Three vie for seats on Indian River Shores Town Council
As is typically the case when there is an election in the Town, Indian River Shores residents have a slate of articulate, well-educated, qualified candidates to choose from on March 10, with the issues being more muted than those in County or Vero Beach races.
Incumbents Richard Haverland and Michael Ochsner want to build on the work that the current council has started – vigorously pursuing the electric lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach and maintaining the Town’s public safety services while keeping an eye on expenses.
Challenger Linda Bolton, a former president of the Indian River Neighborhood Association, thinks her skills as a certified mediator would serve the Town well by encouraging compromise and keeping the Town out of court.
Bolton also takes exception with the present council’s handling of the two-story commercial building set to be erected on the old Spectrum site. She doesn’t think the council should have voted to allow retail as a permitted use in the building. A conservative Democrat and former Wellington councilwoman who also serves on the Shores Planning Zoning and Variance Board, Bolton cites her experience in weighing the interests of all parties concerned.
“This has been a delicate balance,” Bolton said. “In general, I’m a businesswoman and I support the business community, but we need to support the residents.”
Haverland said the lot on Beachcomber Lane that was in question was “useless to build on” for residential purposes, but said “my view on the rezoning was that we shouldn’t have any retail” in the new office building.
In response to Haverland’s comment about the lot being useless, Ochsner said, “I think that’s what the residents (of Beachcomber) were counting on when they bought their property.”
About 50 people gathered in the Town’s Community Center on Friday afternoon for the candidate forum. Town volunteer Jerry Solin served as moderator.
One of the initial issues Solin asked about is not one that affects the Town directly – the All-Aboard Florida high-speed rail project.
Bolton was tapped to answer first.
While expressing skepticism about the information that has come from All-Aboard Florida, Bolton said the project “needs to be explored” more deeply. “I think most people agree conceptually with the idea of high-speed rail,” Bolton said. “But that rail needs to go down the line of the Turnpike.”
Haverland said, “I’m against All Aboard Florida, but I believe that we have no control.”
“All-Aboard Florida is a bad deal and if Vero got a stop that wouldn’t make any difference,” Ochsner said. “They built in an assumption for a pretty large ridership that I don’t think is going to materialize.”
Discussion of the Town of Indian River Shores’ lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach produced the most passion. Solin asked the candidates if they thought the lawsuit was worth it.
“The answer to ‘Is it worth it?’ will only be told when it’s done,” Ochsner said, adding that as far as the stalled sale of Vero electric to Florida Power and Light is concerned, the City of Vero Beach is not in a position to get it done. “They’re so in hock to the Florida Municipal Power Agency that it’s very difficult to get out. The lawsuit is worth it because we’ve got to do something.”
“I’m strongly in favor of the lawsuit. Our legal advice is that the lawsuit has a strong chance of being successful,” Haverland answered next, adding that Shores residents who are on the Vero electric system pay about $2 million per year more for electricity than they would pay at FPL’s rates.
“I’d spend $2 million to fight this as long as we had a 30 percent chance of winning,” Haverland said. “And the advice that we’ve received is that we have a whole lot better than a 30 percent chance of winning.”
Bolton said, “The big issue is that we have no vote on the (Vero) council; we have no voice in setting rates.”
Bolton mentioned the Auditor General’s recent report critical of the FMPA, and said there are property rights at issue, as well as taxation without representation.
She suggested the big question is “Whether or not we can get Vero Beach to stop transferring utility funds into the general fund – it’s an accounting procedure. That can be done.”
Ochsner retorted, “I think it’s naïve to think that Vero Beach is ever going to stop the transfers into the general fund.”
Haverland agreed, noting that Vero only collects $4.1 million each year in property taxes compared to the nearly $6 million it siphons off the electric utility each year to subsidize the cost of running the city.
“Vero is not going to be able to get out from under the FMPA. The best out (for Vero) is to declare bankruptcy, terminate the contract and get out,” Haverland said.