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Mayor opposed to partial sale of electric customers

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of May 14, 2015)

Indian River Shores’ officials still hope Florida Power and Light comes up with a cash figure that will tempt Vero Beach to avoid a court fight by selling off the Town’s electric customers and equipment to Florida Power & Light. But unless he backs down, Mayor Dick Winger will lead the fight against any such partial sale.

Emphasizing that such an action could only be regarded as taken under duress, Winger said he viewed any effort to carve the Shores’ 3,000 high-end ratepayers out of Vero Electric’s 33,000-customer base as akin to a “short sale.”

“I made it very clear that at least I would never vote for any agreement, including a partial sale, which would be unfair to any group, whether it’s Indian River Shores or the people of Vero Beach or the people outside the city,” Winger said.

Winger said FPL would need to “add a zero” at the end of any of the dollar amounts tossed about so far, and even if that happened, he still wouldn’t go for it.

“I could never support what I see as a short sale, and by that I mean the $3 (million) or $10 million that they proposed, or even a multiple of that,” Winger said, because of the issue of potential “stranded costs” from the revenues Vero has pledged in perpetuity to the Florida Municipal Power Association.

“We’d get a little bit of money,” Winger said, but the customers left behind with Vero Electric would be stuck with “the whole high cost of FMPA power” as well as the stranded costs.

Calling the matter “a tangled web,” Winger also reiterated the position expressed by City Manager Jim O’Connor that Vero is actively engaged in disputes with both of its out-of-city customer groups – those in unincorporated Indian River County as well as those in the Shores – and said it would be ill-advised to cut a deal with only one of those parties.

Winger referred those who say there has to be some amount of money that would solve this problem, and said: “I don’t see that amount of money coming forward to keep our people in the City of Vero Beach and the County whole.”

Councilwoman Pilar Turner pointed out that the city cannot quantify the stranded costs, and that’s why she urged the City Council to seek a fair-market value of Vero’s share of FMPA’s assets, and as well as its Vero’s share of FMPA’s long-term liabilities. Turner got no support last month from other City Council members for a resolution seeking those valuations.

O’Connor said the city is “gearing up” to respond to the Circuit Court lawsuit that the Shores plans to re-activate early next week. “We are now heading into the area of litigation,” he said. O’Connor held out no hope for a settlement. “If we did cut a deal with Indian River Shores, I think we could count on Indian River County having some issues as well,” he said.

The politics of the bizarre legal triangle of Vero, the Shores and Indian River County got a bit more interesting last Thursday as Vice Mayor Jay Kramer announced he was challenging Commissioner Bob Solari for the County Commission seat which represents part of the City of Vero Beach, the Town of Indian River Shores and the south barrier island – all customers of Vero electric.

As the Shores moves forward with its own bid to buy its way out of Vero’s high rates, it’s unclear whether or not the current Board of County Commissioners and the Indian River Shores Town Council will remain allies against Vero, or will part company at some point to fight for the rights of their respective constituencies.