Whether you moved here last year, ten years ago, or even 50 years ago, if someone asked you what you thought about our community when you arrived, chances are you said, “I want Vero to stay just like it is.”
We hear that all the time. The irony is that Vero Beach and Indian River County have changed in many ways, yet those changes are transparent to newcomers. Why? Because what has never changed are our core values. Nor should they change.
Population of the greater Vero Beach area is now the same as Ft. Lauderdale was 50 years ago, yet we have retained the small town quality of life that communities to the south have lost. That is because civic leaders over the years have had a common shared vision that guided them in their decision making. That common vision included maintaining our small town atmosphere, excellent quality of life, countless amenities — and a city government leadership committed to keeping Vero “just like it is.”
There have been times people have come here wanting to reshape Vero into the type of community they left behind. If your definition of beauty is row upon row of high rise condos on the oceanfront, you might look at Vero Beach as ripe for that kind of development. But it only happened once. The 12-story Village Spires stands alone because after developers found a loophole in the city’s regulations and won approval to build it, the city leadership acted to strengthen its building codes and limit new construction to no more than three stories.
What else creates that small town quality of life we all cherish? The many public parks, community buildings, miles of white sand beaches, open and protected green spaces, always clean, fresh and everything meticulously maintained by city employees that care because the people who employee them care (you, the citizens of Vero Beach). Public safety has always been a top priority, especially to those who came here from communities ravaged by crime. Taxpayers gladly paid to have an exemplary police force and two minute response time if needed.
In recent years, certain factions wanted to slash city budgets, reduce employees, outsource many of the fine city services all in the name of more efficient government. That would mean folding public safety into the county sheriff’s office, giving up the city’s twice a week, door to door garbage collection in favor of once a week curbside service by a private contractor. Efforts were made to merge the city’s efficient and revenue-generating water and sewer system with the county’s system.( As we all know, the city’s electric utility is also targeted by the county, Indian River Shores and FPL. More on that below.) Worst of all, consideration was given to leasing or selling the city’s sacred Crestlawn Cemetery, where all the people who made Vero Beach what it is today lie in rest. Community leaders and concerned citizens were successful rising up in opposition to these changes, which in their minds would forsake the core values they shared, but others did not.
This is why it is so important that we choose our elected officials carefully, especially with many key issues affecting our future that must be addressed.
First and foremost on the political agenda is what to do about Vero Electric. A great deal of pressure has been exerted to sell Vero Electric to FPL and give electric customers lower rates. The sale agreement initiated back in 2009 cannot be completed as written, so the new City Council will have to consider what options are available that would reduce electric rates while protecting ratepayers and taxpayers against financial losses due to legal obligations. There are numerous options, including a partial sale of Indian River Shores customers to FPL (but so far they are not willing to pay what is necessary to leave taxpayers and ratepayers whole). Other options include working to reduce electric costs (already underway), create a body representing all users to oversee it, or offer the utility to potential bidders for a price that will ensure low rates without burdening taxpayers or causing catastrophic damage to city finances. Whatever decision is made, it must not compromise our core values established by city leaders and protected over generations.
The vision for Vero Beach’s future now lies in your hands. Be sure to vote on November 8.