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Shores to pick up water-sewer issue in late January

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of December 15, 2011)

With the Indian River County proposal already on the table, the City of Vero Beach has been given until late January to come back with a better deal, or possibly lose the Town of Indian River Shores as a water-sewer customer.

The Shores Town Council postponed a Dec. 1 workshop on utility matters to Jan. 23.

At that time, the town should know what its options are for drinking water, sewer service and reuse irrigation water. More local residents will be here to give public input at the workshop and the Shores can begin moving forward with choosing a service provider to take over when the current franchise agreement runs out in November 2016.

Town Manager Richard Jefferson said he would not have had all the data in time for the Dec. 1 workshop. Mayor Tom Cadden added that, with the new makeup of the Vero Beach City Council, the delay would give the Vero officials time to get their heads together about what they want to offer the Shores long-term.

Cadden said he sought the advice of County Administrator Joe Baird and Baird agreed that, with weighty electric issues on the city's plate right now and the holidays looming, it would be best to put off consideration of the water-sewer proposals until early 2012.

"Joe said that you're not going to get anyone's attention until the first of the year," Cadden said at a recent council meeting.

Councilman Dick Haverland has repeatedly expressed his impatience with the process since he was elected in March.

"They (Vero) have had plenty of time – a year to think about it," Haverland said. "They didn't know they were going to have competition until six months ago?"

The dueling proposals are offering virtually the same rates, but the Shores must decide which system, and which municipal government operator of that system, seems the most stable, financially sound and well maintained to provide safe, adequate water supply to the Shores for the next three decades.

Indian River County has offered the Shores county rates and to simply use and maintain the town's utility assets for 30 years and then return them to the Shores.

Vero's proposal offers the Shores a chance to stay on the city water-sewer system with either Vero rates minus the current 10 percent surcharge, or Indian River County rates. In exchange for giving the Shores what the city considers a break on rates, Vero would take ownership of the utility assets it doesn't already own in the Shores. Those assets have been valued by GAI Consultants at approximately $9 million.

The elimination of the 10 percent surcharge adds up to roughly $306,000 per year and it would be eliminated as soon as an agreement with Vero was inked to supersede the existing contract. But County Attorney Alan Polackwich, who has worked on the county's proposal to the Shores, has said that the elimination of the surcharge is really no consideration at all for the Shores assets because the market would preclude Vero from charging that going forward anyway. South barrier island residents on the Vero system would still have to pay that surcharge unless and until taken over by Indian River County Utilities after their franchise agreement expires in March 2017.