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Hospital moves into black with larger surplus than projected
week of December 11, 2014

Hospital CFO Greg Gardner has informed the Hospital District and his own board that Indian River Medical Center wound up doing considerably better financially than his earlier projections for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The hospital leadership has also welcomed a financial consultant hired by the Hospital District to take an in-depth look at hospital finances and advise District trustees on what's fair in the ongoing dispute between the District and the hospital over indigent care reimbursement rates. At the start of fiscal year 2014, Gardner had forecast the hospital would wind up in the black, showing a slight gain of about $100,000 in revenue over expenses when the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2014. But the good news is that the hospital exceeded his projections by $1.1 million, for a total positive balance of $1.2 million in revenues over expenses. "We're tracking nicely, gaining momentum," Gardner said at a series of recent meetings, where he compared the disappointing financial picture of fiscal 2013, when the hospital had a deficit of $3.5 million and was beginning a stringent turn-around plan. READ FULL STORY


Land Trust saves important close-in wilderness area
week of December 11, 2014

The last chapter has finally been written in the long and ultimately successful battle by preservationists to prevent development of the 520-acre Lost Tree Island Archipelago, a group of a half dozen islands in the middle of the lagoon. "It is the final piece of the puzzle," says Ken Gruden, executive director of the Indian River Land Trust, referring to the Trust's late-November acquisition of Van Busch Island, a 15-acre property a mile north of the Barber Bridge. The $75,000 purchase completes the conservation by the Land Trust and the County of lagoon islands once slated for high-end residential development. The islands now will be preserved in their natural state as in-town wilderness for future generations. The islands are important for wildlife habitat, recreation and because they form much of the green view-shed that makes crossing the Barber Bridge such a pleasure and, tends to noticeably lower the blood pressure of arriving visitors. READ FULL STORY


Top surgeon Ramdev defends actions, but libel suit proceeds
week of December 11, 2014

In his first interview in two years, prominent Vero Beach vascular surgeon Pranay Ramdev defended his actions in an incident that led to a noisy malpractice suit against him over the death of a female patient, saying he did everything right and another doctor at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center failed to interpret a test correctly. The interview came three days after Judge Cynthia Cox refused to dismiss a libel suit against Ramdev filed by yet another physician, former Indian River Medical Center emergency room doctor David Gillis, in the aftermath of the incident. Allegedly, Ramdev called Gillis "incompetent" and "a liar" after Gillis gave a deposition in the malpractice suit against him. The war between these two doctors goes back to Ramdev's settlement of the malpractice suit in March, 2013, after Gillis said in a deposition that it was his "logical conclusion" from two phone conversations with him that Ramdev would see a patient with a life-threatening condition. Ramdev blamed Gillis for having to settle the suit for hundreds of thousands of dollars and told IRMC doctors it was his "life's mission to prevent Dr. Gillis from ever working at this hospital again ...," according to Gillis' defamation suit. READ FULL STORY


Negron seen leading in race for Senate President
week of December 11, 2014

Joe Negron, a staunch conservative who represents eastern Indian River County and the barrier island in the Florida Senate, is locked in a tight battle against the more moderate Republican Jack Latvala, a lobbyist from Clearwater, to become state Senate President two years from now. Negron is seeking the Senate presidency for 2016-2018, his final two years. Traditionally, legislators pick their leaders well in advance of the term, and the Negron-Latvala rivalry has been brewing since at least 2012. Republicans dominate the Senate by a 25-14 margin, just two seats shy of veto-proof power over Gov. Rick Scott. The 53-year-old Negron, who last week rotated off the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, attended a meeting Friday at Vero Beach City Hall about legislative priorities and afterward, spoke to Vero Beach 32963 about his aspirations to lead the Senate. "All politics is local," Negron said, noting that controlling the legislative agenda is good for the folks back home because "it gives me the advantage and the opportunity to make sure the Treasure Coast has a seat at the table." READ FULL STORY


Vero moving ahead on electric rate study
week of December 11, 2014

Next Monday morning in a closed session, two Vero electric staffers and one member of the Utilities Commission will interview the top four firms who want to help Vero Beach find ways to reduce its electric rates in a study that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Seven firms responded to the city's request for qualifications, with the four top-ranked firms being Black and Veatch, Burns and McDonnell, GDS Associates and Power Services. Black and Veatch has done substantial design, engineering and consulting work previously for the city, so it's not surprising that firm topped the evaluators' lists. Ideas for cost savings in the presentations ranged from decommissioning the Big Blue power plant – which the city cannot do until it works out a compromise with the Orlando Utilities Commission for replacement wholesale power – to installing smart-meter technology throughout Vero's electric system. In its application packet, Black and Veatch included a lengthy section detailing the firm's experience in implementing smart-meter technology for utility providers around the state. READ FULL STORY


