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Shores: Why the delay until October for lower water rates?

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of April 5, 2012)
Photo: John Steiner, a resident of Ocean Colony, addresses the Indian River Shores council.

Now that Indian River Shores has agreed to continue getting water and sewer services from Vero Beach for the next 30 years in exchange for the same lower rates enjoyed by county residents, the town is asking Vero why it has to wait until October for these lower rates to kick in.

“Maybe we could move the savings up before October 1,” said Shores Mayor Tom Cadden at last week’s Town Council meeting.

Councilman Michael Ochsner agreed.  “We should insist that the fees are lowered before October,” he said.

Shores attorney Chester Clem said he will send a letter to the city asking for an earlier rate-change date. “Sorting it out shouldn’t take more than a month,” said Clem.

But Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor said it would be tough to apply the new rates before October for two reasons: The software program controlling rates has to be changed for all of the users in the Shores, and more importantly lower rates – which would mean less revenue for Vero – have not been figured into of this year’s city budget, which runs through Oct. 1.

“It would be a much smoother transition if everything began in October,” said O’Connor.

Actually, the Town Manager for Indian River Shores captured what seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of all involved before the Thursday afternoon meeting to discuss, yet again, the new contract with Vero: “I’m tired of water,” groaned Richard Jefferson.

After more than three years of back-and-forth over how to get the best water and sewer rates for town residents as quickly as possible, last Thursday was supposed to be the day the Shores Town Council approved the contract with Vero Beach, and send it to the Vero Beach City Council for final ratification.

But there was a delay. Slight, but still a small hold-up – again.

Two council members asked to review a change in the number of main water pipes that would belong to the town after 30 years, causing the final approval of the contract to be delayed until April 17.

But the big issue was decided and voted on by Shores council members: They want the Vero Beach, not the county, to supply their water, which the city will do at the same lower rates as the county.

No one seemed to have any appetite to revisit the question:  If the county is more stable financially and the rates are the same, and if the unsightly city sewer plant on the Indian River would almost certainly have been removed a lot sooner if the Shores had gone with the county, why didn’t it?

The short answer seems to be the town went with Vero because the current city contract to provide water to the Shores would have remained in place until 2016 if the county got the new contract.

By awarding it to the city again, the Shores was able to negotiate lower rates  – about 20 percent less for most users – that would take effect earlier.  How much earlier remains the question.

The city obviously wants the answer to be October 1, and by not resolving this issue before agreeing to the contract, the Shores would not seem to have much leverage in pushing for an earlier start date.

“But after all of this time,” said Shores council member Fran Atchison, “let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.”