VERO BEACH — To combat what they say is “propaganda” from the City of Vero Beach, proponents of the sale of the city’s electric utility have formed what they are calling a “Truth Squad.”
The group will be in charge of responding to questions left on a telephone hotline answering machine pertaining to the impact of selling Vero Beach’s electric system to Florida Power and Light. “There is going to be a lot of misinformation” coming from the City of Vero Beach between now and the November municipal election, County Commission District 2 candidate Charlie Wilson said from his campaign office Thursday.
Wilson, who served briefly on the Vero Beach City Council and who campaigned on getting Vero Beach out of the electric business, put together the squad with the help of utlity activists Glenn Heran and Dr. Stephen Faherty.
Heran said that the City of Vero Beach has made misstatements when it comes to the potential sale of the electric utility.
He pointed out that the city’s officials said that once it switched to the Orlando Utility Commission, the city’s electric rates would be lower than Florida Power and Light.
“Of course, that turned out to be a complete falsehood,” Heran said.
The city’s current rates are approximately 32 percent higher than those of Florida Power and Light.
Another issue Heran said he wanted to clear up is the perception that the city’s property taxes would sky-rocket if the city offloaded its electric utility.
Based on his financial models, even if the city received so little for its utility that it had to raise property taxes, the city’s residents would save more than $8 million in electric bills.
“That’s what the city’s trying to sell you,” Heran said – fear that taxes will go up.
Councilman Brian Heady, who attended the press conference Thursday afternoon, said that FPL acknowledged it would have to offer enough money to cover the city’s debt, any penalties from the Orlando Utility Commission and other expenses.
He also noted that despite what opponents to selling the utility have said, FPL has no plans to implement “buy-back” surcharges.
Though Florida Power and Light has crafted a preliminary proposal to buy the electric utility, there is no guarantee from the company that it would buy Vero Beach Electric.
“I’m confident that they’re confident this is going to happen,” Heady said, explaining that FPL would not have sent three “high-priced” staff members to meet with individual members of council or spent the time or put in the effort that they have if they were not serious about buying the utility.
Tracy Carroll, chairwoman of Operation Clean Sweep, said that the political committee is still moving forward to secure enough signatures to put the sale of the electric utility to a vote of the city’s residents.
Even if Florida Power and Light presented a firm offer to buy that would leave the city financially whole, there is currently no guarantee that the Vero Beach City Council would vote to approve it, Carroll said.
The proposed referendum Operation Clean Sweep wants to put on the November ballot would bind the council to sell the electric utility provided the sale price would leave the city whole and were deemed to be in the best interest of the city’s residents.
Carroll said they are working to get another 400 or so signed petitions from within the city by July 25 to make the Supervisor of Election’s deadline to get the referendum on the ballot.
The committee is also working to elct four new members on the council in November — four people who would support selling the electric utility if it were right for the residents. Mayor Kevin Sawnick, and councilmembers Sabe Abell, Tom White and Ken Daige are all up for election.
Truth Squad Hotline: (772) 584-3437. Former Vero Beach City Councilman and current County Commission District 2 candidate Charlie Wilson said if you leave your question, concern or overheard rumor, the Truth Squad will research it and return your call.
Operation Clean Sweep: Tracy Carroll said those who live within the City of Vero Beach who have yet to sign a petition can visit Operation Clean Sweep’s Facebook page or www.SellVeroElectric.com to download a petition or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to request one.