Vero may consider changes to utility group, while it ponders sale

VERO BEACH — Acting Electric Utility Director John Lee said Tuesday he would like the city  of Vero Beach to consider changing the structure of its Utility Commission to include all the members of the city council as well as rate payers from outside the city limits.The Vero Beach City Council, which is also holding discussions with Florida Power & Light about selling the power plant, had looked into such changes to the structure of the commission earlier this year and decided against it in favor of its current system. Lee and Vero Beach City Manager Jim Gabbard traveled to Lakeland on Monday to view how its 12-member utility authority operates with its city commission at an open meeting. Lee said Lakeland, with a large base of users outside its city limits, faces similar circumstances as that of Vero Beach.”We have some pretty challenging issues with all our utilities,” Lee said. “They have a unique approach in that all the members of their city commission also sit on the utility commission, so they all get a feeling for the discussions and what went into the decisions.”The Lakeland utility committee is made up of 12 members — the six city commissioners and the rest representatives from civic and business interests both inside and outside the city limits.”We have a little different situation in that we have three interested parties (the city of Vero Beach, county residents on the electric grid and Indian River Shores residents),” Lee said.However, final authority in Lakeland, as is the case with Vero Beach, rests with the city and not the electric commission. That fact — that the city ultimately had the final say — became the sticking point earlier this year when Vero Beach was holding discussions about changing the makeup of the utility authority.City Councilman Brian Heady was baffled by the decision of city staff to make the trip to Lakeland to view the city commission in operation. He said no one from the city notified him of the trip.”I would like to know under what direction city staff took it upon themselves to do this,” Heady said. “This did not come from the City Council at a public meeting. Is that the direction the council wants to take? Once again city staff does what it wants to do and the council has little or no input at providing meaningful direction.”I don’t have a problem with staff doing things that save rate payers some money, but I do think we should have a little bit of say.”

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