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IRMC told to negotiate better insurance rates
week of October 20, 2016

In an unprecedented move, Hospital District trustee Val Zudans has sent an open letter to the Indian River Medical Center chairman of the board, calling for hospital CEO Jeff Susi to negotiate better rates with private insurance companies to improve the hospital’s financial position, or quit. Zudans, who was appointed to the Hospital District by Gov. Rick Scott a year ago to fill a vacancy, said the governor told him if IRMC were run by a for-profit company, it would probably be making a $40 million profit instead of relying on millions from taxpayers to break even. The problem, Zudans said, lies in the reimbursement rates IRMC has negotiated with private insurance companies. Neighboring private hospitals like Sebastian River Medical Center get paid more than twice as much per patient by private insurers, while St. Lucie hospitals are paid almost three times what IRMC gets. “It is now clear that the fundamental financial issue for IRMC is the significantly lower reimbursement rates that IRMC has negotiated with private insurance companies relative to the for-profits,” he said in his letter. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach wins lawsuit over old diesel power plant
week of October 20, 2016

An out-of-town judge has ruled in favor of the City of Vero Beach, nearly three years to the day after developers filed a $1.5 million breach of contract suit involving the city’s environmentally contaminated old diesel power plant. Phil Barth and David and Charles Croom are ordered to pay the city’s attorneys’ fees as well as an estimated $130,000 in back rent on the plant, a claim arising from the city’s countersuit. Attorney Buck Vocelle represented the developers’ company, B-B Redevelopment. Eugene O’Neill served as lead attorney for the City of Vero, along with Sean Mickley. The city also hired John Frost, a Bartow-based attorney who is one of the top trial lawyers in the state. Barth and the Crooms were rehabbing the derelict plant in the hopes of turning it into a hub of the downtown’s evolving arts and restaurant scene. The 45-year lease agreement went into effect in 2005, at a time when environmental contamination persisted at the site, the result of decades of diesel fuel being off-loaded from tanker cars on the adjacent railroad tracks. READ FULL STORY

Island home construction booming
week of October 20, 2016

New home construction has roared back to life on the island this year with several townhouse projects and small subdivisions. The latest project to be announced is South Shore, a 30-home addition to the River Club community that recently broke ground. “The homes will be in the $1 million to $1.5 million range,” says John Genoni, president of Beachland Homes Corporation. “Lots are priced from $250,000 to $295,000 and they will only be sold as part of a lot-home package. We are the exclusive builder.” Genoni says site work, including installation of roads and utilities, will be complete by the end of the year and the company has already taken three lot reservations. “We hope to have several houses ready to start construction by the first of the year,” he says. Beachland is an Arthur Rutenberg Homes franchise, which means they can offer a wide range of Rutenberg home models, all of which can be thoroughly customized to suit buyer preferences. Homes in South Shore will be in the traditional British West Indies style. READ FULL STORY

Judicial candidate had troubled past at Sheriff’s Office
week of October 13, 2016

Well-known Vero Beach criminal defense attorney Robert “Bob” Meadows is hoping to add the title “judge” to his resume in a runoff in the Nov. 8 elections, but a Vero Beach 32963 investigation has uncovered a troubled past in law enforcement and some inconsistencies in Meadows’ claims about himself. While Meadows claims to be a lifelong Vero resident, he actually went to high school in Boca Raton, according to the application he filled out when he applied for a job at the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, and on other paperwork he reported being employed as a patrolman in the Deerfield Beach police force for four years. More troubling than these inconsistencies is his record while he was with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, where he was twice charged with conduct unbecoming an officer READ FULL STORY

Matthew’s wrath turned away by ‘Kiss from God’
week of October 13, 2016

It was not so much the might of Hurricane Matthew as the might-have-been that has altered Vero Beach and its neighbors, many of whom view the storm as a dry run for The One. Not that sidewalks didn’t buckle and boardwalks collapse as the powerful Category 4 storm grazed our coastline. The damage hit particularly in the northern stretches of A1A, where the wasp waist of the barrier island seemed to catch Matthew’s eye like a lonely man on the dance floor, unleashing its untoward advance on boats, docks and dunes. Sidewalks cracked and crumbled and edges of the highway’s asphalt fell away in places. At residents’ favorite stretches of beachfront, the sands were licked away like icing off a cake. Hurricane-force wind gusts caused widespread power outages that took until Sunday night to restore. On the mainland’s Royal Palm Pointe, foul-colored flood waters closed the shopping and residential district. Elsewhere flooding closed lanes of traffic as did scattered fallen branches and upended trees, their ugly brown undersides exposed as crews worked to clear the mess. In a few cases, trees tumbled onto houses, the terrifying dead-of-night thud heard over howling winds. READ FULL STORY

