By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- On March 12, Vero Beach voters will cast their votes in a binding referendum on whether they approve a sale of the city electric utility to another power provider.
The Vero Beach City Council voted 4-1 to officially send the referendum question to voters during the Jan. 8 council meeting.
Councilman Jay Kramer was the only no vote, citing concerns about the language of the referendum.
The city has been negotiating with Florida Power & Light to sell the electric utility and negotiators estimate the earliest a closing date will be reached is January 2014.
The exact language of the referendum is as follows:
"Do you approve of the sale and disposition of the City of Vero Beach electric utility and substantially all of its assets for the purpose of exiting the electric utility business under terms substantially similar to the asset purchase and sale agreement between the City and Florida Power & Light Company?"
Voters can vote yes, for approval, or no for rejection.
The asset purchase and sale agreement mentioned in the referendum question has not yet been completed, but is expected to be finalized by Feb. 15.
A working document is expected to be reviewed by the city utilities commission on Jan. 29 and the city finance commission on Jan. 31. The city council will also hold a meeting to review the document on Feb. 12.
City manager Jim O'Connor said the asset and purchase agreement could be voted on for approval by the council as soon as Feb. 19.
In addition to FP&L's and the council's approval, the Florida Municipal Power Agency must also approve the document, because the city has wholesale power contracts with the agency.
The purchase price for the electric utility has been adjusted down during negotiations from $115 million to $111.5 million in order for the city to transfer asset liabilities to FP&L after a sale, said John Igoe, the city's transactional attorney.
The power company has agreed to raise the lease amount for the land the power plant is located on from $1 million per year to $1.5 million per year for three years, with an option for a fourth year, Mr. Igoe said.
Also during the Jan. 8 meeting, the city council voted 4-1 to remove themselves from a large regional planning group known as Seven50. Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll wanted to stay in the planning group because she wanted the city's views represented.
This vote follows a similar vote by the Indian River County board of county commissioners to exit the planning group because of concerns the plans created in such a group would be detrimental to the values of Indian River County residents.
Many residents came to the meeting to ask the council to remove themselves from the large regional planning group, which has participants from Indian River County south to Monroe County.
The group is focused on 50-year planning for the region on issues such as transportation, education and the environment.
Residents spoke out against what they saw as another layer of bureaucracy, unaccountable to voters as the leaders of the group are not elected.
Others said they felt what was good for other counties would not be what was good for Vero Beach and Indian River County.
Values such as limited government, fiscal responsibility and home rule would not be part of the Seven50 plan, residents said.
While Indian River County and now the city of Vero Beach have withdrawn from Seven50 discussions, other governing bodies and agencies in Indian River County are still listed as partners, including the Indian River County School Board and the cities of Sebastian and Fellsmere.
For more information or to view upcoming city agendas, visit www.covb.org.