Nobody wants to see Vero stop being Vero

Let’s get this nonsense out of the way now: Nobody wants to dis-incorporate the city.

Nobody wants to see our building-height restrictions and low-density zoning repealed. Nobody wants to see our seaside slice of heaven lose its Rockwellian charm. Nobody here wants to see Vero to stop being Vero.

And that includes the members of our City Council.

So don’t fall for the idea that merely exploring ways to more efficiently and cost effectively provide municipal services will somehow destroy the city and turn Vero Beach into Fort Lauderdale.

That’s not going to happen, even if a private company leases and manages the city marina, or Waste Management picks up your trash, or the county takes over your water and sewage-treatment systems.

Vero will still be Vero.

It might be even better, especially if the City Council can put together deals that result in residents getting improved services at a lower price, which is what we expect from the impending sale of city’s electric utility to Florida Power & Light.

Certainly, there’s no harm in finding out.

“It’s our job to get the best possible deal for the taxpayers,” Councilman Val Zudans said. “So I want to examine what we’re doing, look at what other cities are doing and explore options to see if we’re getting the best services at the best price.

“If we find that we’re doing a great job and there’s no reason to change anything, I’m fine with that,” he added. “It doesn’t have to be all one way or the other, but let’s at least look at the alternatives.”

That’s going to happen.

While it was Zudans who put the issue on the agenda for the City Council’s May 1 meeting, where both proponents and opponents of change made their cases, a majority of the panel has expressed a willingness to join him in exploring the city’s options.

City Manager Jim O’Connor said he expects this council – more than any in recent years – to look at privatizing some services or forming partnerships to provide them.

He said Zudans, Mayor Harry Howle and Vice Mayor Lange Sykes were “on the same page,” and that he thinks Laura Moss and Tony Young are open to exploring alternatives.

“If ever there was a real opportunity to look at our options and possibly see a better path, this is it,” Howle said. “This is Vero’s youngest City Council in a long time, maybe ever, so now is the time. This is our chance.

“If we don’t get answers to these questions now, it might not happen again for a very long time, because the makeup of the council could change.”

There are some folks, though, who don’t want the questions asked – which makes no sense whatsoever.

Why wouldn’t they want their elected officials to review the way the city provides its services and explore alternatives for delivering them more efficiently and more cost-effectively?

Do they really believe that privatizing trash pickup and letting the county handle their sewage treatment service will break the city and result in a wall of high-rise condos on the beach or some other dreadful outcome?

Or might it be something else?

“Every person who spoke out against exploring our options also opposed the sale of the electric system,” Zudans said of the May 1 council meeting. “The best I can figure it: They’re worried we’re going to find out that these alternatives are much better than what we’re doing, and they have a fear of change.

“The thing is – and this is a point I wish I had made – they don’t represent the majority of people in Vero Beach.”

They are vocal, however. And organized. And engaged.

They want Vero Beach to be what it was 20 years ago, and they use their political clout to oppose anyone and anything that threatens the status quo, particularly when the proposed changes involve services they believe are assets needed to generate revenues that contribute to the city’s general fund.

“All I did was put it on the agenda, and you saw what happened,” Zudans said, referring to an email blast sent by the Indian River Neighborhood Association to its members and the news media.

“I didn’t propose doing anything but explore alternatives and gather information,” he added. “Somehow, they turned that into an effort to dis-incorporate the city of Vero Beach.”

As for the IRNA concocting a connection between the council’s willingness to investigate the city’s service options and the elimination of local building-height restrictions and low-density zoning, Howle said, “I’m not sure how they got to that.”

He then pointed out that, according to the city charter, the City Council may not increase the height restrictions or density levels unless the increase is approved by voters in a referendum.

“It’s a non-starter,” Howle said.

For the record: Moss said that she’s open to exploring options and that she agrees now is the time to do it, though she’s more apt to consider privatizing trash pickup and leasing the marina than turning over the city’s water-sewer utility to the county.

She said she would be “hesitant” to turn services over to the county because she has heard “so many complaints” from customers.

“Now that the electric sale is well on its way to being done, we have time to re-examine other facets of the city,” Moss said. “If we’re able to do things more efficiently and at a lower cost to the taxpayers – and do it without changing the character of our charming city – we should look at it.

“But it can’t be strictly about the money,” she continued. “If all you worry about is money, you can sell your soul .  … So we need to be careful. Whatever outside entities we deal with, they need to be very Vero-friendly.

“I hear from people who’ve recently moved here, and I can’t tell you how many have said, ‘Vero is what Boca Raton was 30 years ago.’ We should consider that a warning,” she added. “Once you go too far, you can’t go back. Once you’ve paved paradise, it’s gone.

“We need to preserve this.”

Yes, we do. And we will.

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