Vero cops arrested after altercation
week of October 13, 2016

Vero Beach Police officers Nicholas Allen Knutson and Joshua Daniel Harris are both out on bail after being arrested just after 3 a.m. Monday morning in the city limits after an altercation with an on-duty police officer. Knutson was initially charged with driving under the influence, and Harris was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly intoxication. Both were picked up near the Vero Beach High School Citrus Bowl in the 1600 block of 17th Avenue in Vero Beach. Police Chief David Currey said he was notified of the incident at 1:55 a.m. Monday, but that he did not come in and question the officers. “We are conducting an internal investigation in addition to the criminal investigation. Lt. Matt Monaco is conducting the internal investigation,” Currey said. “They are both on paid administrative leave and we have their vehicles. They remain employed as police officers while we conduct our internal investigation,” Currey added. He said the officers received formal notice of being placed on leave shortly after they bailed out of jail Monday afternoon. The officers have not been asked to turn in their badges or their weapons. READ FULL STORY

Local businesses take a hit from near miss
week of October 13, 2016

Vero Beach escaped disaster when Hurricane Matthew veered away slightly at the last minute, but businesses in town still took a hit in lost revenue and spoiled merchandise. Evacuation of the island meant hotels had to clear out guests on Wednesday afternoon, losing several nights of income. However, they snapped back quickly. The Holiday Inn Oceanside was the first major hotel to re-open on Friday, and by Sunday morning it had cable and wireless Internet up and running, and was advertising a full menu and drink specials at Mulligan’s Beach House next door. By Saturday evening, most of Ocean Drive, including the historic Ocean Grill, was bustling with activity amid shuttered windows and doors as people flocked to the beach for a hot meal and a cold drink while nearly one-fifth of the county was still without power. The Driftwood Inn has weathered its share of storms over its 100-plus years, and it came through Matthew with only minor damage to some siding and the loss of two beach access walkways. “We had everybody out by 3 p.m. Wednesday, we got power back between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. READ FULL STORY

Storm delivers powerful blow to our ocean beaches and lagoon shorelines
week of October 13, 2016

Even though the main force of Hurricane Matthew missed Indian River County, the storm still delivered a powerful blow to ocean beaches and Intracoastal shorelines here, taking a 15-foot chomp out of the dunes along parts of the coast while also destroying docks, ravaging sidewalks and tumbling boats along the north-island stretch of A1A. Overall, the storm blasted away a couple hundred thousand cubic yards of sand from the county’s signature beaches, causing damage that will cost about $13 million to repair based on initial observations, said James Gray, county coastal engineer. After inspecting Indian River County’s 22.5 miles of coastline, Gray said, “I would definitely say that we had significant erosion” in multiple areas. County officials will hire consulting companies to survey the erosion losses and provide exact numbers for sand restoration costs, Gray said. An Ambersand Beach oceanfront homeowner just south of the Sebastian Inlet, Mercy Yaniz, put it simply about the shoreline behind her house: “We have no beach. We would have to get a ladder to get down to the sand.” READ FULL STORY

50,000 lose power as trees cause outages and mess
week of October 13, 2016

The 12 years since the last major storm blew through Indian River County was a welcome respite, but it also gave the area’s trees a chance to grow tall and lanky, providing perfect fodder for Hurricane Matthew’s winds to hurl branches onto power lines and scatter limbs, palm fronds, leaves and berries everywhere. At the worst point, Vero had about 20,000 customers without electricity, and Florida Power & Light had more than 30,000 customers without power. On Monday, 750 customers were still without electricity, in part because new outages were occurring as transformers damaged in the storm continued to fail. Residents with power outages caused by trees were some of the last to be restored. Not only did the 110 hired electrical contractors from all over the Southeastern United States need to fix the transmission equipment, but tree crews had to cut up and remove the culprit tree branches. Two of the oldest parts of Vero Beach – Old Riomar in Central Beach and Original Town on the mainland – were hit the hardest, but big trees went down across the county. READ FULL STORY

