HomeLocal governmentCity Commission sets fire fee and property tax rates; more painted crosswalks coming
City Commission sets fire fee and property tax rates; more painted crosswalks coming
July 15, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Updated at 11:40 a.m. to clarify that the reduction in the General Fund Transfer proposed by Commissioner Hayes-Santos is in addition to the previously planned reductions.
Bottom line: The Gainesville City Commission voted to keep the Fire Assessment Fee and property tax rates the same as last year; add $10,000 to the budget for more painted crosswalks, with Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut proposing a “Black Lives Matter” crosswalk; add $200,000 to the budget for sidewalks; add $100,000 for bus shelters; negotiate with the bus drivers’ union to make those jobs more attractive; reduce fees for City swimming pools; and transfer responsibility for streetlights on County land in the urban area from General Government to GRU. They also passed an ordinance on first reading that allows more time to hold an election if there is a vacancy on the City Commission; that ordinance will come back on July 21 for a second reading.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gainesville City Commission decided to keep the Fire Assessment Fee and the property tax millage at their current levels in a Special Meeting on July 14.
The current budget projections presented by staff showed a $4.2 million deficit in the FY23 budget before commissioner increments, which had not yet been discussed. Staff recommended using $4 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to make up the deficit, and that was approved during the General Policy Committee meeting held earlier in the day. A few other adjustments resulted in a small surplus of $22,124.
The current Fire Assessment Fee is $133/unit, and the current property tax is 5.5 mills. Under Florida law, the City is required to publish the rolled-back rate, which is the rate that would collect the same revenue as the previous year after property value increases are taken into account. The rolled-back rate would be 5.0351 mills, and staff recommended staying at 5.5 mills, which will raise about $4 million more than last year.
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During commission discussion on the Fire Assessment Fee and property tax rate, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos presented his proposed changes to the budget:
Charge more for non-city residents to use the City-owned Ironwood Golf Course.
Increase the Fire Assessment Fee by $5.
Eliminate the contracted crew for downtown cleanup since the City Manager is recommending an internal crew.
Delay bringing the Drug Task Force building up to code: “I think we need to have a discussion about the Drug Task Force, after the Sheriff pulled out, before we expend significant capital dollars.”
Set aside money for Vision Zero and make those items recurring.
Set aside $100,000 to repair City sidewalks.
Add more painted crosswalks like the rainbow crosswalk and refresh existing painted crosswalks.
Build more bus shelters.
Invest in bus drivers.
Invest in streetlights across the city.
Reduce fees for City swimming pools.
Hayes-Santos also said that the City “subsidizes” certain non-profit organizations by waiving the Fire Assessment Fee and that he wanted to stop that practice for organizations that have “viewpoints that I don’t think align with the City’s values. Some of them are anti-LGBTQ… and I don’t feel comfortable with us funding that, in essence giving them money from our City tax dollars.”
His last suggestion was to transfer the cost of streetlights in the urban area to Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). Hayes-Santos said the City and County have an agreement under which the City pays for streetlights in the urban area, and in exchange, GRU gets the right-of-way from the County free of charge. He said the cost of those streetlights currently comes out of the City’s general fund, so he wanted to transfer that cost to GRU in exchange for a reduction in the General Fund Transfer from GRU to the general fund.
Hayes-Santos said that the revenues and cuts in his suggestions balanced out except for increased wages for bus drivers, which cannot be estimated until negotiations are held.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut disagreed on several of the items, including the golf course and the $5 increase in the Fire Assessment Fee. Regarding charging the Fire Assessment Fee to organizations that Hayes-Santos said are not aligned with City values, she said, “I think it’s a lot of churches that we are paying the subsidy for. I would be hard-pressed to start selecting which church… to take out of there… so safest just not to tamper with that one.”
Chestnut added, “I would certainly like to see ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a crosswalk.” She suggested asking Public Works to find $10,000 to fund that. She agreed with eliminating fees for using City pools.
Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry explained to the commission that she would need both the internal crew and the contracted crew to clean up downtown seven days a week; she said the internal crew could only do four days a week.
Regarding the painted crosswalks, Commissioner Harvey Ward agreed that the City should be looking at opportunities for more painted crosswalks but said they may be able to get private funds to pay for that.
Hayes-Santos made a motion to fund new sidewalks and sidewalk connections at $200,000; fund painted crosswalks at $10,000; fund new bus shelters at $100,000; ask staff to negotiate changes to the bus drivers’ contract that would attract more drivers; reduce adult swimming pool fees by 50 cents and everyone else by 25 cents; move forward on the change to the streetlight agreement; and set the Fire Assessment Fee to $133.
No members of the public spoke to the motion.
The Fire Assessment Fee passed 6-1, with Hayes-Santos in dissent. The motion to fund $10,000 for painted crosswalks was also split out at Commissioner Reina Saco’s request; that passed 6-1, with Saco in dissent. The remaining items passed unanimously.
A motion to set the maximum property tax rate at 5.50 mills passed unanimously, with nobody from the public speaking to the motion. The rate will be set officially in September.
Ordinance for City Charter Amendment Ballot Initiative
The commission also took a first vote on an ordinance that will put a change to the City’s charter on the November ballot. The change addresses vacancies on the City Commission and gives the Supervisor of Elections more time to hold the election. The current charter requires than an election be held within 60 days of a vacancy; the new language requires that the election be called within 60 days but “held as expeditiously as practicable, considering the existing demands upon elections equipment and personnel.”
Hayes-Santos made a motion to approve the ordinance on first reading but asked the Interim City Attorney to come back with revised ballot language before the second reading of the ordinance: “I don’t think it’s clear enough why we’re making this change, and one of the things is that… we actually explain… we are not able to be compliant with federal election law… I think if we can put that into the ballot description, it will have a higher chance of passing.”
The ordinance, which required a 4/5 vote, passed 6-1, with Saco in dissent. It will come back for a second reading on July 21.
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