VERO BEACH — When Florida Power and Light is scheduled to come to Vero on April 19 to talk about a sale of the electric utility, Vero Beach Councilman Brian Heady will be in the mountains of Haiti on a long-planned trip. So he’s asking for a meeting when he returns to flesh out the deal.
Heady said he wants to be there if any vote is planned on whether or not to proceed with negotiations to sell the electric system. It is up to Mayor Jay Kramer to schedule a special meeting. On Wednesday afternoon, Heady sent a letter through City Clerk Tammy Vock to Mayor Kramer asking that there be a special meeting set for a date and time when he is in town. He also requested that the meeting not be in colflict with a County Commission, School Board or Town of Indian River Shores meeting in case officials and staff wish to attend.
“No person in this community is more anxious than I to have the opportunity to hear from FP&L on this issue,” Heady wrote. “In planning for this meeting it is important to consider this is certainly one of the most important issues to face our community in the last 20 years and for as many or potentially more future years.”
Heady cannot lobby Mayor Kramer directly about calling a special meeting due to the Florida Sunshine Law.
“I trust you will honor my request for this meeting,” Heady wrote. “Thank you in advance for your consideration.”
Upon receiving a letter of intent Monday from FP&L offering up to $100 million in cash for the electric utility and FP&L rates for current Vero customers, the Vero Beach City Council proceeded with caution Tuesday, acting much like previous councils by hiring an expensive consultant to give advice, do studies and come up with scenarios.
The council voted 5-0 to contract with GAI Consultants for $141,000 in appraisals plus another $97,000 plus expenses in consulting and legal services. The $238,000 pricetag — which is plus any travel or other expenses — does not include negotiating on behalf of the city with FP&L. Negotiating a sale or handling a closing would be extra, presumably much extra.
The unanimous vote was somewhat of a surprise, as the majority of the City Council went on record stating to our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, that they were against the idea of a consultant on the eve of Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilwoman Tracy Carroll said she changed her mind on Tuesday because she did not realize that the Florida Public Service Commission would need to see a city-commissioned appraisal in order to evaluate the fairness of the sale price.
Councilman Brian Heady on Wednesday could not pinpoint one thing that convinced him that the consultant was needed, but simply said he was “swayed.”
The good-faith negotiating period on the letter of intent from FP&L expires on July 1 and GAI will take all of that time to do an appraisal of the electric system. It was estimated it would take 132 days, but since there are fewer days than that remaining, principal Gerry Hartmann said he could probably speed it up by a few days.
Councilman Craig Fletcher made the motion to accept GAI’s proposal, saying it’s “absolutely necessary that we get this done so the taxpayers will know that we just didn’t take this off the wall and say this looks good.”
Vero Beach Finance Committee member Dick Winger and other members of the Finance and Utility commissions expressed skepticism about taking the offer at face value without major dissection, saying the council must do its due diligence.
“Time is of the essence, we have to go forward with the study,” Winger said. “We want to reach a deal where both the city and FP&L feel like they didn’t get everything they want or it isn’t a good deal.”
Several members of the community including city resident Rusty Bragg, county resident Bea Gardner and former City Councilman Ken Daige spoke from the podium at the beginning of the day-long pair of meetings urging the City Council to not jump on the offer from FP&L without making sure it was the best deal the city could get.
Though two long-standing, vocal critics of the city, CPA Glenn Heran and former Councilman Charlie Wilson, applauded the offer put forth by FP&L, there was no outpouring of support from the general public in favor of swiftly moving ahead with the offer.
After the meeting, Heran said he was discouraged by what he saw as a lack of leadership on the council to take an offer that was better than anticipated.The benefits to the community in reduced rates and new property taxes on what will be FP&L assets are estimated at $14.4 million per year according to the electric model that Heran and Dr. Stephen Faherty have been presenting for more than two years.
“Every month the City Council waits to get moving on this, the community is out more than $1.2 million in rate and tax savings,” Heran said. “So they can drag this out another 10 months and maybe get another $10 million, but in the meantime, the ratepayers are losing about $40,000 a day.”
The offer includes taking on city electric employees for two years and taking over their pension liabilities, plus eventually decommissioning the power plant at FP&L costs after making transmission upgrades.
FP&L estimates it will pay about $1.7 million annually — about half of which would go to the School District — in property taxes on the power plant, transmission assets, equipment, lines and other electric utility infrastructure once the investor-owned utility takes possession.
In the meantime while GAI is working on the appraisal, the City Council and staff members are preparing questions about the letter of intent to send off to FP&L.
The next regular Vero Beach City Council meeting is scheduled for April 19, though the council is set to meet on April 12 to discuss some pension and financial issues.