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Vero’s latest deal: As always, it’s what’s in fine print
week of August 27, 2015

The Vero Beach City Council last week appeared to be falling in love with a new Orlando Utilities Commission deal for bulk power on the basis of the same kind of sales pitch you usually get in the first 90 minutes of a timeshare sales tour. Robert Scheffel “Schef” Wright, the city’s outside utilities attorney, asked the City Council to envision the potential benefits of the OUC deal, but saved all the details for the high-pressure sit-down in the sales office after the tour. Look to the left to see reduced electric rates, an estimated $750,000 per month. Look to the right and see a shorter time commitment. Look straight ahead and envisage the scenic riverfront without Big Blue, because this deal will, in time, allow Vero to tear down the power plant. Just like the time-share salesmen who swear the deal they’re offering is good “today only,” Wright has even got the element of urgency on his side. If the council doesn’t sign the contract immediately, within the next several weeks, they won’t see the benefits of the deal before November’s election. Wright says the deal on the table expires if it’s not made effective Oct. 1. READ FULL STORY

Editorial: City Council never seems to learn from mistakes of predecessors
week of August 27, 2015

Is it even remotely possible that the Vero Beach City Council is going to sign off in less than three weeks on a revised contract that doesn’t even exist yet to buy bulk electric power from the Orlando Utilities Commission? In the long and inglorious history of Vero City Councils entering into contracts that subsequently turn out to be not just bad deals but virtually unbreakable, this may be the most bizarre headlong rush into a new agreement yet. Mayor Dick Winger, it would appear, is hellbent on cutting Vero’s outrageous electric costs prior to the November election to boost the chances that he and his acolyte, Councilwoman Amelia Graves, will be retained in office. To achieve this, he is pushing for approval by Sept. 15 of a revised contract with OUC that would enable Vero electric rates to be lowered by October 1. Winger claims this will save Vero electric customers $750,000 monthly. That’s the “quid.” But every deal has a “quid pro quo.” In Latin, “this for that.” So what’s the “quo?” Surely OUC is getting something in return, and not simply handing tens of millions of dollars to Vero out of the kindness of its heart. READ FULL STORY

IRNA leader scripts Mayor’s remarks
week of August 27, 2015

Vero Beach Mayor Dick Winger appears to be taking his cues on electric issues not from the city’s high priced outside counsel but from retired attorney George Christopher, a long-time Riomar resident and controversial leader of the Indian River Neighborhood Association. Two weeks ago, Vero Beach City Council candidate Brian Heady prophetically characterized the incumbents on the council as “mouthpieces,” and now Winger has admitted he was indeed reading from a script furnished by Christopher with regard to the Florida Power and Light’s proposal to purchase the Town of Indian River Shores electric customers for $13 million. Critics have long suspected that the IRNA and its leaders, Christopher among them, have been pulling Winger’s strings. Ironically, Christopher may have sent Winger the talking points all the way from North Carolina, where he’s reportedly living now. Christopher’s $2.6 million house on Painted Bunting Lane has been on the market for six months. IRNA has long denied that either the organization or its leaders individually had taken a position on electric utility issues. READ FULL STORY

Van Valen named head of Riverside Children’s Theatre
week of August 27, 2015

When veteran actor Jim Van Valen returns to Riverside Theatre in September, he’ll be learning his lines for a role that is still being scripted: as director, teacher and administrator of a revitalized and reshaped Riverside Children’s Theatre with much closer ties to the main stage and its adult audience. Van Valen played to that adult audience here in January, in the one-man play “Underneath the Lintel.” An associate professor of theater at Iowa’s Cornell College, Van Valen has been named as the new head of Riverside Children’s Theatre, taking over for Linda Downey, the longtime administrator who retired this spring. She had worked with the children’s theater both professionally and as a volunteer since it was first proposed that Riverside Theatre create a separate division for children. It grew to one of the largest in the state, serving 15,000 children annually. “We’re trying to find more opportunities to connect the two buildings together,” says Van Valen, who beyond starring in “Underneath the Lintel,” performed in four other Riverside plays over the years. READ FULL STORY

