Friday, March 13, 2009

FPL 30-year franchise agreement opposed by Martin County Commissioner

Kudos to Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard (District 4) for standing up and questioning the merits of a proposed FPL franchise agreement that locks the county in to a 30-year deal ... and would pass the price tag along as a hidden cost to consumers.

In a guest column this week in the Scripps-Treasure Coast newspaper chain, Heard addressed Martin County's 30-year franchise agreement within the context of the local debate over how to solve temporary budget woes at the risk of imposing new long-term taxes. Commissioner Heard said she opposed imposing "hidden costs" on county residents and that one such measure she opposed is the proposed 30-year franchise fee with FPL.

In her column, Commissioner Heard explained:
Here’s how it works. For 30 years, Martin County agrees that FPL will provide our electricity.

What does Martin County get in exchange? Every year for the next 30, FPL will pay to Martin County a franchise fee equal to 5.9 percent of FPL revenues within all of unincorporated Martin County. This fee is being enthusiastically promoted by our county administrator and the majority of our county commissioners. Why? It will be used to plug the holes in our budget, the ones resulting from current shortfalls in impact and building fee collections, and gas and property tax collections.

How can FPL afford to rebate Martin County 5.9 percent each year? It’s simple. FPL will add a 5.9 percent new tax onto every bill they send you every month for the next 30 years.

This is a “gift” we cannot afford. We must not succumb to this lure of an easy short-term fix, which obligates all of us to another hidden hefty 30-year tax bill, in order to gloss over and solve our immediate and temporary budget problems.

I understand FPL officials’ motivation. They recognize that they will be making multimillion-dollar infrastructure improvements to provide energy to growing populations here. This fee provides them assurance that they will retain their market share. But, it is a hidden cost passed down to rate payers, who will not receive commensurate benefit from the additional taxes we will pay.
In making her position known, Commissioner Heard has joined an increasing number of local elected officials and community activists, most recently from South Daytona and Biscayne Park, who are questioning the terms of the FPL 30-year franchise agreements in their communities.

It takes real political courage to stand up to FPL on these local issues. We know that FPL channels a lot of money into the campaign coffers of those politicians who support it and to opponents of those elected officials and candidates who dare to oppose it. Commissioner Heard is to be applauded for her willingness to take on the energy giant over this "hidden cost" that would be passed along to her constituents. And, she deserves all our support!

Read the full text of Commissioner Heard's guest column, here.

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