By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH - The list of candidates for Vero Beach City Council sits at seven individuals for three seats.
Three incumbents and four other candidates will be on the November general election ballot this year.
Councilman Jay Kramer and Vice Mayor Craig Fletcher and fellow incumbent Mayor Pilar Turner hope to retain their seats on council over challenges from Brian Heady, Karen Kozdra and Dan Stump.
Mr. Kramer and Mr. Fletcher are featured in this article.
Mr. Kramer's deciding factor to run for re-election was to see the sale of the electric utility, a hot-button issue for Vero Beach for several years, to completion.
"For the next two years it's going to be about how Vero Beach will restructure after the utility sale," Mr. Kramer said.
The Vero Beach City Council and city manager have kept abreast of negotiations between attorneys for the city and Florida Power & Light. Recently, the attorneys have said a closing date on the sale could be early in 2014.
"By the time the election rolls around, I think the decision will not be 'do we sell to FP&L,' but how will we react to it," he said.
Mr. Kramer differs slightly from other current council members in that he believes residents should be consulted before a sale with FP&L is completed.
A sale will mean several million from the electric utility fund will no longer be offsetting the general fund, he said.
"We need to make sure the taxes don't go up and the deficit doesn't spill over into the services of Vero Beach and the flavor of Vero Beach doesn't get lost," Mr. Kramer said.
Mr. Kramer said he hopes to move forward with economic development projects throughout the city, including a special business improvement district in downtown Vero Beach.
He is interested in creating one for the Oceanside businesses if they are interested. The district area could be the recipients of revenue dedicated to improvements in the city.
Mr. Fletcher has served on a variety of advisory boards and committees.
Promises to the public to see through the sale of the electric utility are the biggest reason Mr. Fletcher has decided to run again for office.
"I couldn't walk away from the sale and I want to keep my promise," Mr. Fletcher said.
The anticipated closing date for the sale of the electric utility to FP&L is early 2014. Mr. Fletcher said he is fairly confident that the deal will go through and is excited about seeing it come to fruition and helping shape the changes the city will need as a result.
For some time now, the city has not been able to cover the costs of retirement benefits, about $11 million. The city has been paying $3 million a year to try and catch up, Mr. Fletcher said.
"It's a two-part problem at the city. No. 1is the retirement benefits. It's the same thing making hundreds of towns file for bankruptcy," Mr. Fletcher said.
The second part of the problem is an inefficient power plant causing high electric costs for customers, he said.
The plant is using equipment that is 50 years old. Newer technologies have since been developed so other power companies have been able to keep costs lower for customers, Mr. Fletcher said.
To try and upgrade wouldn't be fiscally responsible because the city would need to go further in debt to make it happen, he said.
"It's a dinosaur waiting to die," Mr. Fletcher said.
Both problems can be addressed in one action: the sale to FP&L, he said.
As the current negotiations stand, the city would make about a $40 million profit from the sale to FP&L and it would no longer have as many employees. The $40 million could be used to pay the cost of the retirement benefits, which would then allow the city to effectively restart the program and institute caps on the program, Mr. Fletcher said.
The $3 million the city currently pays to try to bring down the retirement program debt could be used for something else in the general fund and as a result of the sale, people and businesses currently on city electric would see a decrease in their monthly bills.
Once the power plant is gone, the city will have riverfront property and Mr. Fletcher hopes some other revenue-producing business could take its place.
Detractors from the sale have said the budget shortfall from losing the revenue-generating utility is high and would mean residents would need to pay a lot more in taxes, but Mr. Fletcher doesn't think that will be necessary.
After the sale is approved, Mr. Fletcher said he'd like to see an entire reorganization of the city, which could lead to more cost-cutting measures and a leaner, more efficient workforce.
Combining that with a small change in the ad valorem tax rate would take care of outstanding dollars.
"It's not a real difficult problem to solve, but people are upset about it and I understand that," Mr. Fletcher said.
Hometown News is attempting to contact all candidates for city council for profiles.
To see more candidate profiles, read Hometown News or search online at www.myhometownnews.net.