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Power agency to spend $100,000 spinning audit
week of February 26, 2015

Blaming Vero Beach’s legal woes and Indian River County residents’ inability to resolve their disputes with Vero over high electric rates as the reason for the state audit of its organization, the Florida Municipal Power Agency board has voted to spend at least $100,000 to beef up its damage-control efforts by hiring public relations consultants and additional Tallahassee lobbyists. “We’ve all been watching the news lately, and FMPA’s been in the news, and not in a good way,” said Chairman Bill Conrad, the mayor of Newberry, referring to newspaper and television reports of the FMPA’s lavish spending and risky investment practices, as revealed in findings by the Florida Auditor General. Vero Beach City Councilman Randy Old was among only three members who voted against the new expenditure on PR consultants and lobbyists, which would raise wholesale rates about 14 cents per megawatt hour. Instead, Old asked fellow board members to address the serious financial and control issues pointed out by the audit – rather than hiring lobbyists to spiff up the FMPA’s tarnished image around the state. READ FULL STORY

John-Edward Kelly: Acclaimed Vero musician dead at 56
week of February 26, 2015

John-Edward Kelly, an internationally recognized classical saxophonist, founder of an acclaimed chamber orchestra, and in his rare free moments, a very private resident of Vero Beach, has died at 56 after a brutal battle with cancer. He fought the disease largely for his four young children, including a son born just five months ago, said his wife, Dr. Kristin Kelly, a family medicine physician. Kelly lived a quiet life in Vero. But his ambition to give exposure to deserving but underplayed music was global. At the same time, he ranked among the world’s top players of classical saxophone. For his entire musical career, and particularly after he founded Arcos Orchestra, Kelly was committed to having the world hear fine composers whose work was left on the shelves because “there was a more famous horse in the field,” he told a German journalist. “I wanted to do something about it.” He was also intensely concerned with the future of art music, believing that contemporary musicians snobbishly believed “we are so intelligent that the audience cannot possibly understand what we are doing,” he said. READ FULL STORY

Real estate auction may set record
week of February 26, 2015

Two of the most expensive homes on the barrier island will go on the auction block at 6 p.m. on March 26, offered in a unique bidder’s choice auction with no reserve, a format that is intended to create a sense of urgency among buyers interested in the properties. There will be one round of bidding at a gala invitation-only event at the site in the estate section just south of Round Island Park, where the two ultra-luxurious homes sit side by side, and the high bidder will get to choose which house he or she wants. The houses, known as Sandy Lane and Splendida Dimora, are currently listed at $15,995,000 and $16,695,000, respectively. Completed in 2013 by Beachlen Development Company and never lived in, this is not a distress sale. “The auction is purely a business decision by the owner,” says co-listing agent Clark French of Premier Estate Properties. “In Vero Beach, with homes like these, we are selling want, not need, and it is hard to create a sense of urgency around want. READ FULL STORY

Interim hospital reimbursement pact seen near
week of February 26, 2015

Unable to resolve the differences over amending the present indigent care agreement with Indian River Medical Center, the Hospital District last week unanimously voted to scrap the whole agreement and start from scratch, even though the two sides appear to be close to an interim stopgap reimbursement agreement for the current fiscal year. And if the Hospital District trustees are still unable to work out a whole new agreement with the medical center over the next 12 months, the District reserves the right to modify the present pact or cancel it altogether and unilaterally impose its own conditions for how it will reimburse the hospital out of tax dollars for indigent care. For its part, the hospital, through its lead attorney, immediately criticized the district’s decision and questioned whether the district trustees can even legally take such action. “You have to ask yourself if it makes sense to start over,” said hospital lawyer Bill Stewart. “We’ve had the agreement in place for a long time and there have got to be some good bones in there.” READ FULL STORY

Three vie for seats on Indian River Shores Town Council
week of February 26, 2015

As is typically the case when there is an election in the Town, Indian River Shores residents have a slate of articulate, well-educated, qualified candidates to choose from on March 10, with the issues being more muted than those in County or Vero Beach races. Incumbents Richard Haverland and Michael Ochsner want to build on the work that the current council has started – vigorously pursuing the electric lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach and maintaining the Town’s public safety services while keeping an eye on expenses. Challenger Linda Bolton, a former president of the Indian River Neighborhood Association, thinks her skills as a certified mediator would serve the Town well by encouraging compromise and keeping the Town out of court. READ FULL STORY

