“Anyone who does not see the interconnected ways in which developers and their limited-government allies are trying to strangle the City of Vero Beach is simply missing the larger picture.”
As City of Vero Beach officials are approaching a fateful decision on selling 35 acres of public open space, some who remain concerned about the future of the community are, quite correctly, urging the City Council to slow down, draw back, and take a long view.
Ironically, one person raising questions about the wisdom of disposing of irreplaceable public land is Press Journal columnist Larry Reisman. “If you don’t like local government selling open space, attend their meetings and speak out,” Reisman recently wrote, adding, “You can give the Vero Beach City Council a piece of your mind at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.”
Whether Reisman is willing or able to recognize the connections between the proposed sale the old Dodgertown property, the resistance to establishing a stormwater utility fund, and the relentless drive to dispose of the City’s electric utility, these are, in fact, related, for they are all about paving the way for more development, while at the same time limiting the role of local government.
Why would the City consider selling for $2.7 million dollars land it purchased in 2005 for $10 million? Quite simply, the sale is being proposed to improve the City’s cash flow. And why is improving cash flow a priority? Because the City does not now have sufficient revenue to provide important municipal services and at the same time maintain and improve infrastructure.
Currently, the City is spending some $600,000 a year in debt service on the Dodgertown property. Selling the land now, even at a $7.3 million loss, will free up $300,000 a year in sales tax revenue. That money can then be redirected to stormwater filtration projects designed to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the Indian River Lagoon.
Recently, Councilmen Richard Winger and Tony Young called for establishing a dedicated source of funding for stormwater projects. Creating a so-called stormwater utility to help address the Lagoon crisis would have brought Vero Beach in line with nearly every other municipality along the fragile estuary. However, Reisman and other advocates of “limited” government cheered on Council members Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, as they rejected creating a dedicate means of paying for stormwater projects.
If funding seems tight now, just wait until the City hands Vero Electric over to Florida Power and Light. With the sale of the electric utility, budget issues will only get worse, for the City will lose $5 million a year it now earns off the utility.
How one person can advocate for the sale of Vero Electric, reject the formation of a stormwater fund, and oppose moves to improve the City’s cash flow defies logic. Further, why people like Reisman do not see the ways limited government extremists are using the power sale to further the interests of developers is beyond me. Anyone who does not see the interconnected ways in which developers and their limited-government allies are trying to strangle the City of Vero Beach is simply missing the larger picture.
Once the City has disposed of the old Dodgertown property, and then the electric utility, next will come the sale of its water and sewer system to the County. That move will be forced on the City, and at a fire-sale price. “Relieved” of approximately $6 million annual earnings from its two largest enterprise funds, the City will then be pressured to sell fro commercial development the riverfront land north and south of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge. The result? A bonanza for developers.