Editor’s Note: Much like “Lexington,” an anonymous commentator for The Economist magazine, “Lex et Veritas” will be offering commentary for readers of InsideVero.com. “Lux et Veritas” addresses local politics, lagoon contamination, quality of education, Libertarian and Liberal excesses, media reporting and agendas, wealth disparity and more.
Lux et Veritas
If one were to abide by comments from the Indian River County officials and a local weekly newspaper, one would assume the Vero Beach water and sewer system is obsolete, provides questionable water quality and services at higher rates than the County. Such inaccurate observations and opinions are flawed, and represent a flagrant distortion of the facts.
The Vero Beach system is efficient and as a closed operation does not spew any effluents into the environment. In contrast, the County’s water and sewer utility has an experimental process discharging brine into the marshes and waterways.
Vast expanses of the county do not have access to either potable, reuse or waste water from its utility – nor the infrastructure to provide it. Vero Beach’s service area is either built out or can be increased with minimal additional investment. For example, to provide septic coverage though the entire system footprint, the estimated expense is in the $800,000 range which would be funded from reserves and over time $500,000 would be recovered from new customer connections.
Rob Bolton, Vero Beach’s water and sewer director is implementing an optimization program, developing a creative and innovative plan to phase out septic fields leaching into the ground. Dr Brian La Pointe, (from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute) who undertook major studies of the lagoon believes sewage run off is a significant source of pollution throughout the lagoon. His detailed July 17 presentation of his findings to the Vero Beach City Council illuminated the perils to the lagoon.
Should future environmental regulations mandate conversion to the municipalities and county systems, the City of Vero Beach is becoming prepared. Indian River County’s expansion costs are more vulnerable due to the potential significant increase of the sprawling customer base from Sebastian to Oslo and westward versus the limited growth and density of the city.
Total billings of the County are in the $30 million range, Vero Beach in the $17 million range, yet the county, not including the Vero Beach service ara, has over six times the population. Water and sewer operations contribute more than $1 million to the City’s General Fund; the County water and sewer operation does not contribute in anyway to the cost of operating County government. In addition, when its bonds are paid off in less than a decade, Vero Beach can effectively finance the move of its facilities off the Lagoon.
Innovative technology converting sludge (now hauled to a landfill) to fertilizer, replacing more costly water sources, a program which is now in progress, continued productivity improvement and an anticipated 20 percent annual expense reduction of its $2 million electric bill, will further drive down expenses for Vero Beach’s water and sewer operations; additional reuse water will be coming on line increasing revenue, and further improving the system’s profitability to the benefit of the City’s taxpayers.
The age of portions of a the City’s water and sewer distribution network is irrelevant. Portions of the New York City system are over a century old – critical is the preventive maintenance and continual refurbishment as is Vero Beach’s policy.
Regarding rates, the County and City use different parameters for computation. Indian River County’s are less at lower usage levels, but the County chargers high volume users higher rates than does Vero Beach. For example, if the City’s approximately 3,000 water and sewer customers on the south barrier island were to begin paying Indian River County rates, the net revenues to the City would increase $200,000 a year.
Creation of an independent regional entity is clearly an option, assuming there is no cross-subsidations to the detriment of any participant. Such a venture could synchronize rates, establish consistent policies, and develop a holistic plan to manage our environment and implement cost sharing of select operations.