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City Council to meet today to consider raising electric rates

VERO BEACH — While the City Council  yesterday pondered the fate of the power plant — a five-hour meeting that broke little new ground in the debate — today it will meet to discuss raising electric rates by as much as 12.5 percent at a regularly scheduled meeting.

At the workshop Monday, the Council heard all sides of the debate including former Electric Utility Director R.B. Sloan, consultant Sue Hersey and representatives from Florida Power and Light and the Orlando Utilities Commission.

Today they will meet to raise rates as the city prepares to switch over to the  OUC starting January 1. Proponents of the new contract say, despite the raise in rates, users will see a drop in their bills because of the new power provider. Those changes are expected to effect in the bills sent out in February.  

Mayor Kevin Sawnick conducted the Monday meeting with the openness he promised to have leading up to his selection to serve in the top post. Newly elected Councilman Charlie Wilson, who requested the meeting, said the 5-hour session was a good start.

“(Monday) signaled a change in the attitude that people feel when they come to speak to their city council,” he said. “Mayor Sawnick encouraged discussion and we learned a lot today.”

One thing the city learned is that FPL would, in fact, be willing to enter into discussions about purchasing the electric utility.

FPL staffers said they had never approached the city about doing this because they are “not interested in takeovers” and that they don’t go where they’re not wanted. According to Monday’s discussion, no one in an official capacity with the city had ever invited FPL to attend a meeting or to open up talks prior to Monday’s meeting.

“I’m especially pleased that after five years of denial that FPL has finally been invited that has confirmed the interest in purchasing Vero Utilities for a fair price, benefitting Vero residents, rate payers and FPL customers — everyone benefits,” Wilson said.

Another first was a presentation by local CPA Glenn Heran, who offered an interactive spreadsheet describing various scenarios in which the city could benefit from selling the electric utility.

In the past, Heran and his co-activist Dr. Stephen Faherty have been limited to three minutes of comments from the podium and have not been permitted to use the projector to share their findings with the public.

Brian Heady came to the meeting extremely prepared and asked numerous tough questions of the staff, of consultant Sue Hersey, the Boston-based attorney who represented the city in the contract negotiations with OUC.

Heady prefaced his remarks by saying that the intent of his questioning was not to place blame on anyone, but to get to the bottom of where the city is and how it got there.

About 20 members of the public got up to speak and, whenever possible, Sawnick had staff and others respond to their questions on the spot.

Council members also asked questions of the staff and of each other.

It was revealed that the $50 million exit clause in the OUC contract was “mutually agreed upon” according to both OUC and Hersey, and not required by OUC as had been previously believed.

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