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Hospital balks at deal it agreed to on indigent care
week of March 19, 2015

Only a week after it appeared that Indian River Medical Center and the Hospital District had finally come to agreement on an indigent care reimbursement formula to run through fiscal year 2017, the hospital balked. The sticking point: The hospital says it needs more money than has been budgeted by the District. Also, the hospital now insists it is not solely up to the District to decide the level of taxpayer dollars it will provide. Instead, the hospital negotiating team believes the amount should be whatever the medical center says it needs. In their proposed written reimbursement formula, which District trustees thought reflected what was a verbal agreement with the hospital, the District said if the hospital need more than what the District budgeted in indigent care reimbursement dollars for a fiscal year, “District Trustees will consider the additional payment.” But the hospital refuses to accept that only the District can do the considering – even though a 15-year-old appellate court opinion makes it clear the Hospital District does have that power. READ FULL STORY


End of era: Luxury townhomes to replace old Vero motel
week of March 19, 2015

The Surf Club Hotel, long a white elephant on Vero’s upscale beachfront, was sold on Friday for $7.95 million to a local development group headed by well-known island builder Vic Lombardi. The hotel is now closed, and Lombardi and co-developer Clark French plan to tear the four-story building down in April and build 11 luxury townhomes on the prime 2.56-acre oceanfront site north of Jaycee Park. The 3,200-square-foot West Indies-style homes with guest houses and private garages and swimming pools will be similar to the well-received East End townhomes Lombardi built last year next to The Gables condominiums. Coincidentally, that project sold out on Friday as well, with owners paying an average of $2.32 million, according to French. Pre-construction prices for the new townhomes will start at $2.5 million and, given current demand for new oceanfront construction and the proven appeal of the product, will likely creep up during construction to $3 million or more. READ FULL STORY


Sea Oaks expanding its Beach Club
week of March 19, 2015

On a postcard-perfect evening last week, more than 100 local Realtors gathered at Sea Oaks for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a poolside presentation of the barrier island community's plans to modernize and expand its Beach Club. "When we are done," Jeff Mullins told the group, "Sea Oaks will be better than ever." Mullins, a former Duke University basketball All-American, Olympic gold medalist and NBA All-Star who moved to Sea Oaks in 2001, now serves as co-chair of its marketing committee. And he said the $3.6 million project is necessary to "stay ahead of the market" and continue attracting new home buyers. The 11-month project includes a complete remodeling of Sea Oaks' Georgian-style clubhouse, enlarging and improving the gazebo and beach bar, repaving the patio area around the swimming pool, and a redesign and upgrade of the clubhouse kitchen to enable more efficient service. When completed, the Beach Club will offer both fine and casual dining overlooking the ocean, and the revamped gazebo and beach bar will provide "outdoor dining and a relaxed social gathering place," Mullins said. READ FULL STORY


Brief lull in the action on the Vero electric front
week of March 19, 2015

The controversy over Vero electric has effectively taken a spring break while various parallel legal, regulatory and legislative actions continue to run their course. The Indian River Board of County Commissioners voted to join the Indian River Shores Town Council in extending the “options review” period in the electric utility mediation until May 15, so not much is expected to happen before the parties meet the first week in May to review Vero’s efforts to reduce electric rates. Vero has hired consultants to offer up hard data and ideas on how to do that. One of the reports Vero was anxiously awaiting was its rate study, and results of that published last week show no real new information. Rates are sufficient to cover operating expenses and debt payments, and to ensure the city maintains a decent reserve. Vero’s average residential electric usage is about 1,035 kilowatt hours per month, and the upper 20 percent of residential users (more than 1,500 kilowatt hours per month) use nearly 50 percent of the power consumed by residential customers. READ FULL STORY


Ambulances turned away by hospital
week of March 12, 2015

The phone call came into the Indian River County Fire Rescue control center about 1:30 p.m. the Sunday before last: Do not send anymore ambulances to Indian River Medical Center Emergency Room until further notice. “The hospital said they had over 20 patients in the ER and couldn’t handle more. They were swamped, and we needed to divert patients to Sebastian, they told us,” said county rescue battalion chief Cory Richter. Over the course of the next nine hours, 17 ambulances that normally would have gone to Indian River Medical Center were rerouted to the Sebastian River Medical Center. “We have processes in place to alert hospital leadership and affected departments so staffing can be adjusted to accommodate additional patients,” said Sebastian River marketing director Angela Dickens. “When Indian River has to divert, Sebastian is happy to step up,” said Richter, the county’s battalion chief. The Indian River Medical Center emergency room’s inability to handle peak needs during season has been an issue for years, and the subject of continued promises and efforts to improve. It takes an ambulance rushing across either of the Vero bridges an additional 20 to 30 minutes beyond IRMC to get a patient to the Sebastian emergency room. READ FULL STORY


County weighs extending trash pickup at curb
week of March 12, 2015

Barrier island residents, upon hearing that the County Commission is set to vote March 18 on whether to extend mandatory refuse collection to all of Indian River County, may well say, “Why should I care? I already have curbside pickup.” But in addition to paying roughly $15 per month for their curbside pickup, island residents – as well as mainland residents who live in planned and gated communities – pay an $80 a year solid waste assessment to subsidize five “convenience centers” for country residents who choose to drop their rubbish off at no cost. Staffing and operating these convenience centers costs an estimated $2.25 million annually. Recovering the cost of operating the convenience centers from residents who prefer “free” trash disposal to paying for refuse pickup would require user fees of $8 and $10 per visit, according to county staff. Chances of the country imposing charges that high seem highly unlikely. Imposing mandatory refuse collection for residential customers and closing the drop-off centers would appear to be the fiscally and environmentally prudent thing for the County Commission to do, but political pressure to keep the centers open is massive, and relentless. READ FULL STORY


