.'”
Old added, “This is a divisive issue that is really hurting our city and our community. What they (Barefoot and the Shores’ attorneys) are saying is that we are abusive in what we are doing, and that’s what is dividing us. We need to let it be known that we are willing to be judged by somebody outside.”
City Council candidate Tony Young supported Winger’s proposal, saying the way to get around the subjective claims and criticisms is to seek a definitive, objective rate review. “Right now, there’s a information-misinformation exercise going on,” Young added.
Former councilman Ken Daige said he and others are tired of hearing the accusation that Vero Beach is operating an abusive monopoly. “A lot of us are getting weary of this. We have other pressing need in this city that need to be taken care of.”
Pointing out that since February of 2014 Vero Electric has had 6 rate reductions totaling 15 percent, Winger also proposed issuing a billing statement accounting for the rate reductions over the past two years. “In February 2014, this Council agreed to take every action possible to sell the utility, but to also work to reduce rates,” Winger said.
Howle, who opposed the revised contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission that has made some of the recent rate reductions possible, and who opposed today’s motion to seek Shores cooperation in applying for a PSC review of rates, turned the conversation toward the next election. “The real hurdle (to a sale) is the other three contracts we have with the FMPA. My hope is that with Mayor Kramer and Councilwoman Turner leaving, we can have a strong pro-sale Council to help get over that hurdle,” Howle said.
So far, Howle, who claims to be more pro-sale that those we have also worked to reduce rates, has offered no concrete proposals for how to get around the City’s contractual obligations, or for how to find a qualified buyer willing to assume Vero Beach’s position in those contracts.
If Barefoot and other Shores leaders respond as they have in the past, they will reject the City’s offer to take Vero Electric’s rates before the PSC, just as they rejected a proposal to establish an independent utilities commission with equal representation of all customers. If Winger hopes to send Shores leaders a signal to “put up or shut up,” he will likely be disappointed. With a Vero Beach municipal election less than 60 days away, Shores leaders are now focused on a disinformation campaign, and on using that misinformation to raise enough in campaign contributions to win election for Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Norman Wells, three candidates they believe will bend to their wishes.