Most Vero Council members duck angry meeting on utility rates

VERO BEACH — Irate utility customers showed up at a town hall meeting arranged by the Vero Beach City Council Tuesday night and voiced their outrage over increases in their electric bills – even though most of the City Council was not in attendance.While customers expressed their displeasure over the exorbitant rates they are paying compared to Indian River County FP&L customers, the only officials in a position to do something about the rising costs – the City Council members — were conspicuously absent. The lone exception was Council member Debra Fromang. A paid consultant from the Public Resources Management Group, Henry Thomas, addressed the angry crowd of about 40. Thomas was hired by the city to create the electric and waste water electric rate study which is being used to justify the utility rate increases.Brian Heady, a candidate for the City Council, summed up the feeling in the audience.”It is time for the residents of the City and for Indian River County utility customers to take a stand against the City and say, ‘Enough is enough,'” he said.One business owner, Fran Love, said the high utility rates she is being forced to pay during the slowest time of the season, may put her restaurant out of business.Another resident said he has to make a choice whether to buy food or keep his lights on. Questioned why the Mayor and the rest of the City Council (excepting Fromang) did not attend a public meeting to hear concern about the ever-increasing utility costs, City Clerk Tammy Vock said the meetings were arranged “just in case anybody had any questions.”  She added that Mayor Sabe Abell and Council members were not required to attend even though the City Council sets the utility rates and votes on increases.    For over two hours, one person after another addressed City staff and the paid consultants who could do nothing but listen to the complaints about their electric bills.   The City Council will meet on September 8th at 5 p.m. and September 15th at 4 p.m. to vote on the passing of the 2009-2010 budget which is expected to include hefty increases for electric, water and sewer, and  garbage rates.

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