Orlando proposals for new pact worse than current electric deal
week of December 4, 2014

The Orlando Utilities Commission, which a month ago offered to make a variety of changes in its wholesale power contract with Vero Beach, has now further revised its offer but is insisting on keeping one provision that would be even worse than the deal entered into by Vero's 2008 City Council. The provision that Orlando wants in any revision of the contract is called "take or pay," and would require that Vero each month purchase and take a minimum of 85 megawatts of power from OUC, or if it doesn't need that extra power, pay for it anyway. Currently, Vero's wholesale power purchase agreement sets no minimum amount of power it must purchase from OUC from year to year. Vero has other agreements that do require minimum purchases each month through the Florida Municipal Power Agency. Vero's lead utility attorney Robert Scheffel "Schef" Wright said Monday that the floor of 85 megawatts Orlando is seeking is "significantly less than what we have paid for or expect to pay for" to meet the needs of the current 34,000 customers on the system, but that the take-or-pay provision "gives them (OUC) some assurance." READ FULL STORY


Vero hires a big-time attorney to plan vote on Utility Authority
week of December 4, 2014

The City of Vero Beach has hired yet another attorney, in this case one of Florida's leading election experts, to deal with the mounting legal woes resulting from the past mismanagement of Vero electric. Lead utility attorney Robert Scheffel "Schef" Wright announced Monday that Tallahassee-based Ronald Labasky, a partner with the Brewton Plante law firm, has been added to Vero electric's payroll to assist City Clerk Tammy Vock in planning a referendum of Vero's utility customers, as prescribed in 2008 by state law. Wright called Labasky the "foremost authority on election law." Labasky for the past 26 years has represented the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. Vero was supposed to hold this election right after the 2008 law passed, but instead low-balled its customer count to avoid complying. The law, which originated as the Mayfield Bill, required any municipal-owned electric utility with between 30,000 and 35,000 customers to hold a referendum asking named customers whether or not they wanted a representative Utility Authority to govern the business of the utility. READ FULL STORY


Jones held woman hostage in apartment where Duve later killed
week of December 4, 2014

In following the trail of accused killer Michael Jones, Vero Beach Police detectives interviewed a young woman who moved with Jones to Vero – and was held hostage by him less than a year ago in the very apartment where police say Jones later killed a subsequent live-in girlfriend, nurse Diana Duve. After moving out and living in her car in a campsite and behind some taverns for a while, Kimberly (last name withheld) returned to Jones' apartment and was held captive for more than two days before she finally escaped last December on New Year's Eve. If she had not escaped, Kimberly told police, "I would have been dead. I know I would have been dead. I hundred percent think so." The harrowing story of then-30-year-old Kimberly lies 1,400 pages into the growing body of evidence against Jones. Kimberly, who was interviewed by Det. Brad Kmetz, met Jones in April 2013 at a party in Fort Lauderdale through mutual friends. READ FULL STORY


Bill Brown plans to turn old Patio into seafood tavern
week of December 4, 2014

As if Orlando restaurant manager Bill Brown didn't have enough on his plate, now he's starting up his new version of Vero's Patio restaurant in time to open his doors to the public for New Year's Eve. The hopes of the entire Sexton family are pinned to his chef's apron. Nothing would have pleased the late Ralph Sexton more than to see the place succeed, says Ralph's nephew, Mark Tripson. "It was his lifelong ambition for the Patio to do well. I don't know why, he just did." To the Sexton family, a lease on the property means more than cash coming in through the Patio's wrought-iron door. It's a sign that a piece of old Vero can remain on the planet a little longer. And with the Patio's four failed efforts in five years, Brown isn't just the latest tenant – he is the face of the family's tenacity. "A couple of people wanted to buy it and bulldoze it," says Tripson, who estimates 50 people approached him to take over the place after the most recent incarnation failed a year ago. READ FULL STORY


Mental Health Court set to begin work here in January
week of November 27, 2014

With $100,000 in funding just approved by the county commission, Mental Health Court is set to begin in Indian River County in January. The nine-month pilot program here will start small with about a half dozen people. But if it's anything like the program in St. Lucie County, it'll quickly grow to become a huge money-saving success, which will turn hundreds of defendants into productive citizens. The St. Lucie County program, which started in 2006 with six defendants, now has over 1,000 defendants-turned-clients, with an impressively low recidivism rate of only 8 percent. Midday on Monday, dozens of "clients" lined up in the St. Lucie County courtroom of Judge Cynthia Cox, who will also preside over the new Mental Health Court in Indian River County. They ranged in age from 18 to 70. READ FULL STORY


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