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City Commission sets fire fee and property tax rates; more painted crosswalks coming

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. 

  • Dam a Black Lives Matter cross walk. Would it be consider racist if I want a Blue lives matter cross walk or a white person’s cross walk
    After all a BLM cross walk is a black person’s cross walk

  • How about a Ten Commandments crosswalk? If the city can sponsor rainbow flag crosswalks, it shouldn’t be out of the question.

  • It is a well known fact that lack of painted crosswalks increases the number of gang shootings in Gainesville. $10K is a small price to pay for a massive increase in public safety.

  • Their obsession with identity politics is turning into a caste system, like India and Old Europe had/has. Democrats have a narrow, selective admiration for one-party ruled areas, including monarchies and theocracies — and of course communists — for the perpetual power they wield. So, if you paint sidewalks it creates a territorial caste system nobody dare disagree with, and voters better stay in line forever, too. Very unAmerican.

  • Basically are in a crisis financial situation, running massive year to year debts, and basically won’t cut a dime. What happens when your rescue funds run out in a year. Lying Hyphen Hayes wants to falsely make up the GRU transfer cut by making them eat downtown lighting. What a fool. All so the city won’t have to cut a cent but just highe up utility rates. Probably still crying over his ignorant free broadband disaster that was shelved. Glad this PoS is term limited and will likely NEVER be elected to anything the rest of his life. What a disaster him and leader Poe have resided over. Both jobless losers!

  • BLM is a grifting, terrorist organization and has no business being honored in any
    form other than on the terrorist watch list.

    • That’s correct. They have been found to have misused millions for personal use for instance: Cofounder’s LLC bought CA house for $4 million then resold it to BLM for $6 million days later with no explanation of how it is for business use; no records for expenditures of tens of millions of dollars, sponsored joint events with ANTIFA where businesses were invaded and looted with some set on fire, on and on. And these jack-arses don’t have the guts to even offer any criticism but will probably wind up supporting this violent and racist group with a crosswalk only one race can safely walk on. In the meantime they’ll create a train wreck for the first years they don’t receive $30 million in stimulus funds from Joe Biden and Nancy (likely next year! Thanks ! PS Be sure to vote early and make sure to NOT vote for anyone connected to the worst and current city commission that ever served.

    • The transgender cult and their rainbow flag aren’t any better. At least you don’t have to worry about BLM indoctrinating your kids in school and turning them into freaks. I’m sure Chestnut means well by trying to give black people a voice among all the rainbow flag nonsense. Perhaps something like Cherish Black Lives would be better, under the circumstances.

  • Why do they need BLM crosswalks? Anyone who has spent time in Gainesville knows they don’t use the crosswalks anyway.

      • They, them, people…if you are Mark Sexton you should stop claiming to be woke and wake up. People rarely use the crosswalks in Gainesville, (see pedestrian accident history).

        Try being observant rather than subservient.

    • High contrast (not “rainbow”) crosswalks are the best in terms of safety. A crosswalk is supposed to be a traffic safety device, period. Paint rainbows on the sides of buildings or something and focus on safety as far as striping and painting the roads according to accepted modern standards.

      • Agree! Crosswalks are not monuments to pay homage to an organization, gather around to admire, or mark on a map as a site to visit. Rather, they are simply a safety device. And he is correct that there are already designed and available HighVis crosswalks that have shown to SAVE LIVES, their purpose. Why not get the best of those?

        • If I remember correctly, Poe thinks he’s keeping trans women of color from getting murdered with the crosswalks. Cuz… you know… trans women of color are murdered every day. Just like the police are out slaughtering black people all day long, every day of the year. In Woke We Trust.

  • Vote these clowns out of office before they destroy Gainesville.

  • Leave the potholes and fund woke crosswalks. Why doesn’t this surprise me?

  • Lying hyphen Hayes…ha ha…—more public garbage cans
    Around the city is needed…all bus stops should have them.

  • Please Commissioners move beyond stupidity. Just paint crosswalks with a highly visible paint. It is possible that they will actually be used. We do not need to cow-tow to any special group. Where would we stop if we did this?

    • As an actual taxpayer who pays for this crap, through 3 properties and 3 GRU bills, I demand an Anglo-Saxon crosswalk to celebrate my heritage. Why not?

  • So hyphen Santos says he doesn’t want to support anyone or any organization “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.” “Our city dollars???” That is very WOKE of him, doesn’t matter if these people/organizationss are full of taxpayers whose money he is flushing down the toilet as fast as he and his woke mayor and commission buddies can! So inclusive!!!!

    • Really think Hyphen Hayes said that because he hasn’t came out, and wants to hide how he identifies, the way they did in the 70s and before. Probably scared for his attached-at-the hip mother to find out. Ever seen him with a girlfriend? Of course he is a socially awkward outcast too.

  • Dig a Hole into more BS Debt. Money Pit City of Gainesville Clueless Leaders. Failures in Denial.

  • Our electric bills just doubled this month. Thank you Poe and Hanrahan. These liberal tax and spend junkies need to be run out of town. It exploded with the Biomass Lie.

  • Hyphen Hayes is a ship without a rudder. Poe is an arrogant clown. Chestnuts is only about the blacks only. Desmond Duncan Walker is a good person but the rest are clueless and need to be removed from office. My GRU bill doubled this month as well as many of my friends and neighbors. Between Biden and this feckless commission many people are going broke. UNLESS YOU’RE ON ONE OF THE MANY THE FREE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.

    • Thank you for your service, something none of the cowardly self serving commissioner clowns have bothered to do. You nailed it on the other one-way losers but forgot tubby Ward., Another self centered follower with little to no real experience outside his church, must have been where he learned to lie and cheat so we’ll but dumb on everything else, really ignorant on how business and city gov actually works. Poe has trained and led Ward and Hayes to smooze, hide and cover the truth while spending money we, not they, don’t have. Throw the bums out!

  • I am truly embarrassed to have such a dysfunctional city government. There has been continued terrible decisions, rampant waste (broadband studies, initial biomass boondoggle with payments for yet another 25 years, large increases in the size of gov, etc.) with headline after heading that makes your head spin. Please citizens: STOP THE MADNESS by getting rid of ALL of these commissioners once and for all to maybe save Gainesville!!!!

  • Not how it works Hayes-Santos. You don’t levy additional taxes because a group doesn’t “align with the city’s values”, whatever the heck that means. This is an awful group of self righteous extremists who believe it’s their job to police beliefs instead of providing equitable quality taxpayer-funded services.

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