32963 Investigation: Questions raised about how Food Bank spent donor dollars
week of September 29, 2016

Management of the Treasure Coast Food Bank, a nonprofit founded a quarter of a century ago to alleviate hunger in Indian River County and three neighboring counties, has engaged in a variety of questionable dealings that are jeopardizing the organization’s mission, according to present and former employees as well as donors. Vero Beach 32963 began looking into allegations about financial mismanagement at the Food Bank at the request of island donors Cindy and Joe Scherpf, who feared that thousands of dollars they had given to the Food Bank had not gone for the agreed-upon purpose. In the course of a nine-month investigation by 32963, documents and information were provided by eight current and former Food Bank administrators and staffers as well as other donors and government agencies. Beyond the Scherpfs’ concerns, the inquiry found a number of instances where Treasure Coast Food Bank management, under CEO Judy Cruz, accounted incorrectly for how donors’ dollars were spent and misstated the Food Bank’s own spending. READ FULL STORY

Sebastian River hospital not impacted by owner’s woes
week of September 29, 2016

A dramatic plunge in the stock price of Community Health Systems, which owns the Sebastian River Medical Center as well as the Wuesthoff Medical Centers in Melbourne and Rockledge, has created widespread speculation over whether CHS will sell any of these hospitals as part of a larger sell-off of the hospitals it bought from Health Management Associates in early 2014. The speculation began over a week ago after Bloomberg reported that CHS was exploring the sale of at least a dozen of its 61 HMA hospitals – it has already sold 10 – after most lost money in the past two and a half years. A year ago CHS stock hovered at around $60 a share; it has now dropped to between $10 and $11 a share. A major reason for the downturn, says CHS leadership, is difficulty turning around the HMA hospitals that are struggling financially. Fortunately, however, Sebastian River Medical Center and Wuesthoff appear to be operating solidly in the black, making it very unlikely that these hospitals will go on the chopping block. READ FULL STORY

Fishermen protest Sebastian Inlet north jetty closure
week of September 29, 2016

Nightly closure of the north Jetty in Sebastian Inlet State Park has been delayed but is still in the works, according to Martin Smithson, administrator of the Sebastian Inlet District. After voting on Aug. 31 to install a gate to close the popular fishing spot at night because of increasing reports of rowdy and sometimes dangerous behavior, the district had trouble finding a company to fabricate and install a barrier. “The company in Melbourne we are working with now is the fifth one we contacted,” Smithson said. “I guess it says something good about the economy that they are all so busy with such big order backlogs they couldn’t get this project done quickly.” Smithson said the gate is now being fabricated and will be installed in about 10 days. It will be locked at night and trespassers will be cited if they climb over or go around it. He said problems at the jetty are not surprising, considering that 900,000 people visited the park last year and there is no regular security patrol at night. READ FULL STORY

Shores mayor blasts Vero City Council on electric
week of September 29, 2016

Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot last week called Vero Beach Mayor Jay Kramer, Councilman Dick Winger and Councilman Randy Old “the committee of no” for failing to accept Florida Power & Light’s $30 million offer to buy the Shores part of Vero’s electric system. During a town hall meeting focused on Indian River Shores’ efforts to escape the Vero electric service territory, Barefoot urged residents to support Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Norman Wells in the November election for Vero Beach City Council. With a more amenable Vero Beach City Council, Barefoot said, the FPL deal could be resuscitated, put to a straight up or down vote and approved, ending the years’ long legal battles between the city and the town. He said Vero residents and officials just need to be convinced of the good an influx of $30 million – $27 million from FPL and $3 million over three years’ time from Shores residents in the form of a surcharge – could do for a city drowning in pension debt. READ FULL STORY

Hospital exec who departed paid $782K
week of September 22, 2016

Newly released records show that a former Indian River Medical Center executive, who departed in 2013 ostensibly as a cost-saving move, was subsequently paid more than three-quarters of a million dollars after she left. Former Chief Operating Officer Cindy Vanek, a longtime registered nurse at the hospital who served five years as COO, resigned her position at Indian River Medical Center in August 2013, according to a memo put out by CEO Jeff Susi at the time, who called her departure “a mutual decision“ to save money. Now, newly released tax records show that Vanek actually remained on the hospital payroll until Oct. 1, 2015 – more than two years after she stopped working there – grossing close to $800,000 in compensation after her departure, at a time when the hospital was struggling with dramatic cuts in staff. A year ago, Susi said the $568,000 Vanek collected the first year after she left was “no more or no less than she deserved.” He also called her “an invaluable member of IRMC’s executive team” – even though he played a significant role in the decision to let her go. READ FULL STORY

