Proposed Utility Authority in Vero Beach still under consideration

By Michael BieleckiVERO BEACH – The Vero Beach City Council moved one step closer to satisfying the representation demands of non-city residents stuck on its power grid and sewer system who want more say in the operation and management of city-owned utilities.While the City Council did not vote Tuesday night on formation of a Utility Authority, which would be responsible for oversight of electric, water, wastewater and re-use water, the proposed agency would “provide the most representation of any electrical utility in the state of Florida” according to consultant Barry Moline.

Creation of the Utiltiy Authority will be re-visited at a later meeting after City Manager Jim Gabbard addresses concerns members of the council expressed during the discussion. Barry Moline, Executive Director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, has worked with the City on the growing list of problems associated with the power plant and the high rates customers have been paying since an increase in charges in June. The Council is considering the Utility Authority as a way to provide some measure of control to county residents required to use city services, but without a say in rates or regulation.”We’re here because a majority of your customers are outside the city limits,” said Moline. “Among all the cities in the country the size of Vero Beach, 98 percent of them do not provide representation to their customers outside of the city limits. This action would give those customers representation in all utility operations.

“You will provide the most representation of any electrical utility in the State of Florida.”However, the City will retain the right to determine who will sit on the board.”The city council will able to endorse, amend, reject and direct the members of that authority,” Moline said. “You are the representatives of the owners of the utility — you must retain those rights, it’s your utility. The governance oversight will take place in a different form with the appointment representatives you make now. In the rare case when there is an inconsistency, the council can correct the act that is out of balance.”Once created, the Utility Authority would have seven members selected by the City Council. The members would serve two-year terms without term limits and without salaries. The seven would include the following: two people from inside the city, two from unincorporated Indian River County, one from Indian River Shores, and two “at-large” other individuals. There would also be two alternates — one from the city and one from outside the city limits.Mayor Sabe Abell mentioned during the meeting that perhaps the authority members should be compensated  due to the level of responsibility they would have. The city also must address covering some of the authority’s expenses.

Vice Mayor Tom White added at the end of the discussion that the increased electric rates that the council recently approved come as a result of the city not raising rates since the early 1990s — and even then the increases are a pass-through from the Florida Municipal Power Agency.

“The current rates were locked in years ago,” said White. “We get questioned on the utility bill everywhere we go in town. People will be happy when they get their bills for January’s utilities and see its 30 percent lower.”

City officials maintain that electric bills will go down in February after the city switches to another electric agency on Jan. 1.

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