Public hearing on new Vero electric rates today

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council will discuss and take public input Tuesday morning on an electric base-rate increase proposed as a result of rate studies completed this year. Though base rates would increase 12.5 percent beginning Jan. 1, customers who live outside the city limits would see an elimination of the 10 percent surcharge on their bills.

The “rate restructuring” as it’s been called by city staff and by newly-elected Councilman Brian Heady, is designed to cover the costs of operating the electric system and fund contributions toward the general services of the city. It has been promised by the city that, once a new power purchasing agreement with the Orlando Utilities Commission kicks in, overall electric bills for the average customer will go down by about 20 percent.  The city will be billed in mid-January for December’s usage under the Florida Metropolitan Power Agency, so the new power costs will not be seen until bills received by customers at the end of February or beginning of March.


City Council members have suggested that the rate increase be tabled or postponed until after customers begin to see the savings materialize under the new contract, but they voted to go ahead with the public hearing to get the ratepayers’ perspective on whether or not to approve the new rate plan now or wait until early 2010.

Also on the agenda are requests by Councilman Charlie Wilson to notify OUC in writing that the city wishes to re-negotiate a controversial $50 million early-exit penalty in the pending contract.

In response to information given by representatives from Florida Power and Light during a special call meeting on Nov. 16, Wilson has also requested that the city open up good-faith negotiations with FPL about selling the electric utility. FPL has said that, should the city express a serious desire to sell the utility and should there be no legal roadblocks to selling, it would send a team to complete an analysis of the value of the plant and other assets, at no cost to the city.

Heady has asked for a discussion about various options for utilizing the old Dodger Pines Golf Course, for which the city paid $9.9 million. Heady has said he feels the city should be putting that investment to some productive use.

Wilson has asked that the City Council review the employment contract of City Attorney Charles Vitunac, as Vitunac has been called into question recently for crafting what could be construed as an unclear ordinance regarding the residency requirements for city council candidates. The city is also under grand jury investigation for possible improprieties involving the contract with OUC.

The Vero Beach City Council meets at 9:30 a.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. Tuesday’s meeting will be followed by another session on Friday, Dec. 4 as council members will discuss a proposal by Rep. Debbie Mayfield regarding her wishes to have the City of Vero Beach Electric Utility to be regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission. This is in response to concerns from residents who live outside the city and cannot vote for the city council members who control their rates.

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