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Million dollar home sales set record pace
week of July 2, 2015

Real estate brokers up and down the island say the season just ended was the best ever, and nothing better illustrates the strength of the market than the number of homes sold for $1 million or more so far this year. The Vero market is tiny in terms of population and number of homes but it consistently rivals and often surpasses Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, Malibu and the top ZIP codes in Naples and Sarasota in the number of $1-million-and-up homes listed for sale. By late June more than 125 homes priced above a million dollars had changed hands in the 32963 area. Another 30 or so million-and-up properties were under contract, either pending or contingent. John’s Island Real Estate led the trend with more than 100 transaction sides in less than six months on the sale of 56 million-dollar properties in the island’s signature community, almost as many million-dollar sales as the company had in all of 2014. The 56 John’s Island sales include 30 homes priced between $1 million and $2 million, 10 priced between $2 million and $3 million, 12 between $3 million and $5 million and 4 that closed for more than $5 million. READ FULL STORY


Sexual battery case pits legal legends versus Vero Beach Police Department
week of July 2, 2015

Attorney Charles Sullivan Sr.’s defense team has tried to cast aspersions on the Vero Beach Police Department’s investigation which led to the felony sexual battery charge against the 82-year-old, but Police Chief David Currey says the case was handled strictly by the book. “I’ve never seen a case move this rapidly and this reckless,” said attorney Andy Metcalf, who has taken on many high-profile Vero criminal defenses solo, but who this time around is working second chair to former State Attorney Bob Stone. “How fast this happened, it (the investigation) couldn’t have been thorough and based upon what we know already, it wasn’t thorough,” Metcalf said. “There was a rush. Based upon what I’ve seen so far, it was very cursory at best.” “He’s had a, really, an ongoing dispute, or a dislike with the Vero Beach Police Department, because he’s tried many cases against them and he’s been very successful in doing that. We don’t know all the reasons why we’re here, but we’re gonna find out,” Stone added. READ FULL STORY


No joke: Polish American Social Club torn by bitter feud
week of July 2, 2015

While calls for racial justice ring out across the country, in Vero, the scene of the simmering rage, name-calling, picketers and frequent police presence is not the African American community. It’s at the Polish American Social Club. In the last few months, a divide as deep as the Vistula River has pitted Pole against Pole – or at least, part-Pole. As membership rules are tightening, freebies for the hardest working volunteers are being done away with. Infractions like late dues or lapsed memberships are being used to toss people out or not let them renew. Rumors are flying that each side is trying to take over the valuable eight-acre property along the northern stretch of U.S One, sell it and pocket the proceeds. Innumerable flare-ups included one between two women – the club’s petite 55-year-old club manager and a short, stocky woman in her 70s with a heavy Polish accent described as “no-nonsense” by her supporters. The woman got so “in my face,” according to the manager, telling her to “get the hell out of here,” that on the advice of her attorney she now calls for a deputy whenever the “Polish people”– the faction opposing the current board – pull into the parking lot. READ FULL STORY


Vero now wants to trade in bulk power market
week of June 25, 2015

Proponents of getting the City of Vero Beach permanently out of the electric utility business suffered a huge blow to their efforts last week when the City Council voted to seek proposals to purchase bulk power on the open market. To embark upon this market-based approach that’s been pushed by Mayor Dick Winger, who is asking to be re-elected in November, and by Vice Mayor Jay Kramer, who is running for Indian River County Commission in 2016, Vero would need to exit its 20-year wholesale power deal with the Orlando Utilities Commission and pay up to $50 million in early exit penalties. According to Vero’s expert advisors, the still-sketchy plan would involve Vero brokering multiple short-term power contracts with various suppliers, which could include OUC or Florida Power and Light. Those purchase agreements would be staggered to hedge the effects of market volatility like fluctuations in the cost of natural gas, or major shifts in supply and demand. Vero, its elected officials and its consultants would in effect become day-traders in the commodity of electric power. The best-case result, the Council was told, could mean a savings of $3.50 to $4 per month on the typical Vero Beach power bill. READ FULL STORY


