By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE - A grassroots movement to eliminate the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority Board took its first steps when 2,256 individual petitions from city residents were submitted to the city of Fort Pierce and transferred to the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office at the end of July.
Now the process to verify all the signatures begins. The results, expected by the end of August, will determine if the issue will be placed before city residents as a referendum on an upcoming ballot.
On July 31, Cassandra Steele, the city clerk for Fort Pierce submitted 1,164 petitions entitled, "Petition to Amend the FPUA Charter, Article XII, Sec. 169 of the City of Fort Pierce, Florida." These signatures join the 1,092 petition that were submitted two years prior, in August 2010.
Both sets of petitions were submitted to the city clerk by Fort Pierce resident Christopher Williams, who recently was one of the candidates for the Fort Pierce Mayor's race. He is the president of the group Concerned Citizens United.
The petition is looking for support to eliminate the authority board that governs the Fort Pierce Utilities, and replace it with the city commission of Fort Pierce.
According to the petition, this act "would give the city commission exclusive jurisdiction, control and management of the utilities of the city and all of its operations and facilities that would bring the utilities and the city together as one unit of the city government."
The utility is a community-owned, electric utility that currently operates with a separate board from the city. It provides water, wastewater, natural gas and Internet services. It was voted by referendum in 1972 by the city's residents to create the authority.
While the authority currently is operated by it own board, the city commission is responsible for approving its rates and budget every year. A percent of the revenue generated by the authority goes back into the city's general fund.
But high utility bills for some of the city residents prompted Mr. Williams and his organization to place the utilities' power back into city hands.
"It hasn't been official yet," Mr. Williams said when he addressed the Fort Pierce City Commission on Aug. 20. "We're just waiting on (the supervisor of elections office) to come up with the actual number."
Based on the number of registered voters in the last general election in 2009 - 20,467 - the total number of signatures required to place an issue on a ballot are 2,047.
According to Gertrude Walker, the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections, their will be no cost for verifying the signatures, because Mr. Williams submitted an "undue burden" affidavit. Normally, the cost to the person submitting the petition is 10 cents per signature, so it would have cost $225.60.
As of Aug. 22, her office had not yet begun the verifying process.
"The petitions were submitted during an election cycle," Ms. Walker said. "My office will have the petitions verified within 30 days."
The election staff will call up each individual name on their computer system and check a number of things. The person signing the petition must by a resident of Fort Pierce, and must have been a registered voter on the date they signed the petition. The office staff also has to compare the signature on the petition to the one they have on file for that person.
"We have to be confident that it is the signature of the voter who signed the petition," she said.
She indicated her office is not responsible for placing the proposed amendment on the ballot. All her staff does is verify the signatures. The results from the verification process will be given to the city of Fort Pierce.