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Will money tell the tale in next week’s elections?
week of August 25, 2016

This hasn’t been the most dramatic county election season in memory, but it’s always interesting to look at the cash flows of local campaigns, if only because you can see who your friends and neighbors are mailing checks to. The numbers also provide clues about who is likely to win. Thanks to the website maintained by Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan, it is easy to go online and see not just totals raised and spent for every race in the county but an itemization of every single individual contribution, who gave it, and how contributions and expenditures compare to money raised and spent in prior elections. This is the time to look at campaign finances because, since no Democrats are running, almost all county races will be decided in the Aug. 30 Republican primary. Whoever wins the primary is, in effect, elected, several months ahead of the full-on November election. This cycle, 47 candidates for 21 county positions raised a total of $769,694 in cash through mid-August. Add $73,309 worth of “in-kind” donations – things like food, campaign material and professional services – and the county office total raised for this election comes to $843,000. READ FULL STORY

$30 million more spent on schools here than in Stuart
week of August 25, 2016

Even though the Indian River County School District has fewer students than the Martin County School District, it will spend $30 million more than Martin in the current school year. About 17,000 students attend school in the Indian River District, which expects to spend about $249 million this school year. Martin County School District, with 19,000 students, will run its operation on a budget of $219 million. Not surprisingly, Indian River County School District will tax property owners more, at $7.41 per $1,000 of property value compared to Martin County School District’s $6.88 tax rate, a difference of about $250 per year for someone with a $500,000 home. An analysis of budget figures shows the IRC School District spends more than the Martin County School District because it has higher legal expenses, is more deeply in debt, purchases more from outside the district, lays out far more for healthcare and insurance, and is spending freely on technology and technology personnel. It also spends more on “non-instructional management,” forking out $1.6 million in salary for top administrators, $300,000 more than the larger Martin County District. READ FULL STORY

A good summer for sea turtles – except along South Beach
week of August 25, 2016

This summer has been auspicious for endangered Loggerhead sea turtles in Indian River County, but it could have been even better had condo residents near South Beach Park followed lighting regulations. As of last Thursday, county officials report 7,142 Loggerhead nests, which Sea Turtle Coordinator Kendra Cope said is 499 more than the previous record year in 2012, when turtle monitors found 6,643 nests. That was the good news that Vero Councilman Dick Winger reported back to the City Council from his most recent Beaches and Shores Preservation Committee meeting. On a sadder note, Winger also reported that one pocket of Vero Beach – the condominiums that hug South Beach Park – have apparently caused serious loss of life among turtle hatchlings. When the tiny turtles break out of their shells, their only directional cue to get safely to the ocean is the moon. When other, artificial lighting confuses the hatchlings, they can trek west toward the dunes and buildings instead of to the surf, leaving them exposed to the elements, to predators and to man-made hazards. READ FULL STORY

Such a deal! ‘Celling’ hotel rooms for only $200 a night in former Vero jail
week of August 25, 2016

“Spend a night in PRISON! In Vero Beach,” reads the Airbnb posting. “The establishment is good for couples, solo adventurers, big groups, families (with kids), furry friends (pets allowed).” For a bargain $200 a night, you can have a “room” with no view, just a slit for a window, with clouded glass so you can’t see out of it. The decor is drab. The yard is fenced, to say the least; designers didn’t skimp on the razor wire. Maximum security is the goal here. Once you’re locked in for the night, you can feel quite secure. For that price, you could stay in off-season at Ocean Drive hostelry. Or you could spend a night or two at the old Indian River Correctional Institution, closed in a 2012, which has been reimagined by two Fort Lauderdale entrepreneurs as an Airbnb listing-slash-film set, with an algae-growing business on the side. The listing has been circulating on Facebook for the past two weeks, and has generated some 2,000 views (but so far no bookings), says co-owner Rob Goodman, a former actor now working in film production. READ FULL STORY

Rendell spurns NAACP in favor of ‘consultants’
week of August 18, 2016

Once again, Indian River County School District Superintendent Mark Rendell is choosing to work with distant “consultants” instead of the local NAACP on closing the academic achievement gap for black high school students. The achievement gap is at the heart of a federal desegregation order that has hung over Indian River County schools for almost a half century. The federal court order requires the district to work with and report to the NAACP on various matters, including how to close the achievement gap. But Rendell ignores it, making unilateral decisions about how to address inequity in the district and bypassing the NAACP and the School Board. The way school district finances are set up, Rendell, as superintendent, has the power to hire consultants and award contracts for amounts less than $50,000. READ FULL STORY