Central Beach hit by a rash of auto burglaries
week of June 25, 2015

Over and over again, Vero Beach Police have been called by Central Beach residents reporting their unlocked vehicles had been burgled overnight. The most recent incidents last week prompted officers to issue a friendly reminder to do something slightly unnatural for long-time Vero residents: Please lock your car doors. That’s the simple message the Vero Beach Police Department is planning to distribute via neighborhood crime-watch groups and community meetings. And to drive the message home, Public Information Officer Anna Carden is designing a door-hanger type placard for residents to display in their (hopefully locked) vehicles. “It would be similar to the handicapped parking placards hung on the rear-view mirror,” Carden said. “And it would say this vehicle is locked, that there are no valuables in the vehicle, and that you will be reported to the police if you try to get into the vehicle.” The tool is something Carden said she’s seen used successfully in other communities. If nothing else, it’s a daily reminder to the driver who looks at the dangling message to lock up and not leave valuables inside the car. READ FULL STORY


Blame turtles for seaweed on beach
week of June 25, 2015

From November to February in the height of season, the City of Vero Beach rakes its beaches of seaweed and other debris twice a week, resulting in the miles of inviting, sandy shore our Northern visitors have come to expect. But all that stops when sea turtles show up. The earliest species of turtles begins laying eggs in March, then the height of nesting season kicks in two months later in May and runs through Oct. 31. During that span – which includes the busy summer beach season when kids are out of school – state regulations strictly govern what cities, counties and even private clubs and resorts can do to control debris on their beaches. City Manager Jim O’Connor said he and the Vero Beach staff and contractors take sea turtle regulations very seriously, “The last thing we would want is for our people to disturb any of those sea turtle nests,” he said. To keep trash on the beach under control, Vero pays a contractor to comb public beaches by hand once a week so debris can be removed while leaving seaweed in place. The seaweed and the tiny critters that get caught up in it provide nourishment for wildlife. READ FULL STORY


Indian River’s Mental Health Court gets glowing reviews
week of June 25, 2015

Mental Health Court in Indian River County has grown to 21 participants, all diverted from jail in the last six months in an effort to stop the revolving door of incarceration by getting mental health treatment for them. Last week, half of them appeared before District Judge Cynthia Cox to talk about how they’re doing. Almost all had glowing reports. The few minutes they spend in front of Cox every few weeks is negligible compared to the time and effort that goes into getting them there. Prior to the session in open court, a staff meeting with 16 people who play a role in their progress (including the judge, case workers, group home managers, assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, deputies and court administrators) gave a more complete picture of the enormous effort that goes into getting and keeping each client on the right track. Doing the work up front, statistics overwhelmingly show, often turns people headed for a life of crime and incarceration into productive citizens, cutting down dramatically on the cost to taxpayers, who would pay an average of $90 a day to keep them in jail. READ FULL STORY


Simpson family touched by youth’s plea for forgiveness
week of June 18, 2015

With last week’s sentencing of Darius Robinson, Kristen Simpson and her kids, Samantha and Scott, say they were able to put another sad chapter in their lives behind them. What so touched them at the hearing, they said, was that Darius, now 20, asked to speak to them. “The sentence and penalty were set so nothing he said would make a difference,” said Kristen. “Still, he looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘Ma’am, I beg your forgiveness.’ “I can’t tell you how that helped,” said Kristen. In November, 2011, Robinson, then 16 in the 10th grade at Vero Beach High, went with Henry Jones, then 23, to break in and rob the Simpson home on Fiddlewood in Central Beach. Robinson, who was acting as lookout in the yard, ran into the home to tell Jones that a man was arriving unexpectedly. When Brian Simpson walked through the front door and heard the intruders in his bedroom, he went toward them. The bungled burglary ended when Jones shot and killed Brian Simpson, 41, husband of Kristen and father of teens Scott and Samantha. READ FULL STORY


Less than one third of ‘bed tax’ goes for outreach to tourists
week of June 18, 2015

The Board of County Commissioners last week approved spending $734,000 next year to promote tourism – money collected via the local-option tourist tax or “bed tax” – but less than one-third of that money is actually budgeted for advertising Indian River County as a tourist destination. The total available is up 9.4 percent largely due to a banner year for the island’s hotels, but that did not translate into a marked increase in funds for more ad buys in northern states and Canada, or in the driving-distance market around Florida. According to documents in the public record obtained from the Indian River County Office of Management and Budget, most of the funds go to pay operating costs, including salaries and health benefits, for employees of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, the Vero Heritage Center and Citrus Museum and other agencies. READ FULL STORY


