VERO BEACH — The seven candidates vying for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council dais fielded various questions ranging from the potential sale of Vero Beach Electric and moving the water-sewer plant off the river to the future of property taxes and ways to improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon during a candidate forum Wednesday afternoon hosted by the Taxpayers’ Association of Indian River County.
One candidate, however, was able to manage only a few minutes for the forum before having to leave. Former Vero Beach City Councilman Brian Heady, who is seeking another term on the Council, was scheduled to drive veterans to the veterans hospital and did not expect to be able to pop into the forum.
However, he was able to take a quick break and addressed nearly every question posed, including one about limiting public comment during Council meetings. Known for speaking out during Council meetings, Heady said Council members are supposed to represent the public.
“You can’t represent the people if you don’t listen to them,” he said, just before he left to take the driver’s seat of the veterans bus.
Others who are running for Council include incumbents Jay Kramer and Pilar Turner, former Councilman Charlie Wilson, and residents Harry Howle, Randy Old, and Jack Shupe.
Council members serve 2-year terms. Three are elected in even-numbered years and two are elected in odd-numbered years.
Councilman Craig Fletcher, whose seat is also up this year, opted to not seek re-election.
Candidates were asked if they see a need to increase the city’s property tax rate, as was discussed during the Council’s budget meetings earlier this summer.
Howle, Kramer, Old and Shupe agreed that there is no need to increase taxes for now, while Turner pointed to the City’s $100 million unfunded liabilities – primarily the unfunded pensions. Wilson cited comments from Tuesday’s City Council meeting addressing the potential impact a partial sale of Vero Electric could have – increasing both property taxes and electric rates for those inside the City limits.
When asked if they would support increasing property taxes as a way to cut transfers from the electric utility to the City’s general fund, Kramer said the Council had already done that but didn’t get recognition for it. Turner said she would support the move.
Howle and Wilson said the move would not be necessary but did not explain why, and Old and Shupe both said they would not support such an exercise.
Where all the candidates appear to agree are the issues of the All Aboard Florida project and the health of the Indian River Lagoon.
None believe the railroad project would benefit the city and all believe it should be fought and ultimately stopped.
As for the Lagoon, the candidates agreed the resource is invaluable to the community and should be protected. Howle, though, cautioned that whatever the Council does to help, it should make sure the money is spent on solutions that are known to work.
Kramer pointed to steps the Council has already taken to help improve the Lagoon – passing a fertilizer ordinance, working to install baffle boxes to trap debris before reaching the water, and moving forward with a hybrid septic system.
Turner said the City should implement the hybrid septic system in a systematic way, targeting the oldest septic systems nearest the Lagoon first.