County presents long-awaited utility proposal to Shores

INDIAN RIVER SHORES — Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Cadden has prodded Indian River County for months to produce a formal water-sewer proposal for the Town Council to consider. This week the County finally obliged, offering regular County rates in exchange for a takeover of the Town’s utility assets. The deal would commit Shores residents to a 30-year franchise agreement with Indian River County Utilities for water and sewer services.

The County could also provide reuse water for irrigation, but those details are still to be worked out with the City of Vero Beach. Currently, Indian River County serves parts of the Shores and the City of Vero Beach serves other parts with reuse water.

Indian River County Utilities Director Erik Olson fielded questions from council members, with County Attorney Alan Polackwich on hand to respond to any legal queries, of which there were none.

Olson explained that the County would absorb any costs to connect Indian River Shores to the County system. In previous presentations to the Town, Olson showed officials that the County had plenty of capacity to service Shores residents, in regard to both potable water and wastewater treatment.

Should the City of Vero Beach accept a proposed utility takeover by which the County would take over operations, assume the City’s water-sewer utility debt and its customers, Olson said many issues would be “moot” as there would be full cooperation from Vero and use of all existing water and wastewater lines and equipment. Without a deal on regionalization, the County would have to bore a water main under the Indian River Lagoon to service the Shores.

Shores officials have stated repeatedly that they are looking for reliable service, excellent water quality and stable long-term rates. Only the rate issue was addressed at Thursday’s meeting, as the County has already presented data about reliability of the system and its award-winning water quality.

As far as rates go, Olson told the Town Council that the County has not raised rates since 1999 and has no intention of raising rates for at least the next five years. At a previous meeting, County Administrator Joe Baird had said that it would be reasonable to include a three-year rate guarantee in the agreement.

The County has offered to hammer out a cooperative arrangement with Vero in regard to reuse water used for irrigation, as neither Vero nor the County alone produces enough reuse irrigation water to supply the Shores, but working together, the entities can meet the irrigation needs of the island community. John’s Island alone uses about a million gallons per day of reuse water.

The Shores would be permitted under Florida law to tack on a utility tax or franchise fee to its residents’ bills, but Councilman Gerard Weick has been adamant about the fact that the Town should never charge such a fee. Weick requested Thursday that Olson remove two sections from the proposal providing for the option for the Town to charge a franchise fee or utility tax.

The Town has yet to see a revised proposal from the City of Vero Beach, as a proposal that was drawn up last year by GAI Consultants was done prior to the four new members of the Vero Beach City Council being elected.

No members of the Vero Beach City Council or the Vero Beach staff were present at Thursday’s meeting.

Vero recently voted to spend $93,000 to appraise its water-sewer system and another $80,000 for GAI to complete an “optimization study” to find efficiencies in the system which might be able to keep costs and rates down. That work will take a couple of months to complete.

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