Island surgeon gets rare honor from Swimming Hall of Fame
week of June 18, 2015

For eight summers, starting when he was only 16 years old, Vero Beach orthopedic surgeon Peter Wernicki worked as a lifeguard on the busy beaches at the New Jersey shore. “I grew up at the beach,” he said. “So to get paid to be there every day, I couldn’t have a better job.” Little did he know then, however, how much those summers in the sand would shape his life – a life that, 40 years later, has earned the recognition of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. On Friday night, at a black-tie affair in Santa Clara, CA, Wernicke will receive the Hall of Fame’s 2015 Paragon Award for his global leadership in aquatic medicine, water safety and drowning prevention. The award is presented annually to one person worldwide for his or her contributions to advance water safety. Last year, it went to Bob Burnside, the former Los Angeles County lifeguard who became the first president of the United States Lifesaving Association in 1964 and developed the then-revolutionary “Burnside Rescue Can,” the red plastic buoy now considered standard equipment for beach lifeguards. READ FULL STORY


Some owners agree to stop renting homes for less than 30 days
week of June 18, 2015

Three of four owners of short-term vacation rental properties in Vero Beach paid fines last week and signed compliance agreements with the city saying that they would no longer rent their homes for under 30 days. Residents opposed to the short-term rentals hailed the compliance as a victory for the city and, more importantly, a step toward maintaining the quality of their neighborhoods. The fourth owner, who sued the city saying the ordinance restricting residential short-term rentals to a 30-day minimum is illegal, got a continuance for an appeal of his fines. His case will be heard in July. The compliance and payment of fines, as well as the appeal extension, fell into place last Wednesday at a city code enforcement meeting, just as Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox denied a request for a temporary injunction from Charles Fitz, the short-term rental owner who is suing the city and who asked for an extension for his appeal. READ FULL STORY


Parents and kids plea for fixes at Beachland Elementary
week of June 18, 2015

Beachland Elementary School parents and students fired a shot across the bow of the county school board last week with a peaceful appearance to demand improvements to the island’s aging and increasingly dilapidated public school. PTA President Pat Blackburn said students receive a quality education from wonderful teachers at Beachland, and expressed gratitude for all the good things about the school that are a source of pride for Beachland families. “But we are not proud of the physical campus,” she said. Fourth grader Will Blackburn, the PTA President’s son, told board members: “My school stinks – literally. My school makes me sick. I have asthma and allergies.” He described attending a 90-minute meeting last summer in the library, and returning home sick and in need of inhaled medication. Eva Justice, also a fourth grader, said: “My cafeteria is a gross place to eat and I wish it wasn’t.” School Board member Shawn Frost was the only person on the dais to address the concerns of the parents and students during the meeting, calling their comments “an eye opener. READ FULL STORY


Health issues at aging Beachland Elementary concern parents
week of June 11, 2015

Beachland Elementary School parents, who a couple of years ago successfully fought to save the school’s treasured oak hammock from being bulldozed, now are fighting for a healthy and safe building when their kids return in August to the barrier island’s only public school. Complaints about the nearly 60-year-old structure include moldy carpets, unrepaired leaks causing water intrusion, rusty and broken fixtures, broken and rusted-out air conditioners, peeling paint, potential structural and electrical hazards and a general state of neglect and disrepair – problems on which parents pleaded for help from the Indian River County School Board Tuesday night. Later this month, the Board is expected to vote on a construction plan for the school and on other budget-related items, so Beachland PTA leaders decided to rally the families via social media. Beachland parents have spoken out previously about conditions at the school – which they claim are making students sick – but School District emails reveal that as of two weeks ago, no investigation was ever ordered in response to internal and external complaints. READ FULL STORY


Supreme Court help sought on electric
week of June 11, 2015

Indian River County has made its case to the Florida Supreme Court for why the panel should overturn two February Public Service Committee rulings that would appear to keep south barrier island and many mainland county residents tied to service by Vero electric forever. The 77-page document was filed last week as part of the Florida Public Service Commission’s appeals process, which leaves only the state’s high court as a remedy for utility customers who feel they got a raw deal before the unelected five-person bureaucracy that sits in Tallahassee as judge and jury on many utility matters. County Attorney Dylan Reingold and the county’s outside utility legal counsel, Floyd Self, told the court that going to the PSC was not the community’s preferred action, but instead a necessary step once it became apparent that Vero would not or could not complete a deal to sell the entire Vero electric system and all Vero’s 34,000 customers to Florida Power and Light – a transaction the county argues would deliver the best result for all ratepayers. READ FULL STORY


Landlord asks court to block $500 fines on vacation rentals
week of June 11, 2015