Motorists, bikers share Wabasso bridge – uneasily
week of August 27, 2015

The "Walk Bikes Across" signs finally have been taken down. So there's no longer any excuse for motorists crossing the Wabasso Causeway Bridge – particularly those drivers who saw those outdated signs and wrongly assumed bicyclists didn't belong on that road – to angrily honk their horns, scream obscenities at or try to intimidate riders by deliberately drifting too close to them. "I ride a lot around here, probably 50 to 70 miles per week, and I usually feel safe," local cyclist Don Mahoney said. "But I've had more encounters on that bridge than anywhere else. "There are some drivers who intentionally ride too close to us, then blow their horns or yell at us as they go by, and it startles you," he added. "It's impolite, it's dangerous and it's certainly not what Vero Beach is all about. "But I think people saw those signs, which were illegal and wrong, and they were punishing us for being out there." The yellow-and-black signs, which showed a depiction of a bicycle above the words, "Walk Bikes Across," had been posted at both ends of the bridge for years – so long, in fact, that nobody seems to know who put them there. READ FULL STORY

Vero should find much to like in latest FPL offer
week of August 20, 2015

Vero officials lost no time in panning Florida Power and Light’s proposal to pay $13 million for the Indian River Shores portion of Vero electric, but the fine print of the offer contains lots of interesting details. According to the letter signed by Sam Forrest, FPL’s Vice President of Energy, Marketing and Trading, FPL was undeterred by an unproductive meeting with the city leaders this past spring at which Vero officials produced a litany of reasons why selling the right to serve Indian River Shores customers was not possible. “Since our initial meeting with you in May on the potential sale of the Town’s electric system, FPL has spent considerable time analyzing data from several sources and looked at various scenarios,” Forrest wrote. Along with an actual dollar figure aimed at starting a haggling match over price this election season, the FPL proposal lays out a plan to overcome many of the objections city officials expressed. READ FULL STORY

Realtors take mixed view of Vero property tax hike
week of August 20, 2015

Some island realtors were shocked when the Vero Beach City Council voted to raise property taxes to bring in 38 percent more revenue to fund city services and infrastructure improvements. “I think a 38 percent increase is outrageous, no matter how it hits the bottom line,” says Cindy O’ Dare, a broker associate with Premier Estate Properties who, with her partner Clark French sells many of the most expensive homes on the island. “I think it is unfair, uncivilized and a slap in the face to our community.” “This will hurt our market,” says Sally Daley, owner of Daley & Company Real Estate. “It is all about cost of ownership, not just cost of acquisition, and buyers are already concerned about this.” Other realtors are not as troubled by the proposed increase. “I am not all that worried about it,” says Michael Thorpe, co-owner of Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty. “Our tax rates are some of the lowest in the state, and this is not that big of an increase.” READ FULL STORY

Warning: Police say phone scams abound
week of August 20, 2015

Even with the doors and windows locked and security systems armed – even inside the gates of private communities – criminals are gaining access to island residents and their cash via the telephone. The Vero Beach Police Department, the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department and the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office have all received reports of local residents being targeted by various telephone scammers this summer. “There are numerous phone and Internet scams designed by criminals to defraud unwitting victims. The defense for most of them is to constantly be reminded that if something sounds too good, if someone is offering you something for nothing, it is a scam,” said Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell. Other scams are not designed to take advantage of greed or the desire to get a bargain, but to prey on the victim’s fear, and love for family. READ FULL STORY

Marine Bank keeps doing better and better
week of August 20, 2015

Marine Bank & Trust customers might've noticed the smile Bill Penney wears to work these days. "It's fun again,"said Penney, the president and CEO of the Beachland Boulevard-based bank. "We're doing very well." So well, in fact, that Marine announced last week record earnings, strong asset growth and its 10th consecutive quarter of profitability, with Penney attributing the gains to an improving local real-estate market, a drop in the county's unemployment rate and an increase in deposit accounts. The bank's earnings through the first half of this year totaled $542,000, an increase of $86,000 when compared to the first six months of last year. After first-quarter earnings jumped from $173,000 in 2014 to $250,000 in 2015, second-quarter earnings rose from 283,000 to $292,000. Also, Marine enjoyed significant growth in total assets over the past 12 months – from $151 million on June 30, 2014, to $172 million on June 30 this year. READ FULL STORY

Non-stop jet service to NYC area may soon start from Vero airport
week of August 13, 2015