Building that served Vero for seven decades demolished
week of September 22, 2016

A building that played a key role in 20th century Vero Beach will be nothing but a memory by the end of the month. Thousands of locals – from teachers and school officials to doctors, nurses, county workers and people seeking to renew their driver’s licenses – passed through the doors of the worn-out structure at the corner of 26th Street and 20th Avenue. Built in 1950 as the third version of the county hospital, the concrete block building later served as the county government center and school district headquarters. “Our county commission offices were in the operating room, and the school offices were in the old maternity wing,” said Indian River County historian Ruth Stanbridge, who was a county commissioner from 1998-2002. “The building served the county’s needs.” On a site visit earlier this month, County Administrator Jason Brown watched as two massive backhoes smashed into rubble the building where he was born and later worked as county finance director. READ FULL STORY

School District manager overspent on private janitors, then tried to cover up
week of September 22, 2016

School District Director of Physical Plant John Earman is in hot water for spending money that he had not been authorized to spend. At a recent School Board meeting it was revealed that he exceeded his $50,000 purchasing authority and tried to cover the expenditure with a second purchase order. The district’s new procurement officer Jeff Carver refused to issue the rogue P.O., reporting the infraction to the board. Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison played down the mistake, saying it was a “rare instance when the rules were not followed.” He said district department heads and the vendors Earman hired both were responsible for making sure there was a purchase order with sufficient funds, and “we’ve put the vendors on notice.” But school board members Shawn Frost and Charles Searcy said it’s not the vendors’ job to track how the school spends its money, “It’s their job to sell stuff,” Searcy said. “It is unacceptable to have processes out of control,” Frost said. “There is no reason to punish business owners and their employees for work done.” READ FULL STORY

Local battle over tax sharing with charters may shape state law
week of September 22, 2016

An Indian River County court case before Judge Paul Kanarek of the 19th Judicial Circuit is the first case of its kind in Florida, and the outcome may determine how school districts throughout the state share property tax dollars with charter schools. The five charter schools in the county school district brought the case more than a year ago, and it has been working its way up through judicial venues, first going to mediation, then to the Division of Administrative Hearings and now to circuit court. Kanarek first heard the charters’ request for immediate action, in which they sought a temporary injunction that would have forced the school district to at once start sharing property tax revenue on an equal, per-student basis, claiming that a delay in the additional funding would cause irreparable harm. The school board’s attorney, Vivian Cocotas, argued the charters had not proved irreparable harm, which by legal definition, cannot be fixed by money. Yet the charters are asking for money, she said, as a solution to their teacher-retention and other problems. READ FULL STORY

Island brokerage remodeling office, on track for $700-million year
week of September 22, 2016

In August, Matilde Sorensen, co-owner/broker of Dale Sorensen Real Estate, got the idea to have a little painting done to spruce up the company’s office at 5065 North A1A. Before she knew it, a full cosmetic remodel was underway, with new flooring, furniture, windows, doors, bathrooms and landscaping going in at the building where company co-founder Dale Sorensen Sr. and 20 agents have their offices. “One thing led to another,” she says with a slightly rueful smile. “They blame it on me,” says Sally Woods, one of the company’s top producers, who has had her headquarters at the A1A office for years. “When Matilde said they were going to paint, I said they might as well replace the window, too, and then . . . you can see what happened.” Sorensen hired Indian River Project management to remodel the 3,000-square-foot building, which they own and have occupied since 2004. “The building has great bones,” says Indian River Project Management owner Steve Kovaleski. “We didn’t have to do anything from an engineering standpoint. It is a purely cosmetic upgrade but will definitely make a big difference and be much nicer when we are done.” READ FULL STORY

Electric utility again top issue in Vero election
week of September 15, 2016

Vero Mayor Jay Kramer and Councilwoman Pilar Turner, who are not running for re-election, may have grown weary of leading their oft-opposing factions in the utility wars these past six years, but those who win their seats in November will inherit the burden of resolving the longstanding dispute over whether or not to sell the city’s electric utility. Past Vero elections have divided the field into “pro-sale” and “anti-sale” contingents, and since the matter is still unsettled, those hopeful of gaining or retaining office this year also will be judged by their stance on the electric issue. This time around, the litmus test appears to be whether or not candidates would approve a resuscitated $30 million offer from Florida Power & Light to purchase Vero Electric’s 3,000 customers in Indian River Shores. Positions can be fluid as candidates debate and get their marching orders from voters while canvassing neighborhoods and campaigning around town, but it seems three people vying for three seats are staunchly in favor of letting the Shores customers go, while three others lean toward defending the status quo and keeping Vero electric whole.

