UPDATE: County advisory panel votes for canceling City water, sewer service

By Lisa ZahnerINDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The County Utility Advisory Committee Thursday unanimously recommended that the Board of County Commissioners give the City of Vero Beach notice it will terminate its contract for water, sewer and irrigation services when the contract expires in March 2017.

The County initially signed the 1987 contract when it did not have the capacity to provide utility services to the growing area south of the city line on the barrier island.

In the early 1990s, the County began building its water and sewer systems and now has excess capacity and could potentially accommodate the 4,000 county residents who currently buy water, sewer and irrigation water from the City of Vero Beach.

The County is required to give the City of Vero Beach five years’ notice by March 2012 if it wants to disconnect County residents from water and sewer service, but earlier notice may aid the City in its long-range planning as it is in the process of revising its utility rate structure. City of Vero Beach Utilities customers are facing possible 7.5 percent increases in water rates and 29.5 percent increases in sewer rates in October 2009, with sizeable rate increases each year for the next five years.

The committee and staff also discussed encouraging the Town of Indian River Shores to not automatically renew its water and sewer contract with the City, which runs until October 2016, so the County could bid to take over the Shores’ 1,912 water customers and 1,727 sewer customers. That would require that Indian River Shores give notice to the City by Oct. 26, 2011.

Today’s discussion grew out of growing unhappiness over the fact that County customers of the City of Vero Beach Utilities do not have elected representation on the City Council that is charged with setting the rates and overseeing the management of the utility.

Members of the Utilities Advisory Committee have expressed concern that the City of Vero Beach is annually using millions of dollars paid to the utility by County residents to subsidize the City’s general fund.

The nearly 8-year time period between now and the expiration of the contract would give the County time to plan and build the infrastructure needed to start providing service to County residents in March 2017.

The resolution will now go to the County Attorney for review for legal sufficiency and will then be placed on the County Commission agenda for consideration.

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