City Council delays vote regarding beefed up utility commission

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to hold off on deciding to approve or deny a more autonomous utility commission, leaving the public hearing open until Nov. 17.

Councilman Tom White expressed opposition to the proposed commission saying that he thinks it is “just another level of government.” State legislators have expressed concern regarding the way the city runs its utilities and have given the impression they would propose legislation to regulate how the city manages those operations. One of the big complaints has been from County residents who must purchase electricity from the city, but say they have no say in how the city spends the money it collects.

“We’re doing this to give outside city residents” the ability to participate, said City Manager Jim Gabbard, who also noted that the current utility commission already consists of members who live outside the city.

Faced with several changes proposed to the ordinance that would grant more responsibilities to the utility commission, the council decided to wait for the revised version and try to get more feedback from state legislators before calling a vote on the matter.

Such changes include tweaking the name — from the proposed “Utility Authority” to “Utility Commission” — changing the way alternate commission members are selected, and establishing term limits for the members.

White also asked City Attorney Charlie Vitunac strike a provision from the ordinance that would have given the commission the power to “dispose of assets.”

While it was explained that the assets would be aging power poles and other such pieces of equipment, White said more could be read into the ordinance.

“You could open a Pandora’s Box you’ll never close,” he said.

Councilwoman Debra Fromang agreed that the item needed to be struck from the ordinance.

Councilman Bill Fish said that striking the item would be unnecessary because the city council would still have the right to review the disposal and either support it, deny it or modify it.

“The council has the right to intervene,” Fish said.

Both Mayor Sabe Abell and Gabbard told the council that they needed to push forward with the second reading of the ordinance at the meeting Tuesday.

However, White and Councilman Kevin Sawnick said that more time was needed. They both asked that the proposed ordinance — as modified — be reviewed by the state legislators.

Composition of Utility Commission:

3 members who reside within the city

2 members who reside outside the city but are city utility customers

1 member who resides within the Town of Indian River Shores

1 member at-large who is a city utility customer

2 alternate members: 1 who lives within the city, 1 at-large

What the new Utility Commission would be able to do:

Set rates, fees and charges after public hearings

Establish/Recommend policy for the city’s electric, water, wastewater and reuse water systems

Policies could include decisions to borrow money, issue bonds and prepare budgets

What the City Council would be able to do:

Endorse/support the commission’s actions

Amend actions

Reject actions

Choose to take no action on the commission’s actions

Reserve the right to repeal or amend any policy or decision of the commission at any time by motion of the council.

Reserve the right to replace any member of the commission at any time and for any reason

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