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Cadden, Haverland emerge as winners in Shore’s no-vote-needed Council election

(Week of January 27, 2011)

Former Mayor Charles “Chuck” Wurmstedt seemed in a great position to return to public office last week when it was announced that his name would appear on the ballot at the top of the list of candidates running for Indian River Shores Town Council.

With a record of eight years’ service on the Council, an impressive career as Senior Executive Vice President with Sears, a Purple Heart in World War II, Wurmstedt would have been a favorite in the three-person contest for the two open seats. The candidate who is first on the ballot frequently wins.

But Town residents will never know if that would have happened this time.

Sometime between 2:29 p.m., when Town Clerk Laura Aldrich sent an email out announcing that the order on the ballot would be Charles C. Wurmstedt, Richard Haverland and Thomas W. Cadden, and 3:01 p.m. when she sent a correction, something happened.

“Things have changed!  No election needed for Town Council, Chuck Wurmstedt just called and withdrew his candidacy,” Aldrich wrote.

By pulling out, Wurmstedt denied Shores voters the chance to experience a rare taste of democracy.  No contested election for Indian River Shores Town Council has occurred since 2003.  Haverland and former Mayor Cadden are now automatically elected to two-year Council terms.

Wurmstedt denies that anyone pressured him to back out, and said he was in Palm Beach when he made the decision.

“I was going to run until I saw the qualifications of the people who were going to run,” Wurmstedt said. “I saw that there were very well-qualified people running. It’s no big mystery.”

Since only one person filed paperwork after Wurmstedt, logic would dictate that it had something to do with the fact that former Mayor Tom Cadden qualified just before the filing window closed at noon Friday.

Wurmstedt said he considers Cadden a friend, but that running against a friend wouldn’t have bothered him.

“The first time I ran, there were five of us running for three seats and we had a real campaign,” Wurmstedt said. “Maybe we would have been a team and done it together.”

Cadden, through emissary Mayor Bill Kenyon, had for months been trying to negotiate deals to keep other candidates out of the race so he wouldn’t have to actually run. One person who was mulling over a run was told he could count on Kenyon and Cadden’s backing in the next election if he waited a cycle, leaving an opening for Cadden this time.

Some would say even the possibility of these kinds of backroom deals stinks. But in reality, this is the way small-town politics is done much of the time. The voters sometimes only get to vote for candidates that have already been screened. In this case, the voters didn’t even get to vote.

Unfortunately, there are some serious issues looming for the Shores right now and the healthy debate that can occur during an election campaign might well have been a good thing.

When utility rates soared in the summer of 2009, most Shores residents experienced exponential pain, paying nearly 60 percent more to the City of Vero Beach for electric than town residents in the north end of the Shores were paying to Florida Power & Light.

Exponential pain because the reality is that many Shores residents live in large homes and consume more in utilitites.  In water and sewer bills alone, Shores residents pay more than $3 million to the City of Vero Beach each year – which represents about 20 percent of Vero’s water-sewer revenues. We know this from public records related to the water-sewer franchise agreement.

Since the City of Vero Beach’s woefully inadequate computer billing system won’t allow it to isolate classes of electric customers, we’re not sure how much the Shores pays in electric.

While the “average” 1,000 kilowatt-hour customer saw the electric bill go up to about $170 per month, some Shores residents were paying $700 to $800 per month – or more -- just for electric. If you add on water and sewer service, Shores residents were paying more than $1,000 per month to the City of Vero Beach.

About 8 percent of electric revenues and 9 percent of water-sewer revenues go to the Vero’s General Fund in direct and indirect transfers. So, between electric, water and sewer, Shores ratepayers fork over at least $12 million to the City of Vero Beach each year.

That means that somewhere in the neighborhood of more than $1 million per year from Shores residents’ utility bills goes to pay for operations at Vero Beach City Hall. To put that in perspective, Vero Beach property owners only pay about $4 million in property taxes to support their own city.

The electric issue is in flux. That’s mostly out of control of the Shores unless it wants to broker its own deal with FP&L.

But the Shores Town Council has a genuine opportunity to take control of the Town’s destiny when it comes to water and sewer utilities. So far, anything approaching debate on the issue has been anemic. To say that the information has not been free-flowing would be an understatement.

Indian River County appears determined to run pipes under the river to serve the beleaguered South Beach residents with water and sewer when the county’s franchise with Vero Beach expires in early 2017. If not, the Board of County Commissioners will be faced with a very angry populace in the Moorings, Sandpointe and other neighborhoods south of the Vero city limits.

That will leave Vero with fewer water and sewer customers to fund its substantial fixed costs, which have been estimated as upwards of 80 percent of the budget. Vero desperately wants to keep the Shores as a last-ditch effort to keep its water and sewer system financially viable, but the city staff hasn’t even begun to figure out what will happen once the South Beach and mainland County customers exit the system.

If the Shores decides the County water and sewer system is a better long-term bet, Vero would be forced by pure economics to come to the table with the County and figure out a way to consolidate the systems in a manner that would serve all ratepayers well for generations to come.

Former Mayor Cadden has not been neutral on this issue. He’s made it clear that wants the Shores to stay with Vero. It is expected that he will use all his substantial political skills and influence to make that happen. Cadden served as Mayor the entire eight years he was previously on the Town Council, and it’s not likely he’ll take a back seat to anyone when he returns to the dais.

Shores residents are smart and know how to make wise decisions for the long-term. The other four members of the Town Council will need support from the voters -- who rarely get to vote -- to stand up to Cadden and take a hard look at getting service from Indian River County.

The fact that Wurmstedt didn’t see the race through to the end -- even if he didn’t think he could win -- is a disappointment. It denies the Shores residents what could have been a debate on this important issue.