BELLEAIR -- After years of discussion, wild town hall sessions, a journey through the courts, Belleair voting residents will get to decide no later than October whether the town will form its own electric company.
All the ingredients to do so are present. Belleair (David) won its battle against Progress Energy (Goliath) in the courts but it was a battle in which the giant, monopolistic energy company persists in pursuing.
Progress Energy has poured money into stuffing food and drink free into Belleair residents to persuade them to stay allied to the huge company.
While Belleair was ready to proceed with its own company as long ago as the spring of 2004, continued discussions and foot dragging by the Town Commission gave Progress Energy an opening to renew its battle to retain the town in its empire.
Because of the delay and lack of forward action (a referendum was long delayed) Commissioner Ernst Upmeyer proposed in December that the town accept offers that Progress Energy had laid on the table.
That led to last week's commission meeting which attracted a large turnout and a lot of noise. The commission voted to hold a referendum in October to settle the question once and for all.
Last Aril, it appeared the town was well on its way to having its own electric company. An analysis by a consultant in March gave optimistic financial figures for the town to forge ahead. The idea was endorsed as economically viable. Legal problems were out of the way.
All that remained was for the commission give its go-ahead and then put the question to referdundum. A referendum was not deemed legally necessary, but the town leadership wanted citizen approval in embarking on what is a huge undertaking.<
But the commission persisted in foot dragging, constant slicind and dicing the idea, gathering more and more information and these dilatory tactics militated in favor of Progress Energy.
When the lititagaion finally came to a close, a court ordered arbitration, which is what Belleair had sought. The arbitration resulted in a ruling that Belleair would pay Progress Energy $8,500,000 for such things as the system's value, separation and integration and stranded costs if it ultimately decides to go into business for itself.
Add in some other costs and Belleair would put itself in debt to the tune of $9.3 million that will be paid over 30 years, the funding to come from electric income itself.
Because they would be revenue bonds, they do not pledge the security of the town and re-payment is budgeted out of the revenue of the electric enterprise.
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