Electric issues power race for Vero Beach City CouncilNovember 2nd, 2009 by TCPalm.com
VERO BEACH — High electric bills have provided the spark to this year’s election, with some candidates contending a contract with a new power provider will bring relief and others suggesting the city look at getting out of the electric business.
Incumbents Bill Fish and Debra Fromang are being challenged by five people looking to gain two-year terms on the five-member council.
The challengers include former City Council member Ken Daige; frequent council critic Brian Heady; retired National Geographic Society Chief Cartographer Jack Shupe; downtown businesswoman Susan Viviano; and local businessman and political commentator Charlie Wilson.
City officials have contended the high electric bills customers of Vero Beach Municipal Utilities have been facing are being caused by large bills from their primary power supplier, Florida Municipal Power Authority’s All Requirements Project.
Officials contend electric bills will drop significantly when a new power provider, Orlando Utilities Commission, comes on line at the beginning of next year.
The council, which at the time included Daige, authorized the city to enter into a contract with the new power provider in April 2008, although Daige contends the final version of the contract signed by then-Mayor Tom White is different than what he voted on last year.
While Fish and Fromang both said the contract with Orlando Utilities Commission is a good deal for the city, Fromang has said she is open to looking at the viability of getting out of the electric business in the future.
While city rate consultants have said electric bills could decrease by more than 20 percent because of lower fuel costs next year, but critics say the bills will still be more than 20 percent higher than those from Florida Power & Light Co.
Breaking the contract could result in penalties as high as $50 million, although Wilson said he was looking for loopholes to get out of contract so the city can get out of the electric business entirely. Viviano said she’s in favor of the city getting out of the electric business.
Others like Shupe said there is no quick fix to the issue and speak of the need for more research. Heady also said all options need to be considered including selling the plant with the goal of providing reliable service at low cost.
Daige said changing the spending practices at city hall and changing the method of transferring money from the Utilities Enterprise Fund to the General Fund could resolve problems with the utility.
In addition to high electric costs, there has also been a push on for the city to consider merging its water and wastewater operations with the county in light of the city’s rising rates for those services.
The city, like other communities around the state and nation, is dealing with increased pressure on its budget as a result of the economic downturn, which has resulted in layoffs, wage freezes and furloughs for city employees.