Shores has new ‘Plan B’ for lowering electric rates
week of March 12, 2015

Indian River Shores residents now have one more reason to hope and pray their lawsuit seeking to exit the Vero Beach electric system prevails: The new ‘Plan B’ of immersing the Shores Town Council in the business of rate regulation is fraught with cost and peril. Should the town’s lawsuit fail – or should it prevail, and the town not be able to convince Florida Power and Light to take over its customers – the new contingency plan is to try to regulate the rates Shores customers pay. Mayor Brian Barefoot said the rate-regulation plan is completely separate from the town’s lawsuit against Vero, which is shelved until May 15. “This really has nothing to do with that. This is not to pre-judge any of that. This is to put something in place, with the benefit of hindsight, to protect our residents, that if we had something like this we wouldn’t be in this position,” Barefoot said. READ FULL STORY


Four finalists left for school superintendent as one drops out
week of March 12, 2015

The number of finalists still under consideration for the job of Indian River County school superintendent to succeed the retiring Fran Adams dropped to four this week when Frank Rodriguez, probably the most professionally qualified finalist from Palm Beach County, pulled out. The remaining four include three outsiders from other Florida school districts, David Christiansen, chief academic officer of Lake County Schools, and two candidates from neighboring St. Lucie County, although one school board member said he didn’t think much of the St. Lucie school district. The fourth candidate, Bruce Green, is already with the local school system as assistant superintendent of technology, and had been recommended by Adams to become her successor. He had not been picked as a finalist by a team of consultants hired to narrow the field of 69 candidates to a final eight because he’s never been a principal and lacks academic credentials, but at a public meeting last week, the school board voted 3-2 to put Green’s name on the finalist list anyway. READ FULL STORY


Firefighters gear up for county impasse hearing
week of March 12, 2015

Nasty disputes festering for years between the county’s stop staffers and the firefighters’ union are about to finally be aired, with the Board of County Commissioners sitting as the court of last resort on March 20. Unable to strike a compromise during the lengthy, prescribed ritual of negotiations and mediation since declaring impasse last May, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2201 will now publicly appeal directly to the county’s elected officials to address unresolved issues about wages, benefits and safety concerns related to working and living conditions at fire stations. Since the parties appeared before a special magistrate in Orlando in October and the magistrate ruled in December, firefighters have been prohibited from directly lobbying commissioners on the topics of the impasse. But the commissioners have surely seen news reports about career firefighters testing positive for toxic mold in their blood. READ FULL STORY


New twists as Shores battles for lower electric rates
week of March 5, 2015

Indian River Shores has taken a surprising left turn in its battle to get all of its residents lower electric rates, which most people had assumed involved getting the southern part of the town out of the clutches of Vero Electric and bringing them the same lower Florida Power & Light electric rates already enjoyed by the northern part. The town’s lawsuit against the neighboring city of Vero Beach accuses Vero of mismanagement of its municipal utility and seeks to establish the town’s control over who can provide electric service after Vero electric’s franchise expires in November, 2016. However, the latest indications coming out of the town council are that it won’t be as simple as telling Vero electric to come and pick up its equipment and asking FPL to come in to join the Vero electric service area to the territory it already serves. From discussions at last week’s Indian River Shores town council meeting and from information provided by sources close to leading council members, it appears that people driving the process are now seriously considering other alternatives to FPL. READ FULL STORY


Shores gets new storm-tested public safety chief
week of March 5, 2015

When applications flood in from the frozen north for top government jobs like the Indian River Shores Public Safety Director position, those lucky folks who have never lived through a major hurricane can get weeded out quickly. But Rich Rosell, who was unveiled as the Shores’ new public safety chief, comes battle-tested with all the hurricane experience anyone would ever want to see: up-close encounters with two doozies named Irene and Sandy. Hurricane Irene hit the Atlantic coast in August 2011 when Rosell was in charge of public safety for Springfield, New Jersey, and then Sandy walloped the Jersey Shore after chewing up Florida’s beaches in October 2012. Those two experiences taught the career law enforcement officer that you can never be too prepared. READ FULL STORY


Reimbursement formula found for indigent care
week of March 5, 2015

Indian River Medical Center and Hospital District negotiators shook hands last week, verbally agreeing on a reimbursement formula for how the Hospital District will use taxpayer dollars to fund indigent care at the hospital. Both sides are putting the agreed-upon reimbursement formula in writing and presenting it to their boards for approval over the next week. While none of the negotiators would discuss details of the financial agreement until it is approved, the reimbursement formula is believed based on rates recommended by District consultant Ken Conner, who researched hospital finances to arrive at a “nonfederal rate” less than the Medicare rate paid by the District for years. The three-year agreement is believed to approximate what the District proposed to the hospital in October. “After a long, long, long time of frustrating negotiations, we at last have something positive,” said District negotiator Gene Feinour. READ FULL STORY


Reward upped in hit-and-run death of Orchid Island man
week of March 5, 2015

Friends of Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer, who was killed in a yet-unsolved, hit-and-run incident Jan. 4 in Savannah, GA, have increased to $125,000 the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the driver. The $25,000 increase was announced last week on what would've been Meyer's 73rd birthday, just days after Savannah police determined the speeding truck or SUV that struck him – a 1999 or 2000 Chevrolet Silverado, Tahoe or Suburban – was red. Police initially believed the vehicle was white, but, according to Meyer's daughter, Deb Cohen, forensic tests on her father's clothing revealed it was red. The vehicle would have incurred damage to its front-right side. "It was very sad that my dad's birthday came and went, and we still don't know who killed him," said Cohen, who lives in Virginia. "But with this new information and the increased reward, maybe someone will come forward.” READ FULL STORY


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


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