City Council to consider new electric, water and sewer rates today

By Lisa ZahnerVERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council convenes at 3 p.m. Tuesday for a special call meeting to review the proposed electric rates that would take effect on January 1, and the water and sewer increases slated to hit customers on October 1.The proposed rate adjustments are the result of a rate study conducted over the past few months by Public Resources Management Group. The study is the first one the City has undertaken in 18 years and is proposing significant increases to base rates to cover operating and capital costs of the City’s struggling utilities. If the proposal on the table is approved, water rates go up 7.5 percent and sewer rates will soar by 29.5 percent in October. Additional hikes would be phased in each October to allow the water and sewer utilities, which are currently in a negative cash position, to bring in enough revenue to support salaries and benefits, administration, system operations, capital maintenance and improvments and to also help subsidize the City’s general fund.Also on the table is a proposal to discontinue seasonal residents’ ability to disconnect water and sewer service when they go on vacation during the summer, leaving them responsible for paying base rates whether they are here using the system or not.Electric base rates are also scheduled to go up in January, but the current 10 percent surcharge tacked onto electric usage rates for out-of-City customers is set to be eliminated, so all customers will be paying the same rate. PRMG has recommended a tiered plan which would charge a higher rate for usage over 1,000 kWh to encourage energy conservation. City officials have predicted that customers’ bills will go down substantially in January due to an anticipated decrease in fuel costs when the City switches to a different power-buying scheme with the Orlando Utilities Commission. It remains to be seen what will actually happen to the monthly bills of the City’s 33,000-plus electric customers, 61 percent of whom reside outside the City.Under the current rates and recent power cost adjustments that customers have seen this summer, City of Vero Beach Electric customers pay roughly 50 percent more for the same amount of power than Florida Power and Light customers in Sebastian, the north barrier island and south mainland parts of the County.The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers and it is open to the public.

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