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Ocean Drive, Beachland Boulevard to be repaved

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of July 17, 2014)

Cruising Ocean Drive is set to become a smoother ride this fall after the City of Vero Beach completes a re-paving project.

Public Works Director Monte Falls said during city budget talks that he’s targeting areas in need of new asphalt and the nearly mile-long stretch of Ocean Drive between Greytwig Road and Gayfeather Lane in Central Beach is one of those spots. The last time that section of Ocean Drive was paved was 1999. The city will also resurface three blocks of Beachland Boulevard from A1A east to Ocean Drive. Beachland Boulevard was last re-surfaced nearly 30 years ago.

The whole project should take about a week, weather permitting. “Work will be done at night, traffic will be maintained in one lane and the on-street parking will not be accessible,” Falls said.

Falls told the council he’s coordinating with the Oceanside Business Association on the timing of the project to minimize the impact on the OBA’s major events – monthly Sunset Saturday concerts, the Christmas parade and April’s Taste of Vero. Right now, construction is set to take place in mid-September.

The project will soon be put out for bid, along with some street paving on the mainland.  Falls said the typical cost for road resurfacing is $1.60 per square foot, putting the estimate for the Ocean Drive and Beachland Boulevard project at $285,000.

The $200,000 budgeted for street maintenance next year – a reduction from $384,000 this year – prompted much discussion during the city’s budget workshops, as Falls said that amount only allows the city to resurface on an as-needed basis. To put roads on a 20-year paving cycle, he would need to budget $600,000 per year. To accelerate that to 15 years would cost $800,000 per year – the bulk of which Vero now spends making payments on the $10 million purchase of the old Dodgertown golf course.

Mayor Dick Winger said road paving should be a priority and that he would favor doubling what’s in the proposed 2014-15 budget. Despite nothing about the condition of Ocean Drive being in the headlines, Winger said he’s heard complaints from eight or nine people in the past six months that the street is starting to look a bit shabby.

“Maybe we should find the $200,000, even if we find it in additional revenue,” Winger said, noting that $200,000 might be an acceptable budget for repaving a neighborhood or gated community, but not a whole city. “The people of this town expect good streets, and not just on the island.”

Falls said the problem is not potholes, but a general wearing away of the paved surface causing a condition called “washboarding.”

Callie Corey, long-time owner of Corey’s Pharmacy near Humiston Park said Monday that she was aware the paving project was coming, but couldn’t pinpoint any specific trouble spots or potholes on Ocean Drive. Opinions of the road’s condition vary, with some who drive it almost daily not noticing any disrepair and others complaining that the road rides very rough.

Though the rough pavement might not be screaming out to everyone who drives Vero’s oceanfront yet, “left unchecked,” Falls said, the washboarding “will result in more severe pavement failures.”

To balance the budget, Winger said, the city has been putting off all kinds of capital projects and he thinks the taxpayers will end up paying dearly for that later on. “It’s deferred maintenance and in my experience in manufacturing, if you keep a machine running too long you pay for it, you pay for it in down time and you pay for it in accidents,” Winger said. “In the sixth or seventh year of a trim budget, you can’t go on forever,” he said.

Winger proposed a property tax increase to pay for some of these things, and he got support from Councilwoman Amelia Graves, but Vice Mayor Jay Kramer voted with Councilwoman Pilar Turner against the tax increase and it failed 2-2. Councilman Craig Fletcher was absent for the vote.

In the meantime, City Manager Jim O’Connor seems to have come to an agreement with County Administrator Joe Baird to allow Vero to sell the golf course property. The two spoke on Friday afternoon and Baird said, “I have no problem with that,” referring to the abandonment of the county’s easements on the property, inherited via the Dodgertown purchase deal.

O’Connor said it’s doubtful the entire $10 million the taxpayers paid could be recouped, but something close to that would greatly reduce the city’s annual payment burden toward the principal and interest. Some of that money could be used for roads, O’Connor said, but the city intends to set some aside for stormwater projects designed to benefit the health of the Indian River lagoon.

The city is also facing a 16 percent increase in pension costs and higher health insurance premiums, plus the carryover from 3 percent salary increases given to employees in March. Vero Beach has nearly $37 million in underfunded pension liabilities, plus another $14 million on the books for other post-employment benefits it promised to employees. Those benefits include sick and vacation time payouts and subsidized health premiums for employees who retire before they are eligible to receive Medicare, or who choose to remain on the city health plan so spouses, children or other dependents can be covered.