Summer doldrums? John’s Island reports record sales
week of September 15, 2016

The myth of a summer slowdown in the Vero Beach housing market was put to rest last week when John’s Island Real Estate reported it had closed more than $32 million in sales in July, an all-time sales record for the month. A steady influx of British buyers, friends and family of existing club members, and “a tremendous increase” in buyers from California are driving sales, according to Bob Gibb, owner/broker of John’s Island Real Estate Company. July sales included 10 single-family houses and 1 condominium that ranged in price from $850,000 to more than $6 million. The $32 million in closed deals far surpassed the previous July sales record of $20 million set in 2008. “In spite of everything going on in the world, economically and politically, and political uncertainty here, we have a market that has continued to surprise me,” Gibb said. “I think it is a case of clients seeing that John’s Island Club is proactive in making sure programs and facilities here are second to none. With that approach, I think buyers sense, consciously or subconsciously, that JI is one of a kind and offers the broadest range of amenities and best lifestyle.” READ FULL STORY

Shores picks up influential backing in electric battle
week of September 15, 2016

In the absence of any real help from legislators representing Indian River County, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater wrote a forceful letter Monday morning supporting the Town of Indian River Shores on the eve of its big day before the Florida Public Service Commission. Latvala, an influential senior senator who holds key positions on several major committees, including general government oversight, regulated industries and appropriations, weighed in on behalf of the Shores’ petition to open up Vero’s electric service territory. While the Public Service Commission once again this week rebuffed the Shores’ request for freedom from Vero electric, the fact that more heavy-hitter state lawmakers from outside the Vero Beach area are now weighing in on this matter suggests that the battle against Vero electric is gaining traction. Along with Latvala’s letter, which was added to the docket records on Monday, dozens of Indian River Shores residents lodged their concerns in writing over the past two weeks, as urged to by town officials. READ FULL STORY

Marine Bank acquires a Sebastian branch
week of September 15, 2016

Marine Bank & Trust, the only locally-owned bank on the island, is continuing its expansion into Sebastian with the acquisition of the Valley National Bank branch at 1020 U.S. 1. It will re-brand the branch into a Marine Bank location after the close of business on Oct. 21. Marine will assume a majority of customer deposits in the transaction, though some will be transferred to Valley branches in Vero and Barefoot Bay. Valley National Bank customers will receive details on any changes to their accounts before the transition is complete. The three Valley Bank employees at the branch will become Marine Bank employees. Marine Bank, which is based in Vero Beach and has $206 million in assets, made the deal in order to beef up its services for customers in north Indian River County, said Bill Penney, Marine Bank CEO and president. The bank has 200 customers with Sebastian mailing addresses for whom the new branch will come in handy. READ FULL STORY

$286 million school district budget ‘not based on reality’
week of September 15, 2016

While the Indian River School District’s $286 million budget for the coming year was approved by a four-to-one vote last Thursday, the School Board member who voted against it said it was “not based on reality.” School Board member Shawn Frost cited three major problems having to do with the deficit in the district’s healthcare costs, unknown legal fees, and the lack of budget transparency. First, Frost said he “foretold the hole in the healthcare fund, but no one listened.” The school district is “self-insured” and its insurance plan is $7 million in the hole. The budget shows a $2.33 million transfer out of the district general fund into the healthcare fund to begin paying down the deficit. That figure is based on the hope that the School District will be allowed make up the deficit over a three-year period, but a three-year plan has yet to be accepted by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, which could order immediate repayment. This brings an element of uncertainty or unreality to the budget, in Frost’s estimation. READ FULL STORY

Mixed reviews for School District’s FOCUS student tracking system
week of September 15, 2016

