City Council votes against continuing stormwater utility study

MILT THOMAS

In a marathon City Council meeting today, Mayor Laura Moss, Vice Mayor Harry Howle and Lange Sykes voted down proceeding with the Stormwater utility proposal. Richard Winger and Tony Young supported moving forward with the proposal. After presentations by lagoon science experts, environmental activists, homeowners and limited government advocates, newly elected Moss and Sykes, joined Howle in postponing any decision on how to fund a stormwater utility or even whether to have one at all.

Public Resources Management Group (PRMG) first presented their electric system rate study update and cost of service analysis in anticipation of proceeding with the structuring of a stormwater utility, but concerns about the cost ($108,000 spent already and another $40,000 anticipated expenses) became the primary concern for majority Council members.

Except for the Town of Indian River Shores Vero Beach is the only municipality in five counties bordering the Indian River Lagoon without a stormwater utility. Other options to pay for infrastructure needed to reduce the flow of contaminated water were discussed, but in the past, money budgeted for stormwater runoff or road repairs has been diverted to other needs. Support for a stormwater utility is strong in the community and Lange Sykes benefited from that support in narrowly edging out by 29 votes Randy Old in November’s election.

Today’s opposition was based primarily on concerns about creating another layer of government although the utility would be managed from within the current City government and not add any personnel or offices.

This is the second major decision handed down by the Moss-Howle-Sykes majority since taking office, the first being acceptance of the FPL/Indian River Shores offer of $30 million to walk away from Vero Electric. That controversial decision came in spite of the advice from five utility experts hired by the city who warned that anything less than $47 million would put its remaining ratepayers in jeopardy of higher rates and  Vero Beach customers paying higher taxes.

 

5 comments

  1. Mark,
    Good morning,
    I am writing to you as a private citizen and only speaking for myself. One of the positive things to come from Tony’s election has been my exposure to subject matter and people I would not normally encounter. This has lead me to become aware of concerns regarding the lagoon. I am not on the water often but even I can see the growing problem posed by all the negatives.
    I also believe that the concern for limited government trumped common sense yesterday. I agree with the one gentlemen who spoke and would rather see the the effort billed to my property tax. I also believe that I will take a sixty dollar check to City Hall today to start a private effort as suggested by Mrs Moss. This will show my support for the cleaning of the lagoon if though it may not be much it will send a message I believe.
    Have a great day.
    Sharon Young

  2. Sharon, Voluntary zeal for funding improvements to and annual maintenance of the City’s stormwater system will likely wax and wane from year to year. Relying on private, voluntary contributions is not the best way to fund essential functions of government.

    With the Florida Municipal Power Agency’s offer of yesterday to release Vero Beach of all its FMPA obligations for approximately $108 million, a renewed effort to sell Vero Electric to FPL will surely follow. If the sale is successful, Vero Beach residents will benefit from lower electric rates, but for a number of years they will also likely be paying a surcharge to help fund the sale. Further, given that the electric sale will leave the City without an annual infusion to its General Fund of nearly $6 million, City leaders will have to make hard decisions about cutting municipal services or increasing taxes.

    With limited government advocates in the majority of the Council, what lies ahead is likely a time of extreme austerity. In that environment, funds for improving the City’s stormwater system will be hard to find. Further, once successful in selling Vero Electric to FPL, limited government advocates will next push for the City to hand its profitable, well-run water and sewer system over to the County, thus depriving the City of another $1 million plus in revenues that are used to help pay for basic municipal services such as police protection, maintenance of parks and roadways, and the guarding of public beaches.

    Frankly, I believe some difficult years lie ahead for Vero Beach, partly because limited government extremists are now in control, and partly because many residents are so focuses on their private concerns that they do not realize what is happing at City Hall. For example, if you ask the average person if they are aware that newly elected councilman Lange Sykes received 90 percent of his campaign funds from residents in Indian River Shores, they will ask, “Who is Lange Sykes.”

  3. Good thing the three that voted against this were again not confused by the facts. Just like our $30,000,000 sale of our $47,000,000 assets these three Indian River Shores representatives will vote contrary to the advice of trained professionals when it doesn’t suit their objective. So, so far since they’ve been in office we lost $17,000,000 and have a more polluted river in the future. I can only anticipate their glee with the City of Vero Beach loosing about $60,000,000 to $70,000,000 on the sale of the electric company. Maybe the Fletcher, Turner and Carroll days weren’t that bad after all. They only cost us $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 in attorney fees after all.

  4. To have a fund begun quickly toward ‘repairing’ the damage to our lagoon seemed like a just cause. Being able to provide the matching funds which may have become available from Tallahassee this summer sounded like a smart move. Three of the five did not agree. I could not figure out how they might accept the FMPA’s $108 million price tag to cut us loose, knowing that the $30 million from a sale of Indian River Shores electric customers cannot be used to help pay toward that amount. Once we sell off all our assets, what then? We will ultimately end up with bigger property tax bills. Though this won’t affect our household much, those with newer and nicer properties will feel the sting. I am sorry the three members have chosen not to offer an alternative to the proposal by Mr. Winger and Mr. Young. We just needed ‘one small step’ yesterday to get started working toward a healthier lagoon.

  5. ALL HAT AND NO CATTLE
    What I found most disturbing about the vote was that Sykes and Moss voted against the measure. Both of them campaigned for a healthier Lagoon. Ironically, Sykes more than once has coined himself as a “subject matter expert” on the lagoon and an advocate for coastal conservation. That candidate for council member was no where to be found during the vote. As a member of the Coastal Conservation Association and a former head of the Treasure Coast chapter, Mr. Sykes should have done due diligence to ensure these measures were implemented. Instead, both Sykes and Moss clicked their heels in unison with a certain IRC council member’s recommendation. It is good to know that there were at least two council members who had the foresight to put forth a proposed effort of ensuring a healthy lagoon for generations to come.

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