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Shores to Vero:
Water deal doesn’t wash

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of February 2, 2012)
Photo: Mayor Thomas Cadden addresses a question during the Indian River Shores Town Council meeting.

The City of Vero Beach nearly lost $100 million worth of water and sewer business over the next 30 years when Indian River Shores Vice Mayor Jerry Weick made a motion to choose Indian River County Utilities instead.

Weick's motion failed 4-1 last week because the council members said they weren't quite ready to make such a huge decision. But the council did not offer a lot of encouragement to Vero City Manager Jim O'Connor about the city's proposal.

Instead, O'Connor got a list of all the things he needs to fix over the next few weeks before Vero gets one last chance to come in with a competitive proposal to match Indian River County's pitch.

"I think both parties heard us loud and clear – especially the city – and I think he'll go back and say, 'This won't work and we need to come up with something better'," said Shores Mayor Tom Cadden.

Now Vero top staff and officials are in a tough spot. They need to decide whether they can afford to give the Shores all the things officials there want without stripping their water-sewer utility of much-needed revenue.

The three big items the Shores Town Council members listed as make-or-break are that Vero:

+ Match Indian River County rates for reuse water.

+ Let Indian River Shores retain ownership of all the pipes, pumps, tanks and other utility assets in the town. 

+ Impose no surcharge on top of the county rates Vero has promised.

Other minor items include Vero eliminate tens of thousands of dollars of fire hydrant maintenance fees, and that it offer all of its customers uniform rates so city residents won't be seen as subsidizing the Shores. The town also wants the option of three 10-year renewable agreements instead of a 30-year agreement.

Cadden, during a workshop on the water and sewer issue, had urged the Town Council not to rush into  a decision. He was adamant about getting clarification on some legal issues and about hiring Knight McGuire and Associates to review the proposals from a technical perspective.

After last week's regular council meeting and the failed vote to choose the county, Cadden was satisfied that, should the town ultimately decide the county offer is a better deal, the town's next-door neighbors will not be able to complain Vero was not given a chance to sweeten its offer.

"I think it's only fair to let them re-do it, to give it one more shot," Cadden said, adding that it's a big decision, for a long period of time, "and a lot of money."

All along, the franchise agreement has been Vero's to lose as the city is the current provider of water-sewer and reuse water service to the town. That deal expires in November 2016 and the Shores has already given Vero notice that it will not renew the existing agreement for city rates plus a 10 percent surcharge.

Should the Shores choose Vero, the new franchise agreement would supplant the existing one, so town residents would begin seeing savings on their water-sewer bills in October.

The Vero Beach City Council meets next Tuesday. The Indian River Shores Town Council meets next on Feb. 23. Should Vero be able to bring a new proposal back prior to that date, the town may call a special meeting.