VERO BEACH — Saying he had accomplished most of what he had set out to do, Vero Beach Director of Electric Utilities R.B. Sloan resigned Tuesday after just a little over two years with the city.
“There were two or three major things which needed to be done and those (were) the Orlando Utilities Commission contract and getting the rates implemented, which will take place at the first of the year,” Sloan said. “So it’s a good time to decide to leave.”
Sloan’s department has drawn the ire of city and county customers who have been forced to pay some of the highest electric rates in the state this past summer due to cost adjustments on their bills. However, the utility did technically turn a profit as electric revenues have traditionally padded the general fund by $5.9 million to keep property taxes low. The utility ran through a $14.5 million surplus this past fiscal year and was forced to impose oppressive power cost adjustments to cover tens of millions of dollars in bad fuel hedges and $1.1 million in penalties for the improper use of FP&L transmission lines by the city’s current electric provider. The city will also consider a double-digit rate increase this November to help defray costs for improving the power plant.
When accepting the job, Sloan had made a five-year commitment to City Manager Jim Gabbard, thinking it would take that much time to change the course of the utility and put it on the right track. Sloan had also publicly stated several times that if he didn’t feel he could make the utility turn a profit, he would leave.
In his letter of resignation, Sloan stated he had come to his position “with the goal of stabilizing power supply cost and I believe that has been accomplished with the soon to be implemented OUC agreement.
“This contract in conjunction with the new electric rates currently under consideration by the Florida Public Service Commission are two of the major milestones I had targeted for completion. As these are implemented, I believe this is an opportune time to transition,” he stated.
The first week in November, Sloan will take over as Utility Director for the City of Danville, Va. This is a homecoming for Sloan, whose previous employer had an office about 40 miles from Danville. He grew up about 110 miles away and lived in the region most of his life.
Though the public outrage over soaring electric rates has been difficult on Sloan, he expected to take such heat from all sides. The men and women who Sloan feels have borne the unfair brunt of what’s happening — other than the customers paying the rates — are his rank-and-file employees who deal with the stigma of that everywhere, from picking up their kids at school to going to the grocery store on the way home from work.
“We’ve got good people all the way around and they’re working under some tough conditions right now. It’s tough to have people enthused under these conditions,” Sloan said. “I’ve met a lot of real nice people here and I will miss them a bunch and hope to see them often.”
He has repeatedly assured utility customers that the 12.7 percent increase to be considered by the City Council in November, will be “more than offset” by the anticipated reduced power costs under the terms of the OUC contract. Many have been skeptical that the 20 percent in net reduction to electric bills will materialize.
Always a gentleman no matter how irate his opponent or critic, Sloan has been a constant presence at meetings whenever the electric utility is discussed. He fielded the tough questions and often deflected the ill will directed at the city over the poor planning and poor decision making — much of which happened prior to his watch — which led to the current crisis.
Sloan will keep his home on the barrier island in Vero Beach and intends to travel back and forth frequently, at least for the next few months while the city undergoes the transition to the Orlando Utilities Commission contract and implements the rate change.
“I will be available for consultation on an as needed basis several months after that date (of Nov. 6),” Sloan said in his resignation letter.
Customer Service Manager John Lee has been named acting director of the Electric Utility.