City voters go to the polls March 12
By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- A majority of the Vero Beach City Council voted last week to approve a purchase and sales agreement for the city electric utility to Florida Power & Light after several years of questions, discussions and negotiations.
In a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Jay Kramer and Dick Winger dissenting, the council approved a $179.6 million contract with the power company. The contract includes a stipulation that should city voters decide in a March 12 vote that they do not want to sell the utility to FP&L, the city can back out of the contract without incurring a penalty.
The council held a detailed workshop, open to the public, on Feb. 12 about the purchase and sales agreement, and during the workshop council members asked many questions of legal counsel on the contents of the contract.
During the Feb. 19 meeting prior to the vote, the legal counsel showed council members where a few corrections, edits or changes had been made since the workshop occurred. Also during the Feb. 19 meeting, comments by the council and the public, both for and against the contract, took more than two hours.
Mayor Craig Fletcher was brief in his comments before the vote, saying he was in favor of the agreement because it was tied tightly to the future financial viability of the city.
Former Vero Beach mayor Caroline Ginn spoke out against the contract, and was silently supported by other former councilmembers and mayors, Sabin Abell, Debra Fromang, Ken Daige and Bill Jordan, who stood behind her.
Ms. Ginn's opposition to the contract is largely because she believes the "profit" from the sale, after the city pays its outstanding debts and obligations on the system, is too low.
"This is not a good deal for Vero Beach. You will be selling the only source of non-taxable revenue," she said.
Ms. Ginn said she didn't feel the transactional attorneys were fighting hard enough to get Vero Beach a better deal.
Councilmembers countered her remarks by noting that certain financial obligations had to be met due to previous electric contracts, including contract exits some individuals didn't think could ever happen.
Toby Hill, a member of the city utility commission and a representative of the Indian River Tea Party, said that the groups he represents and he himself as an individual are in favor of the agreement.
He said the whole process of pursuing an electric sale has had other benefits, including "shedding light" on the "inappropriate" electric fund transfer to the city's general fund.
He, as well as other members of the public and the council, thanked citizen activists Glen Heran and Steve Faherty for their tireless efforts to bring the electric issue to the forefront of the conversation for so many years.
Charlie Wilson, former Vero Beach City Council member in favor of the sale, said once the sale is final and complete and the power plant is torn down, the city should look into naming a city park on the property after Mr. Faherty.
Councilman Winger did not vote in favor of the contract because he has serious doubts of the city's ability to exit obligations with the Florida Municipal Power Agency until the obligations expire in late 2016, costing the ratepayers more money.
Councilman Kramer said he has spoken to individuals in the agency who have said they will not support the city's request to leave its agency contract, in part because it would cause a domino effect with other members in the agency who might want to leave as well.
Councilwoman Pilar Turner, who has been a strong vocal supporter of the sale, said when city negotiators have spoken to agency representatives, they have affirmed they are willing to cooperate and work with the city.
"I choose to take them at their word," she said.
Councilman Kramer has said in the past he would like to see the city release the county residents on municipal power and allow them to go to FP&L, while retaining city residents on city power.
Councilwoman Turner said she believed a partial sale would never work. To release the county residents would be 60 percent of the customers, and no company can survive with 40 percent of the customers paying 100 percent of the cost, she said.
For more information about the negotiations and to view documents about the sale of the electric utility to FP&L or about general city government meetings, visit www.covb.org.