A half-million-dollar student information tracking system called FOCUS put in place a year ago by the Indian River School District so far has gotten mixed reviews. With the new system, information showing student progression and teacher adherence to the Florida Standards is available in real time to administrators, teachers and families. Nightly, parents can see if a teacher assigned homework, and if their child did yesterday’s assignments. If your child skipped school, expect a robo-call from FOCUS. The parent portal shows good activity, with as many as 6,400 parents logging into it monthly. Some parents checked their child’s classes 50 times a month, said Technology and Assessment Assistant Superintendent Bruce Green, who recently updated the school board on how the district is adapting to the new system. When FOCUS launched, hardware-heavy servers only a few people could access loaded with 20 years of data were replaced with a web-based system that stores information in the cloud. Green said the savings on hardware alone is about $25,000 a year, and the increased efficiency of information transfer is incalculable. READ FULL STORY

Hospital District race to watch on November ballot
week of September 8, 2016

Voters in November will decide whether the county Hospital District board acts as a careful steward of taxpayer money, or serves as a rubber stamp for Indian River Medical Center management, when they chose among a crowded field of candidates vying to serve as board members. Three incumbents and eight newbies are running for five seats on the Hospital District board in an election that attracted very few candidates and voters before 32963 began covering the District and its sometimes rocky relationship with its hospital in 2013. Since that time, however, the Hospital District election has attracted more and more candidates and voters, making the number of people likely to be involved in the November District election unprecedented. The main difference of opinion between candidates for the Hospital District, which consists of seven trustees who reimburse county healthcare providers for indigent care expenses with taxpayer dollars, is whether or not Indian River Medical Center – where most of the money goes – is transparent enough and managed well enough. READ FULL STORY

Pilot project would pump sea water into Bethel Creek
week of Sep8, 2016

If County Commissioner Tim Zorc gets his way, fresh Atlantic Ocean water may soon flow through large pipes under Jaycee Park into Bethel Creek, refreshing a particularly stagnant part of the Indian River lagoon in a way that will benefit marine life and the local ecology. Zorc presented details of the pilot project he has in mind at a public meeting he organized at Bethel Creek house shortly before last week’s election. In that balloting, Zorc won another four-year term on the County Commission. The goal of the 89-day pilot project he is proposing would be to determine whether flushing Bethel Creek with sea water, before it drains into the endangered Indian River Lagoon, might improve water quality enough to justify a full-scale, long-term project. Zorc said Bethel Creek is in “a slow decline because of the stormwater runoff and drainage from parking lots and buildings along a mile-plus stretch of highway A1A.” The creek also receives groundwater contaminated by leaking septic systems in surrounding neighborhoods, although many of those are being replaced with a new sewer system being installed by the city. READ FULL STORY

Dr. Gary M. Weiss, neurologist who practices in Sebastian, under a cloud
week of September 8, 2016

A locally practicing neurologist said his decision to surrender his medical license in Colorado two years ago was not connected to malpractice lawsuits accusing him of mistakenly diagnosing and treating nearly two dozen patients for multiple sclerosis, even though they did not have the incurable disease. Dr. Dr. Gary M. Weiss, who has offices in Sebastian, Palm Bay, Melbourne and Merritt Island, has said the lawsuits contained "many false allegations" and that he "chose not to renew" his Colorado medical license for health reasons. Weiss, 62, said he had been diagnosed with a medical condition that doesn't allow him to live at high altitude and limits the type of airplanes on which he can fly. He did not divulge the name of the condition. That diagnosis, however, along with what Weiss called a "difficult decision" to move back to Florida, where he previously had legal problems, came at about the time he was confronted with a Colorado Medical Board complaint accusing him of providing substandard care that led to a patient’s death. READ FULL STORY

Amendment 4 adds impetus to local push for solar
week of September 8, 2016

The overwhelming passage of Amendment 4 by Florida voters last Tuesday may add new impetus to a push for more solar energy underway in the City of Vero Beach. Nearly 2 million people statewide voted in favor of the measure, which eliminates personal property tax on solar equipment, passing it by a 72-percent to 28-percent margin. The 20,991 pro-solar votes in Indian River County were more than the combined total of votes cast here for Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy in their respective Senate primary victories. Vero Beach officials want to capitalize on solar energy opportunities in Vero’s sunny environment, but aren’t sure how to go about it. For that reason, they recently tasked Utilities Commission Vice Chair Bob Auwaerter to help develop a survey to find out how local electric ratepayers feel about solar as a part of their energy future. Judging by the landslide vote for Amendment 4, it is likely the survey will find strong support for more solar power in Vero’s energy mix. READ FULL STORY

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