Facebook comments on power sale reveal that some, perhaps many are misinformed, or uninformed 1

COMMENTARY

“If the general belief is that electric rates are going to come down 20% to 30%, and if the widespread assumption is that the sale will not results in tax increases, and/or cuts in municipal services, then pressing ahead with the sale amounts to malicious obedience.” 

MARK SCHUMANN

This past weekend, I took exception to a commenter’s assertion that, despite the unprecedented level of outside money that poured into last fall’s municipal election, the results were a fine example of democracy in action. In truth, the election of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes to the Vero Beach City Council is a sad example of how money can buy power, especially when the press fails to do its job.

Last fall, more than $100,000, half of it given by Florida Power and Light and half contributed by Indian River Shores residents, funded a political action committee supporting Moss and Sykes. The committee used the money to carry out an extensive disinformation campaign of truly outlandish claims and promises. Further, Sykes received 90 percent of his financial support from Shores residents. Moss took in 70 percent of her campaign contributions from outside Vero Beach. Without question, outside money bought their seats on the Council.

The commenter wrote, “Their paths to office are in accordance with their constitutional rights, and now the City’s decisions rest in their hands.”

In a response titled “A failure of the fourth estate,” I wrote:

For our democracy to work, especially in this era of big money politics, the voting public must be informed. In this case, neither the island weekly nor the Press Journal made any effort to inform Vero Beach voters that three of the persons running in the most recent Vero Beach municipal election were essentially Shores-FPL-sponsored candidates. Increasingly, ours is a dysfunctional democracy. This is especially true when the press fails to do its job. The island weekly and the Press Journal may not be failing financially, but they are failing in every other way that matters. The island weekly only reports the news that serves Milton Benjamin’s business and political interests and those of his backers. In the case of the Press Journal, let’s not forget that the newspaper’s publisher is the husband of a key executive at FPL.

At this point, it seems important to consider exactly what the average Vero Beach resident believes will be the benefits and consequences from selling the electric system. If the general expectation is that electric rates are going to come down 20% to 30%, and if the widespread assumption is that the sale will not results in tax increases, and/or cuts in municipal services, then pressing ahead with the sale amounts to malicious obedience.

Several recent comments posted on InsideVero’s Facebook page reveal the extent to which many people are misinformed about the proposed power sale.

One confusion seems to be about exactly what is being sold.  Some mistake the power plant for the larger utility, which includes the City’s base of 35,000 customers and its extensive and well-maintained system of substations, transmission and distribution lines.

Comment: Sell it sell it now it’s a dinosaur (Presumably the commenter is referring to the power plant.)
InsideVero Reply: The City is no longer generating power at the 17th Street site. Work to decommission and dismantle the plant has already begun. After the power plant is fully dismantled, the 12-acre site can eventually be developed for other public uses, or, with voter approval, sold for development. So, like many other municipal utilities, Vero Beach now buys ALL of its power on the wholesale market.
The question isn’t wether to sell the power plant, but whether to sell the utility system. More valuable than the plant is the City’s network of distribution and transmission lines and substations and its base of 35,000 customers. That system is in excellent condition – at least as up-to-date and as well maintained as FPL’s system.
The important question is whether the savings that can reasonably be expected by switching to FPL are significant enough to offset the loss of some $6 million in revenue now transferred from the electric system to the City’s general fund. That money is used to help pay for municipal services, such as police protection, lifeguards, etc. Make no mistake about it, if the electric system is sold, taxes will have to go up, or services will have to be cut.
Some may continue to use a decade-old argument that the City can further cut staff without impacting services. That is simply not so. Since the 2009 recession, the City has reduced its workforce by 25%. Any further cuts are going to affect services. And if you try to cut $6 million out of a $20 million General Fund budget in which nearly 80% of the costs are payroll and payroll related, the result will be drastic reductions in services. This is why tax increases are inevitable. The question is whether those tax increases are going to negate any savings on electric rates. With the effective rate differential now down to 6.4%, that is a question that needs to be answered before the utility is sold.
Another commenter said her monthly power bill from Vero Electric is about equal to what one would expect to make as a monthly payment on a luxury car.  (She later removed her comment from the page.) If that person lives in the City of Vero Beach, and if she expects that as a customer of FPL her monthly electric bill will be closer to equaling a payment on a compact car, then she is mistaken. At best, her net savings is going to be close to seven percent, not the 20% to 30% promised in many of the misleading political ads funded by FPL.
Howle was quoted this week as saying FPL’s offer to buy Vero Electric is a good deal for the City. Given that he has had virtually no time to carefully study the offer, and considering that the offer has yet to be reviewed by the Utilities and Finance Commissions, Howle’s immediate and unqualified support for FPL’s proposal reveals the extent to which he is willing to press ahead without fully understanding the consequences of the sale.
Howle, Moss and Sykes have no plan beyond selling the electric system. They have no idea how they will balance the City’s budget after surrendering some $7 million in revenue now transferred annually from the electric system to the General Fund.  Will they raise taxes? Do they plan to slash services, leaving the City’s neighborhoods poorly protected and its public beaches unguarded? Are they going to use the impending budget crisis as a pretext for selling the City’s well-run and profitable water and sewer system to the County? Will they push for consolidating services with the County? What is their plan?
Moss receives her direction from Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot. Howle and Sykes are, for all intents and purposes, deputies of Indian River County Commission Bob Solari. Given where she is receiving her advice, Moss is the less dangerous of the three, but she is still doing the Shores’ bidding and is not looking out for the interests of the people of Vero Beach.

One comment

  1. It is not just the poor, sorry excuse of a deal, it is also giving FPL prime riverfront property for 99 years. Property that Vero could use to enhance its beauty. But knowing this good for nothing, Anti-Vero (Moss, Lange, Howle) council, they would sell the land to the highest bidder if they could….

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