License-plate cameras now alerting Shores officers
week of August 18, 2016

As of last Friday, Indian River Shores Public Safety officers are receiving alerts in real time from the license plate reader cameras posted at the north and south entrances to the Town, notifying them of infractions as minor as an expired tag and as major as stolen vehicles and felony warrants. Lt. Mark Shaw said officers stopped 17 drivers over the weekend in response to “hits.” Only three were cited for violations, the rest were given warnings. The $70,000 system installed and supported by L3 Communications captures clear photos of license plates and vehicles and runs the plate numbers through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and National Crime Information Center databases, returning alerts on pop-up screens at Lt. Shaw’s workstation and directly to officers’ on-board computers. READ FULL STORY

‘Big Red,’ county rec center, debuts
week of August 18, 2016

The re-branding of Indian River County as (drum roll) “Your Sports Destination Paradise” received a boost this week with the official opening of the long-delayed, much anticipated, $12.3 million Indian River County Intergenerational Recreation Center. The complex at South County Regional Park at Oslo Road and 20th Avenue SW was developed to meet growing demand for an indoor facility offering diverse recreational programming for all ages. It is an impressive, state-of-the-art activity hub and community venue for recreational, competitive, educational, social and philanthropic functions. The County Recreation Division will now be able to offer programming, events and rental options previously unavailable to County residents and tourists, including a hardwood basketball court, volleyball, gymnastics, martial and performing arts, virtual recreation, large seminars, gaming tournaments and other events and celebrations. READ FULL STORY

Scampi Grill moving to new location
week of August 18, 2016

If the devoted fans of Vero’s Scampi Grill have one criticism to offer, it would be the restaurant’s location, squeezed into a worn-out building on the dog-leg of U.S. 1, with a hard-to-negotiate, hodgepodge of parking in the dingy lot behind it. That complaint is about to be rectified. Come fall, Scampi Grill is moving to a much more accessible 2,200-square-foot building on 20th Street. And just to make sure it’s easy to find, the building has just been painted a shade of red you could certainly call saucy. It’s a color chef-owner Alex Amelio would have seen adding a dollop of cream to a purée of plum tomatoes long before he started working with his father Mimmo, who opened Scampi across from the Patio restaurant in 2000. (Scampi is just one of a half-dozen local restaurants that have been owned at one time or another by Mimmo’s extended family, who moved here from Naples, Italy.) READ FULL STORY

Accused South Beach killer jettisons public defender
week of August 18, 2016

Asbury Lee Perkins, the 57-year-old man facing first-degree murder charges for shooting his estranged wife Cynthia Betts in her Seagrape Lane home last November, has been granted permission to act as his own attorney. After what’s called a Feretta hearing, where the defendant is asked a series of questions to determine his understanding of the difficult task he is taking on, and to discern his level of legal expertise and general knowledge of the law and rules of evidence, Judge Cynthia Cox ruled that Perkins be permitted to jettison his public defender Alan Hunt and represent himself in a jury trial, according to court records. READ FULL STORY

School District health insurance deficit unresolved in budget
week of August 18, 2016

How to staunch the bleeding in the Indian River County School District’s self-insurers’ healthcare fund is left unanswered by the proposed budget due to the state Sept. 11. The budget contemplates the district’s health insurance fund opening the 2016-17 fiscal year with a $3.7 million deficit. It projects the deficit will increase to about $6 million by the end of the fiscal year. During budget talks, Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison and Human Resources and Risk Management Director William Fritz said employees would be asked to pay 31-percent higher insurance premiums, which would reduce but not eliminate the deficit. The district is negotiating with the two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the Indian River County Education Association. The district’s health insurance company has been losing money for at least five years, but it got into real trouble the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, starting out with a little over $200,000 in the fund, which is well under the state-required $3 million reserve. READ FULL STORY

