Bielarski: The day the board took control

Letter to the editor

Despite the fireworks surrounding the discussions of firing the GRU General Manager, the real story of the June 10 Gainesville Regional Utility Authority (GRUA) board meeting was the series of milestone accomplishments for GRU and its customers.  

In a very important and compelling way, the Board used the power it was granted under House Bill 1645. We addressed structural budget issues, General Fund Transfer (GFT) overpayments, and utility rates in the manner the bill intended.

All told, through votes on nine separate initiatives, the GRUA reduced GRU expenditures between $100 to $125 million over the next ten years; these monies will be used for a combination of rate relief and/or debt reduction. It also fulfilled its purpose of “managing, operating, controlling, and otherwise having broad authority.” 

On June 10, the Board:

  • Rejected the General Manager’s request (based on a 2021 Gainesville City Commission resolution) for utility base rate increases in fiscal year 2025.
  • Recognized the verified $68 million in GRU’s GFT overpayments to the City, voting to recover the full $68 million over the next ten years. This is the final installment in a process that has taken the GFT from $38 million in FY23 down to just over $8 million for FY25.
  • Cut $20 million from GRU’s capital expenditure budget in fiscal year 2025.
  • Cut $12 million from GRU’s operations budget, apportioned between fiscal years 2024 and 2025.
  • Placed tighter controls on GRU’s general manager, instructing him to:
    • Provide immediate communication to the Board on IRP (Integrated Resource Plan) plans, decisions, incurred costs, and projected planning. The Board may pause the process, given the projected $3 billion in nominal costs.
    • Provide immediate communication to the Board on the Main Street Water Reclamation Facility Renewal and Upgrade Project plans, decisions, incurred costs, and projected planning costs. The Board may pause Phase 2 of the project, given the projected $110 million in nominal costs. 
    • Come back to the Board with the optimal level of earnings GRU can release to the City, ensuring that 1) GRU never pays more than what it earns, nor 2) more than what it needs to operate the utility in accordance with utility best practices

In addition, my presentation showed:

  • GRU management had over-budgeted its internal electric service costs by over $3 million.
  • GRU management had included approximately $3.5 million for employees who were not yet hired.
  • GRU management had requested budget dollars for programs the Board had not yet voted upon or was aware of.

June 10 was a seminal moment in the short history of the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority – it was the day the Board took control.

Ed Bielarski, former Chair of GRUA and current Interim GRU General Manager

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    • Not so fast, no celebrating until we win.

      HB1645 has only two goals 1)keep the utility financially solvent 2) bring the rates back down to earth. The former being the most difficult and requiring the most time.

      The GRUA would be wise to go for the low hanging fruit first so they can get a tangible win under their belt.
      Move the tier1 electricity usage cap from 850kwh to 1100kwh for residential customers.

      Such a move by GRUA would be part and parcel to achieving one of the goals of HB1645. It also buys them time in the eyes of the public as they deal with the financial dumpster fire.

      GRUA should insist on an absolute rate cut now, rather than a potential projected rate cut sometime in the future.

      All financial solvency planning should take place after a
      permanent rate cut. GRUA crunching numbers prior to any kind of rate cut is putting the cart before the horse.

      The best possible financial solvency plan for GRU is going to require a twenty-year plan. So take care of the ratepayers now and opt for the thirty-year plan instead.

  • Well done, Mr. Bielarski. GRU customers have been suffering for ages from the greed, corruption, and incompetence of our local petty tyrants on the city commission. The recent developments are sorely welcomed.

    Hopefully the sharply-reduced GFT will make Gainesville a less attractive target for political scammers and carpetbaggers in the future. Once the Eastmans and Wards of this world move on to their next host, the community can start to rebuild our once-great city.

  • Beware of what you ask for, those limitations now apply to you. In two years, we will see what is the Authority’s problems versus the City’s problems. You can only blame the city for so long.

    • So long as the current political ideologies exists – they’ll always be the blame.

    • Sam they own the 30 year 1.6 billion dollar debt , and then some. Now where’s the $68 million siphoned out orGru?

  • Thanks, Ed for explaining everything in plain English that we can all understand. Maybe Poe can ask his buddy biden for Loan forgiveness.

    • I would suggest that we be more precise in how we describe what has been done. After proposing a pause on a $15.3 transfer for 4.5 years, Bielarski caved in to Carter’s counter proposal of reducing the $15.3 transfer by $6.8 million for one year. We do not know what next year’s authority will do. Ed has a long history of over selling his accomplishments. Until Ed deals with the SLA losses as required, his search under rocks for chump change leaves me in need of more. Perry once told me that all that matters is the messaging- not the details. Ed is the wrong person, as was I, to do the messaging.

  • Thanks Ed. “The day the board took control”
    Bye Bye Mayor Ward, this is the day the music died (for your taxpayer $$ squandering ways). We hope

  • I understand that GRU customers need their electrical bills to go down BUT GRU has been starved for capital improvement funds for a long time.
    As so many now bankrupt companies have found, you CAN’T cut your way to success.
    A full review with GRU employees should happen and see what they need to “keep the ship running” and fix gear that needs to be fixed or replaced. If you want to cut, cut ALL money going to the city until GRU is a healthy utility again.

    • I seriously doubt you’ll ever see an actual rate cut though they may delay any increases for awhile.

      Other than commenters on this site expressing their demands/pipe dreams of a cut I don’t recall any of those in charge making any actual promises of one.

    • I agree, I am retired from GRU and we were always scrambling putting bandaids on projects because the city was draining GRU dry. The system Electricity, Gas and Water/Waste water need money for maintenance which the city was stealing.

  • I respectfully submit that Ed’s book and initial presentation was titled ” How the City lost control”. Now Ed says the Authority has taken control. Until Ed AND three Authority MEMBERS (not “Directors”) follow both the letter and spirit of HB 1645, the political bosses that Carter and Larson are loyal to will be at least in partial control.

  • As Perry would say: There needs to be more meat on the bone. More Beer/Less Foam.

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