Assuming facts matter

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

The conventional wisdom today holds that attention spans are short, distraction are many, and the average news consumer wants to receive information in small doses. So, here are just two facts relevant to the proposed sale of Vero Electric. Some will argue, and they may be right, that the debate over the sale has become so toxic and so distracting to other, larger issues facing the community that it is now time to hand the utility over to Florida Power and Light at any cost.

Other contend that while it is important to sell the utility, the City Council still has a responsibility to negotiate the best deal possible for the City and for the people of Vero Beach.

Still others wonder if the people of Vero Beach would be as supportive of the sale, if, rather than serving as a propaganda arm for FPL and local utility activists, the media were reporting all relevant facts.

Two numbers worth considering, numbers not reported or discussed by the island weekly or the local daily, are the shifting rate differential between Vero Electric and FPL, and the amount Vero Beach will net from the sale of its largest asset.

Vero Beach’s electric rate peaked at $158.82 per 1000 kWh in June, 2009, at which point FPL’s rate was $104.37.  Allowing for a 6% franchise fee, FPL’s rate in June, 2009 would have been $110.63, for a difference of 30%. As of January, 2017, FPL’s rate for 1000 kWh was $98.77. Accounting for a 6% franchise fee, FPL’s bill would be $104.69.  Compared to Vero Beach current rate of $116.08, that is a difference of 10%.

When Glenn Heran, Stephen Flaherty, FPL, the island weekly and the Press Journal began building interest in and support for a sale of Vero Electric, the rate differential was 30%. Today it is 10%

Fact: The rate differential between Vero Electric and FPL is one-third of what it was when the majority of Vero Beach voters first bought into the idea of selling the utility.

Some eight years ago, when the local media, FPL and pro-sale advocates first stoked interest in a sale of Vero Electric, the promised the public the deal would net the City some $180 million dollars. This money, they said, could be used to ensure tax increases would not be necessary to maintain municipal services.  It is clear now that the City and its rate payers will be lucky to avoid having to bring money o the table to close the deal. Further, as a result of the sale, cuts in municipal services and/or increases in taxes are all but inevitable.

Fact: Despite what was originally promised, the sale of Vero Beach Electric utility will lead to tax increases, further cuts in services, or both.  Indirectly, the sale may also lead to higher water and sewer rates, as the City’s remaining enterprise funds will have to cover more of the fixed costs for administrative services. 

One can be reasonably be for the sale, against it, or indifferent. Either way, the facts should matter, and certainly they should be reported.

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