Orchid Island Club lands another major golf event
week of February 26, 2015

Never before had the United States Golf Association entrusted one of its major championships to the Vero Beach area. So how did this golf-loving, seaside community end up with two of them in the next three years? Just a coincidence. That's how Mark Hill, senior director of USGA championships, explained the association's decisions to award the 2015 Mid-Amateur Championship to the John’s Island Club and the 2018 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship to the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club. "We didn't target the area," Hill said. "Traditionally, clubs that want to host a championship contact us, then we evaluate their request and determine whether the site is a good fit. "Sometimes, as was the case with Orchid Island, a club will seek a particular championship," he added. "Usually, though, the club will contact us about getting a championship and we determine which championship fits best at that club. "So at the end of the day, given our process, it was a coincidence that two clubs from the same community were awarded championships only three years apart." The 2015 Mid-Amateur will be played Oct. 3-8 on the John's Island Club's West and North courses. The 2018 Senior Women's Amateur Championship is scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 4 at Orchid Island. READ FULL STORY

New attempts to start up INEOS biofuel plant fail
week of February 19, 2015

Several new attempts have been made since the beginning of this month to start up the critical boiler at the INEOS biofuel plant just west of Vero Beach, but all have failed, according to an informed source. The boiler, which “boils” biomass from yard waste and other organic materials to supposedly convert it into ethanol fuel, was first started up again on Feb. 6, but it was down again by mid-morning of the following day, the source said. “Over the next several days, many more attempts were made to run the boiler and turbine, resulting in failure of both systems due to many steam leaks and high turbine vibration,” the source added. A spokesperson at INEOS’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago said the firm doesn’t disclose any details about the plant’s operations. Asked specifically if he could confirm if there had been issues with an attempted start-up, he simply repeated: “We do not disclose our operations.” READ FULL STORY

County has until mid-March to appeal PSC ruling
week of February 19, 2015

Now that the Florida Public Service Commission has ruled against Indian River County and repeatedly defended the commission’s own “exclusive and superior” authority over electric territories, the county has until mid-March to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The county is seriously considering asking the Supreme Court to hear its arguments that the ruling renders the county’s franchise agreement with the city of Vero Beach meaningless and that the PSC has trampled on the county’s powers over property rights. What seemed like a major loss to Indian River County three weeks ago could put the issue of the rights of Florida’s electric utility customers at the right place at the right time. The Florida Supreme Court is the right place because of its power to interpret state law, and possibly to fill in where the statute is unclear or mute on an issue. Now is the right time because concern is building across the state about the plight of municipal electric customers in the wake of the Auditor General’s findings during a recent audit of the Florida Municipal Power Agency. READ FULL STORY

County now looking at vacation rental issues on the island
week of February 19, 2015

Since a Central Beach crime spree last month churned up the issue of vacation rentals, the county is now looking at what can be done to stop renters from disrupting quality of life in residential neighborhoods on the north and south ends of the barrier island. The County Commission last week voted 5-0 to direct legal staff to start drafting different options to address the issue of parking at residential homes in the unincorporated county being marketed as vacation rentals. Dr. Miles Conway, who lives in a two-story oceanfront home on 1.8 acres near Round Island Park, made a presentation to the commission on Feb. 10 about a neighboring home being rented by the night to multiple families of vacationers, turning the neighboring property into a commercial parking lot. The vacation rental, which can sleep 18 or so people and is often used to host weddings, is located on a half-acre lot, surrounded by three single-family, oceanfront residential properties. “We have a commercial vendor-operator in a residential neighborhood which is impacting the quiet enjoyment of our lives,” Conway told the County Commission. READ FULL STORY

2014 Piper job numbers remain high
week of February 19, 2015

The 2014 numbers are in: Piper Aircraft Inc. exceeded the employment and salary figures required in an agreement with Indian River County, which paid the company $4 million in economic development incentives. According to the December 2012 amendment to the original $12 million incentive package, Piper needed to keep at least 650 full-time positions at its Vero headquarters with an average annual salary of $46,500. County budget director Jason Brown said the 2014 figures submitted by Piper last month surpassed both minimums with 1,058 full-time employees earning an average annual salary of $53,298. “They’re in compliance with the agreement,” Brown said, “and except for the two years when we hit the pause button because of the recession, they’ve met their numbers every year.” Piper, the largest private employer of full-time workers in the county, in 2008 was considering manufacturing a new single-engine jet aircraft at several sites outside Vero when the county and state stepped up with incentive packages. READ FULL STORY

Wesley Davis to run for county property appraiser
week of February 19, 2015

County Commissioner Wesley Davis, having considered his political options over the past two months since being seen as a favorite to replace Florida House Rep. Debbie Mayfield, said he’s decided his next move will instead be to ask voters for the job that Property Appraiser David Nolte has held for the past 34 years. A real estate auctioneer and fourth-generation citrus grower, Davis formally announced his candidacy for Indian River County Property Appraiser Wednesday morning at the Supervisor of Elections office with his wife Tonya. "I just want everybody to know that I won't be seeking a fourth term for District 1 County Commissioner. I'm doing this out of respect for the position,” said Davis, who thanked the residents of Indian River County for allowing him to serve. "It has truly been an opportunity of a lifetime, but it's time for me to do something different and real estate is what I do, appraising is what I do. I made the decision to not do anything at the state level until my kids are out of school," Davis added. READ FULL STORY

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