By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- A voter referendum on selling the municipal electric utility to Florida Power & Light isn't completely off the table.
In a 3-2 vote, the Vero Beach City Council tabled Councilman Dick Winger's motion to include a provision on a possible voter referendum in the sales and purchase agreement currently being drafted by city transactional attorneys and FP&L attorneys.
A referendum is a question presented on a ballot for constituents to voice their opinions on a proposal by a governing body, usually with a yes or no vote.
Councilman Winger and Councilman Jay Kramer opposed the motion to table the issue.
Along with tabling the issue, the majority of the council decided to send Councilman Winger's proposed provision to the city's utility commission for a recommendation.
Commission Chairman Scott Stradley said other items will be on the agenda for their December meeting, but he is certain the issue will be discussed at the January meeting and public input would be part of the process.
Newly appointed Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll said a non-binding survey on the sale of the system could be brought to ratepayers and would provide a better picture of the desires of electric customers than would a referendum.
A referendum would only apply to city residents, but a large number of ratepayers live outside the city and their voices would not be heard on the issue, Vice Mayor Carroll said.
Also, since a referendum would apply to voters, the numbers could be inaccurate either for or against a sale. Vice Mayor Carroll gave the example of her household, where four voters would vote for a sale, but they only have one utility connection.
She suggested that a yes or no question be put inside electric utility bills sent to each ratepayer for the most accurate survey results.
Mayor Craig Fletcher, who was nominated to his new post earlier in the meeting, asked that the council seriously consider the survey question during the next meeting in December.
Councilman Winger said his point in requesting the possibility of a referendum in the purchase and sales agreement with FP&L is to let the people be heard.
"This is a question of empowering the voters," Councilman Winger said.
Councilwoman Pilar Turner said she sees the question of a referendum being brought up now as detrimental to negotiations with FP&L.
Should the referendum question continue to move forward, there is a possibility FP&L attorneys might feel encumbered and decide to put the negotiations on hold, moving back the timeline on a closing date, effectively costing the city more money, she said.
The soonest a referendum could be voted on would be in a special March election.
To see upcoming agendas or for more information about city government meetings, visit www.covb.org.