Civic Association calls for referendum on partial sale

Editor’s note: In a letter addressed to the Vero Beach City Council, the Civic Association of Indian River County last week raised questions about the proposed sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customer base to Florida Power & Light.

Further, the group urged the Council to hold a referendum before going forward with the deal. While the voters of Vero Beach were asked in 2013 to weigh in or a sale of the full system, they have not been given a say in the carving up of the system at the request of the Shores. 

All of the offered $30 million sale price would need to remain in the electric utility for debt service and capital projects, and could not be used to buffer resulting tax increases or likely hikes in electric rates. During the recent municipal election, a political action committee funded by FPL and Shores residents placed advertising, funded robo calls and mailed post cards promising the sale proceeds would be a windfall to the people of Vero Beach.

The Shores-FPL funded PAC, which supported candidates Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, went so far as to propose that from the proposed sale every resident of Vero Beach could receive a check for some $1,900. 

Civic Association of Indian River County, Inc.

Dear Council:

The Board of Directors of the Civic Association of Indian River County wishes to voice strongly its urgent recommendation to delay the question of selling a portion of the City’s electric utility. This is a monumental step to take, especially in light of the many experts, both financial and legal, who have counseled against putting the City and its taxpayers at risk by such action.

This action solely benefits Indian River Shores, and even that is in question. Making the City utility smaller, giving away customer base, at a price well below its assessed value, is not something on which the citizens of Vero Beach have spoken. This act has the likely potential to increase liability for future contractual duties, to decrease permanently the City’s income without fair compensation, and to set a precedent that will be impossible to overcome.

This issue has not been addressed directly by the voters, and a fair and clear referendum on this matter has not been held, which should have been set in order that the taxpayers may determine their own future. Three persons, elected by a slight majority, should not be allowed to have such a momentous decision taken on their own personal account.

While we are aware that Indian River Shores has supported three council members quite heavily, that does not in any way relieve your duty to protect the vital interests of the citizens of Vero Beach.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Lynne A. Larkin, President/Treasurer

Ken Daige, Director

Caroline Ginn, President Emeritus

Sandra Bowden, Former Mayor

Thomas P. White, Former Mayor

9 comments

  1. Wow, I need to start a Civic Association and perhaps have “Putin” indicted for messing with the national election. Really, nothing is said about how unfair the electric rates have been to residents of the Shores, just about how their money has unjustly benefitted the City and its taxpayers. It has now become”The Pension With Unjust Profitable Dimension”!

  2. It may be noted that FPL has been given the OK for more than one increase in their rates. Also, big houses with high ceilings, pools, and other extras do tend to make costs of upkeep higher. Please note that Vero Beach did not force itself on Indian River Shores. Also note that areas in the county that are on Vero Electric pay a fee to the County (though the county does not do anything for it–not even bill the customers–the City includes on its bill and then sends the % on to the County. The City does not charge non-city residents for using its parks, beaches, dog park. They are welcome to attend city-sponsored events. However, the city also has an obligation to fulfill its commitments and $30 million is not deemed adequate to allow it to maintain services provided to its residents & out-of-city customers. It does not seem unreasonable to think about the consequences of selling a portion of the City utility when the sale of the whole at some future time should cause little or no financial discomfort to any of us. We are sorry that you find your contribution to Vero’s coffers as being unjust. At least that money stays in our community. Can we say the same for what is paid to FPL?

  3. The three members of the Shores/FPL council will certainly oppose any type of input from the people they falsely claim to represent.

  4. The two winning council candidates , who received most of their campaign expense money from outside people/PACs, will never allow a vote that might end the the gravy train. It’s easy to see Barefoot,s footprint on everything that is going to happen in Vero. This $30,000,000 sweetheart deal will cost the residents of Vero dearly. There is more to this sale than the money involved. What about future costs when problems happen? Who pays ,FPL or Vero Electric? Why not a referendum? Could it hurt to find out what the people think about this sale without all the political nonsense?

  5. All of you are correct, but remember what got all of us into this mess. Bad decisions many years ago by elected former city council members. Since then we have all paid the price, but unfortunately the present residents of Vero are “holding the bag” and must do the right thing. Continuing to “milk” Indian River Shores Residents benefits the city, but it is wrong! Yes the new council members were voted in, the voters knew their platforms, and have owned up to doing the right thing. Let us move on, we will all survive. We will all support the city, and perhaps with lower electric rates be able to support it even more.

  6. One: The “bad” decision made years ago by former city council members that led to this “mess” was their initial agreement to serve the Shores with utilities. The second decision that led to this season of discontent, in which some Shores residents are customers of Vero Electric and other customers of FPL, was the Shores Town Council’s annexation of area north of the original Town limits.