The owner of a home being advertised for vacation rentals in Central Beach squared off in court last week against the City of Vero Beach, seeking to stop police and code enforcers from handing out $500 tickets to landlords renting out homes for fewer than 30 days. The attorney for Chuck Fitz, who rents out three homes in Central Beach for periods ranging on average from a week to a month, asked Judge Cynthia Cox to grant an injunction stopping the citations because, he said, the local code forbidding rentals of under a month is “pre-empted by state law.” The injunction was denied Wednesday. Attorney Johnathan Rhodeback told the Court that a 2011 city ordinance forbidding transient rentals could not apply to rentals of under 30 days because the 30-day minimum was not in the code until 2015, meaning that owners of vacation rentals purchased before 2015 should be allowed to rent for under 30 days. “The city would have you believe that the 30 days was always in existence, but there was no definition of transient before 2015,“ said Rhodeback. READ FULL STORY


Soaring flood insurance rates hit snowbirds hard
week of June 11, 2015

Many Vero Beach homeowners are having sticker shock when they get flood insurance bills this year, which are sky-rocketing – and snowbirds are getting hit extra hard with an additional $250 on top of the new rate hikes and extra fees. Take snowbirds Joanne and Don Anderson, who own a winter residence at Tarpon Island Club condominiums on the lagoon: A few weeks ago they got a letter from their insurance company telling them that because of federal legislation passed in April, they could expect their flood insurance to increase. Last year, they paid $300 for flood insurance. But this year they will pay approximately $700. That’s because the base rate for flood insurance is increasing 15 to 18 percent to fund the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $24 billion underfunded, making the Andersons’ base rate go up to between $345 and $354. Plus they’ll owe 15 percent more on top of that subtotal for a new federal reserve fund assessment. Then comes a whopping additional fee of $250 because their Vero Beach residence is not their primary home, which is in Illinois. All told, they could pay over $700 this year and even more next year. READ FULL STORY


Shuttle for workers hopefully will end Ocean Drive parking problems
week of June 4, 2015

The escalating war between Ocean Drive merchants and Central Beach hotel and restaurant workers who occupy most of the parking spaces in front of their shops may be about to end with a $40,000 peace offering from the Heaton Companies. The Heaton Companies, it was learned, recently put up the entire local contribution needed to launch a GoLine shuttle that will ferry Central Beach employees between a parking area in Riverside Park and their jobs seven days a week. The free “Beachside Circulator,” scheduled to begin service July 1 after County Commission approval, will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily circling from a parking area in Riverside Park to Jaycee Park, then south along Ocean Drive to Flamevine Lane, and finally back to Riverside. The shuttle, which will cost $160,000 a year to operate, is mostly funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, with the stipulation that 25 percent of the money for the first year – $40,000 – had to be provided by private business, said GoLine administrator Karen Diegl. READ FULL STORY


Emergency Room reports treatment times better; more upgrades on way
week of June 4, 2015

Patients appearing at the Indian River Medical Center Emergency Room are being seen faster by healthcare professionals and getting discharged slightly more quickly than was the case two years ago, with only half as many walk-ins giving up and leaving before treatment, according to new data. The latest numbers from the hospital, gathered from Dec. 1, 2014 to May 1, 2015, show the average ER wait until seeing a healthcare professional decreasing by 24 minutes and the average wait until discharge from the ER to go home decreasing by four minutes under the management of ApolloMD, which replaced Emergency Physicians of Central Florida a year and a half ago. But the most dramatic improvement – the number of patients who get tired of waiting and walk out of the ER before being seen – decreased from four percent to two percent. For those ill enough or badly enough injured to warrant admission, the average wait-time from being registered in the ER to being admitted was essentially unchanged, increasing slightly from five hours and 36 minutes to five hours and 40 minutes. READ FULL STORY


Shores residents may finally get better cell service
week of June 4, 2015

Frustrated cell phone users in Indian River Shores and elsewhere on the barrier island may get some relief in their dismal service by Christmas, if all goes smoothly with the process the Town has laid out. After raising hopes (and flaring tempers) over numerous options for locations ranging from behind Town Hall to the Florida Tech Marine Lab at Tracking Station beach to Bee Gum Point to John’s Island, the town has decided to put out a formal request for new proposals. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said he’ll be contracting with local firm NBB Engineering to draft the RFP at a cost of less than $2,000. Then it will take time to get proposals back, review and rank them, and finally choose a winning plan. The whole process, including obtaining whatever approvals or variances would be needed, will take months. Though he’s had an initial meeting with a potential vendor and received information he deemed “very helpful,” Stabe said he did not feel comfortable going forward with a sole-source contract on the cell tower. “We need to definitely conduct an RFP for something of this magnitude and expense.” READ FULL STORY


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