BY JENNIFER CABRERA / MAY 23, 2019
In their budget meeting on May 21, the Gainesville City Commission continued to add spending to their budget, which is already in a deficit.
They started with a budget deficit around $3.4 million. After looking at the budget increments recommended by staff, totaling about $1.2 million, they looked at the increments recommended by each commissioner. Commissioner Ward offered no increments, clarifying that it wasn’t because he couldn’t think of good things to do but that he didn’t want to add to the deficit. Commissioners Warren and Simmons offered small increments of $15k and $30k, respectively. Commissioner Johnson’s equity program came in at $441,735+ in each of FY20 and FY21. Commissioner Arreola recommended $410k in additional spending, Commissioner Hayes-Santos recommended $586,900+, and Mayor Poe recommended $153k+. (Here the + signs indicate that the amount will likely be more than the estimate.)
After voting on the specific increments, the commission ended up adding $545k in one-time spending for FY20 and $626k that would start in FY20 and recur in subsequent years, adding $1.17 million to the FY20 budget. So that puts them at a deficit of at least $5.77 million in FY20.
On top of that, they are deciding how much to cut GRU’s General Fund Transfer. GRU has recommended cutting the GFT by $6 million a year to shore up their finances, and that number was included in the proposal they made to buy the Series A, B, and C bonds earlier this year. If the GFT is not cut, that may affect GRU’s credit rating and increase the cost of servicing their substantial debt, adding higher debt payments to GRU’s budget for years to come.
The commissioners have indicated that they’d like to keep the property tax increase under a mill, and the only option for doing that is to keep the GFT at its current level, increase property taxes by 0.86 mill (an 18% increase), and increase the fire assessment by $40 (a 40% increase). However, holding the GFT steady just shifts the costs to GRU, which will need to increase electricity rates by about 6%.
As one citizen noted, Gainesville has decided that equity must be considered in all decisions: “Is it equitable for the Gainesville City Commission to raise GRU rates, property taxes, and fire assessment fees on hard-working Gainesville families and others who are least able to afford it?”. The commission has not once discussed cutting anything from its budget to pay for these new programs, so Gainesville’s citizens will once again pay the price.