Without merger, Vero Beach water and sewer rate hikes could lie ahead

VERO BEACH – Providing a detailed analysis that’s become known as “the model,” utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran forever changed the debate about selling Vero Electric.

Now the citizen duo is tackling the water-sewer regionalization quandary.

Heran and Faherty’s electric model demonstrated that the community as a whole would be $18 million better off by after a sale of Vero’s entire electric utility to Florida Power and Light (FP&L).

Now the duo’s new water-sewer model not only advocates that Vero Beach turn its water-sewer utility over to Indian River County, but also issues a stark rate hike warning to South Barrier Island and Indian River Shores residents if either where to stay on the city’s system.

Rates for Shores and South Barrier Island customers are currently 20 to 40 percent higher than Indian River County Utilities customers, depending upon meter size and consumption.

If Heran and Faherty’s numbers pan out, that spread will increase to roughly 112 percent higher in 2017.

The new model proposes that the County absorb the whole of the Vero Beach system.

A 2009 rate study predicted that Vero Beach water and sewer rates would soar over the next five years to meet growing expenses, but the previous Vero Beach City Council repealed rate hikes its predecessor council had approved in what was seen as a political move by three incumbent council members.

Vice Mayor Pilar Turner has been trying for four months to get Utility Director Rob Bolton and Finance Director Steve Maillet to demystify for her an alleged decline to the tune of $13 million in the city’s revenue requirements.

Though she’s received some preliminary data, it’s still unclear what’s changed over the past 20 months since the rate study prescribed steady rate hikes.

/ Councilman Brian Heady said he hasn’t seen a plausible explanation of where the money will come from to sustain current rates.

“Nothing changed in the numbers from the rate study. What’s changed is the public outcry,” Heady said. “There has been nothing that’s come across my desk telling the council how we can afford in the long-term to not have those rate increases.”

All four new Vero Beach council members included water-sewer regionalization in campaign platforms, but Heady is getting impatient with what he sees as an unwillingness to take definitive action so far.

 

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