    Two: Vero Beach has not “milked” you or another other Shores electric customer. When those who wanted to develop the area of the island now known as Indian River Shores came to Vero Beach and asked for utility services, they were well aware that Vero Beach does what nearly all other municipalities do in earning a percentage of its electric revenue as a return on investment/equity. Unlike FPL, Vero Beach does not use its earnings to pay multi-million dollar salaries to top executives. Rather, the money is used to outfit police cars with defibrillators, to pay municipal employees fair wages, and to guard public beaches, to maintain the parks and other facilities Shores residents regularly enjoy at no cost.

    Three: Despite what Robert Auwaereter claimed when he went before the Florida Public Service Commission to speak on behalf of the Shores and against the City of Vero Beach, Vero Electric’s rates are not excessive, abusive, unreasonable, or monopolistic. In fact, Vero Electric’s rates are lower than those already approved by the PSC for three of the state’s five investor-owned utilities. Further, since the pro-sale troika of Tracy Carroll, Craig Fletcher and Pilar Turner was broken up, rates have steadily declined, and are expected to come down further in the near future. For example, the current fiscal year budget for Vero Electric includes $700,000 to decommission the power plant. Those are one-time costs, so unless the new troika of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes messes things up, rates can likely come down at least $700,000 in the 2017/2018 fiscal year.

    Four: While Vero Electric’s rates continue to come down, FPL just received PSC approval for a rate increase of nearly $900 million. Further, though FPL and its allies like to quote the company’s base rate on 1000 kilowatt hours per month, they make no mention of the fact that FPL’s rate structure is tiered, and includes peak use charges. Consequently, you will likely not save nearly as much as you are expecting to, if and when you become a customer of FPL.

    Five: Of all the points you made, the one I most disagree with is your assertion that “the voters knew their platforms,” when they voted for Moss and Sykes. Moss and Sykes were supported by a Shores-FPL funded political action committee that spent some $100,000 disseminating flat-out lies. The Shores-FPL funded misinformation campaign carried out by the PAC served to greatly mislead the voters of Vero Beach. In addition to making outrageous claims about how the proceeds from the proposed partial sale could be used, the PAC, and the Moss and Sykes themselves, led voters to believe their “platform” is to bring lower rates to everyone. That is simply not true. What they propose in the short run is a carving up of Vero Electric at the request of the Shores that will lead to higher rates for every one of Vero Electric’s remaining residential and commercial customers. Because the island weekly and the Press Journal are led by publishers who have their own agendas, Vero Beach voters were not properly informed that Moss and Sykes were almost entirely funded by Shores residents, and are members of what Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot describes as “the Shores team.”

    Six: The claim that the proposed partial sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers to FPL now is somehow “in the context of a full sale” is nothing but public relations babble. What does this really mean? Nothing, absolutely nothing! There is no clear path to a full sale. There just isn’t. This talk of a partial sale for the Shores being “in the context of a full sale” is only intended to mollify the people of Vero Beach long enough to get the Shores deal done. The promises Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes have made about finding a way to sell the remainder of the electric system, and at a fair price, are empty promises.

  7. Florida’s Public Service Commission is, according to the May 19th, 2016
    Supreme Court of Florida decision, ” The jurisdiction conferred upon the commission (Florida’s Public Service Commission), shall be exclusive and superior to that of all other boards, agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities, towns, villages, or counties, and, in case of conflict therewith, all lawful acts, orders, rules, and regulations of the commission shall in each instance prevail.”

    It could not be more clear! Members of the Indian River Shores City Council need to realize they have absolutely NO JURISDICTION RELATING TO THE FINDINGS OF FLORIDA’S PSC. NONE.

    I LIVE IN INDIAN RIVER SHORES AND I WANT THE COUNCIL TO STOP SPENDING MONEY FOOLISHLY ON ATTORNEYS WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER.

    I WILL DROP OFF COPIES OF THE SUPREME COURT DECISION FOR MEMBERS OF THE SHORES CITY COUNCIL, HOPEFULLY, BEFORE I LEAVE FOR THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY WITH FAMILY NORTH OF CHICAGO. BRRRRRRRR. Actually, it is available on-line. Just type in Florida Supreme Court decisions – No. SC15-505, May 19, 2016, and you will have it on your screen, and can print it.

    Now we know who is really in charge – Florida’s Public Service Commission.

  8. Caroline, What you said is true. However, now that Shores leaders have bought majority control of the Vero Beach City Council, they may have no cause to appeal the PSC’s rulings to the Florida Supreme Court. After spending $1 million in legal fees suing Vero Beach and challenging its service rights before the PSC, Shores leaders decided it would be best to spend more like $150,000 to buy control of Vero Beach’s municipal government. This strategy will likely work for the Shores, unless the people of Vero Beach act quickly to recall Moss, Sykes and Howle on the basis that they are clearly prompting a policy that is not in the best interest of the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the customers of Vero Electric.

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