If things go as expected, island residents this fall will be able to drive across the bridge to the Vero Beach Regional Airport and grab a non-stop flight on Elite Airways to the metropolitan New York City area – or a one-stop flight to the Boston-Portland, Maine area. Fares will start at only $200 for a roundtrip flight to Newark Liberty International Airport – which serves New York City as well as northern New Jersey – aboard a 70-seat CRJ 700 jet built by the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier. From Newark, the plane will fly on to Portland International Jetport – which serves not only Maine, but provides an alternative to Boston’s Logan International Airport for northeastern Massachusetts residents. John Pearsall, president and CEO of Elite Airways, says he is aiming for a twice-weekly service that will operate from early November to early January and then again from late March to late April. “It is a very nice service,” said Pearsall, whose company began operating passenger service out of Melbourne last fall. “The first bag is free and we don’t charge for a lot of extras. The planes have comfortable leather seats. We are proud of the product.” READ FULL STORY

Moorings set to complete purchase of Hawk’s Nest
week of August 13, 2015

The Moorings Yacht & Country Club has completed its due-diligence process and could finalize its $2.5 million purchase of the Hawk's Nest Golf Club as soon as this week, according to two sources with knowledge of the deal. "Negotiations are in progress and they're just working out the final details," one of the sources said last weekend. "Hopefully, by the end of the week, we will have a deal consummated." "It's going to happen,” another source said. “Both parties want this deal. Both parties need this deal. It's a positive thing for both clubs." Both sources spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Moorings General Manager Craig Lopes said Saturday: "It's not a done deal," and that he could not comment further. Moorings members overwhelmingly approved the acquisition of Hawk's Nest at a special meeting June 1 and, in so doing, authorized their Board of Governors to proceed with the due-diligence process in hopes of negotiating a purchase agreement before summer's end. READ FULL STORY

Winger, Graves face challenge in Vero Council race
week of August 13, 2015

It’s that time of year again – less than three months until the Nov. 3 Vero Beach City Council election. Incumbent Councilwoman Amelia Graves, 32, hopes to keep what might be the first steady paying job she’s ever held other than working part-time in her mother’s law office. Mayor Dick Winger, 77, who publicly vowed to step down this year, now seems irretrievably addicted to the scrap of power he wields. Veteran candidate and former council member Brian Heady, 67, wants voters to take another look at him. And newcomer Laura Moss, 62, so far offers the only fresh alternative to two incumbents who, by and large, have achieved nothing of note since 2013. Winger and Graves have to defend themselves against voting for an anticipated nearly 40 percent property tax hike, not to mention the sale of Vero electric falling apart on their watch and zero progress being made toward significant rate relief for the city’s 34,000 utility customers. READ FULL STORY

Deal for purchase of old Press Journal building collapses
week of August 13, 2015

Moorings resident Robert Grammen wanted to do something special with the U.S. 1 property on which the now-deserted Press Journal building sits. That’s why he and his Naples-based business partner entered into a contract to purchase the 3.75-acre parcel from the newspaper’s parent company, the Journal Media Group, along with the Scripps-owned, 3.88-acre lot to its immediate north, across 18th Place. “We saw it as a very valuable piece of real estate, a combined 7.5 acres located between the two bridges with 550 feet of frontage on U.S. 1,” said Grammen, a successful investor, financier and entrepeneur who moved to Vero Beach three years ago. “We looked at different possibilities, but our general idea was to build something that would appeal to the community and bring in quality retail,” he added. “There’s a lot of potential there, if you do it right. “But we couldn’t figure out what to do with the back of the property.” And without being able to find a profitable use for the west end of the parcels, which back up to 9th Avenue, Grammen couldn’t justify the $2.9 million price tag. READ FULL STORY

Shores’ tiny police force comes up big in Albrecht case
week of August 13, 2015

It’s tough to believe that all the evidence presented during the two-week manslaughter and fraud trial of Gina Albrecht was largely produced by a law enforcement agency with one detective, who splits his time among being a cop, a firefighter and a paramedic. But that’s the reality in the Town of Indian River Shores. Two crime scenes – the Marbrisa home of victim George May and the Albrecht home in the Vero Highlands – had to be processed and search warrants obtained. Crates of documents, plus artwork and collectibles and firearms were seized, catalogued and examined. Financial records and medical records had to be obtained, combed through and analyzed. Forty-four witnesses in the state’s case had to be tracked down and interviewed. Everything, according to prosecutors, was meticulously documented. Despite the magnitude of the task, the case the Shores developed was praised as being above reproach. And the Shores officers themselves got kudos not only for attention to detail, but for performing exceptionally well on the witness stand. READ FULL STORY

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