Despite a community-wide call to action, the City Council this week rejected a proposal for establishing a storm water utility. Though some claimed otherwise, the move would not have have led to the hiring of more public employees, or the formation of a new “layer of bureaucracy.” The proposal would simply have created a dedicated source of funding to pay for expanding, improving and maintaining the City’s stormwater system. Given that the Council, by a vote of 3-2, rejected the stormwater utility primarily on philosophical grounds, (limited government, low taxes), one must question the role and responsibility of local government.
The marathon debate that began mid morning and lasted until 3:30 in the afternoon, featured experts on water quality, conservationists, environmentalists and citizens all making impassioned pleas to pass the storm water utility. These speakers represent easily a majority of Vero Beach citizens concerned about the deteriorating condition of the Indian River Lagoon. They contend Vero Beach can and must to more to help address the crisis.
Speaking against the idea were limited government advocates and tax protestors. Mrs. Jackie Solari read a letter from her husband, County Commissioner and leading limited government advocate, Bob Solari, in which he demonized “another layer of government bureaucracy.” That was also his rallying cry when the County Commission refused to join the Indian River Lagoon Council, a consortium of all counties bordering the Indian River Lagoon created to coordinate efforts aimed at saving it. The net result of that decision motivated the three major Indian River County municipalities to join the consortium anyway. Last November’s election ultimately provided the one vote necessary for County Commissioners to “rethink” their decision and agree to join the effort.
Commissioner Solari’s letter to City Council also touted his three “cutting edge” projects, the Egret Marsh, Osprey Marsh and Spoonbill Marsh as fine examples of actions that did not require creation of another “layer of bureaucracy.” Instead, the Spoonbill Marsh in particular, has been widely criticized over evidence it is increasing, not decreasing, the flow of pollutants into our Lagoon and surrounding public lands.
And let us remember the Oslo Boat Ramp issue – an attempt by the County Commission to expand a little used boat launching site that would have crushed the few remaining Indian River seagrass beds.
During Tuesday’s debate, City Manager Jim O’Connor pointed out that year after year the Council must make difficult budgeting decisions about what can and cannot be accomplished with limited resources. And year after year projects for better filtering polluted stormwater runoff are left unfunded. Politicians can campaign as Lagoon advocates, but the proof of their zeal for protecting this vital natural resource can be found, not in their campaign promises, but in the budgets they approve. As the say, to gain a clear picture of your true priorities, simply pull out your checkbook and notice how you are spending your money.
All of this brings us to the issue of the proper role of government. At what price are we willing to sacrifice our quality of life to save taxes or prevent local government efforts to preserve it? Hopefully that question will resonate right up to November, when Vero Beach voters have the opportunity to replace a naysayer with a Councilperson who gives priority to our quality of life.
In the meantime, Mayor Laura Moss did encourage citizens to take part in the upcoming Vision Workshop, scheduled for Monday, March 13 at 2:00 p.m. That includes visiting the City of Vero Beach website to read the Vision Plan that was created 12 years ago and will be updated with input from the March 13 meeting. We have included a link to the Vision Plan here for your review. Vision Plan