Marine Bank upgrades technology as assets increase
week of August 18, 2016

The Island’s only local homegrown bank had another good period in the second quarter of the year and has been awarded a 5-Star Superior rating from Bauer Financial, the nation’s premier bank rating firm. Marine Bank’s second quarter earnings were actually down 25 percent compared to the second quarter of 2015, dropping from $292,000 to $218,000, but bank President and CEO Bill Penney explained the lower number came because the bank invested in a new tech system that will offer improved services such as better security, mobile banking and instant-issue check cards. Meanwhile, topline revenues and assets are up, year over year, with $207 million in total assets as of June 30, compared to $172 million as of the same date in 2015. Penney attributes much of the bank’s solid recovery since it was sanctioned by federal banking regulators several years ago to the strong real estate market on the island and mainland. In the first two quarters of 2016, Marine Bank made 79 new home loans for a total of $24.4 million. Penney said the loans were for homes throughout Indian River County, from luxury properties in John’s Island to small houses in west Vero and Fellsmere. READ FULL STORY

Will Vero vote next week on new FPL offer?
week of August 11, 2016

Florida Power & Light officials this week were trying to figure out how to deal with objections that could muck up prospects of a Vero City Council vote this coming Tuesday on their $30 million offer to purchase the 3,000-plus electric customers in the town of Indian River Shores from Vero electric. A three-page written offer was sent to Vero officials last Thursday, about a week after FPL’s shocking announcement that it would more than double its $13 million offer to purchase the 80 percent of Shores’ residents it does not already serve. Though city officials immediately bristled at the still sizable “gap” between Vero’s asking price and what FPL is now offering, this latest offer from FPL was seen as the Shores’ best chance yet of getting FPL as the Town’s power provider. “To make a transaction happen, you have to have a willing buyer and a willing seller. Here you have a willing buyer and a willing seller, it’s just a matter of what price,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said. READ FULL STORY

School District, running out of cash, needs a bridge loan
week of August 11, 2016

The Indian River County School District will run out of cash around mid-October, according to Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison. To tide itself over, the School District will issue a Tax Anticipation Note that will provide funds until cash from property tax collections starts flowing into the district’s bank account in November. The problem with the procedure is that it carries high costs in interest and fees, consuming money that could be used for educational purposes if the district managed its budget such that it did not have to borrow funds to make it through the fiscal year. Superintendent Mark Rendell assured the School Board it’s “not uncommon” for school districts to issue Tax Anticipation Notes. “It’s a side effect of how we’re funded [with tax dollars arriving in November]. It’s not that we’re doing things improperly,” he said. But two school board members weren’t convinced. “Why do we run out of money when we pass a balanced budget?” board member Charles Searcy asked at a July 26 budget workshop. READ FULL STORY

Sebastian hospital tops IRMC in first Medicare ranking
week of August 11, 2016

The Sebastian River Medical Center and the Melbourne Regional Medical Center just snagged the highest ratings of all area hospitals in Medicare's first-ever overall hospital quality report. Released on July 27, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rated 3,617 hospitals nationwide on a one- to five-star scale. oth the Sebastian and Melbourne hospitals were awarded three stars. “Below average” scores of two stars were given to 707 hospitals nationwide including Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach and Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and Sarasota Memorial are the only hospitals in Florida to receive the top score of five stars for overall quality in the new federal rating system, according to Kaiser Health News. Eighteen Florida hospitals were awarded four stars while 76, including SRMC and Holmes, garnered three stars. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – or CMS – says it based its ratings on 64 individual measurements published on its “Hospital Compare” website. READ FULL STORY

Trading their ‘Miami Vice’ home for Vero’s lower-key, sophisticated lifestyle
week of August 11, 2016

When retired tech executive and real estate investor Aurelio Fernandez and his wife Berta, a pediatrician, put their Key Biscayne home on the market last week for a heady price, the Wall Street Journal jumped at the chance to write about the stunning waterfront property, which was featured in the 2006 movie “Miami Vice.” It was only at the very end of the article that the Journal mentioned the couple is selling the house in order to relocate to Vero Beach. A reader of the online version of the article commented: “Key Biscayne to Vero ... Boy, I hope they know what they’re in for.” In fact Aurelio and Berta Fernandez have a pretty good sense of the lifestyle on Vero’s barrier island. They have been spending time here and investing in real estate on the island for three years, buying a home on Egret Point in 2013 and then going on to purchase a house in John’s Island (since sold), two oceanfront homes, two beautiful houses on Painted Bunting in Old Riomar, and an Ocean Park condo. READ FULL STORY

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