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City commission votes to advertise 6.8% property tax increase

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

During the July 13 Gainesville City Commission Special Meeting, the commission voted to advertise a 6.8% property tax increase on the upcoming Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices.

Budget Manager Karen Fiore reviewed various aspects of the City’s budget and then discussed the property tax rate for fiscal year 2022. The rolled back rate (the rate that would raise the same amount of revenue as the previous year, given increased property values) would be 5.1487 mills. Staff’s proposed millage rate was 5.2974 mills, the same as last year, but a 2.9% increase over the rolled back rate; that rate is projected to raise an additional $1.16 million over last year’s revenues. 

Fiore also stated that the commission’s resolution requiring a $2 million reduction in the general fund transfer (from Gainesville Regional Utilities to the City’s general fund) every year through 2027 “has a devastating long-term impact on the City’s operating revenues and is not sustainable” without significant increases in the property tax rate in future years.

Commissioner David Arreola proposed advertising a property tax rate of 5.5 mills; the advertised rate is a maximum that can later be reduced but not increased. Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he was open to 5.5 mills but wouldn’t vote on a budget unless it included two things: “We need to focus on making our streets safer. We have said that Vision Zero and reducing the deaths on our roads is incredibly important, and our public says it’s important, but we don’t actually fund that… One of those is street lighting and a streetlight study to tell us where and how much lighting we need. It’s a one-time $250,000 increment. The #3 thing that our residents told us in the survey that we gave last year, where they wanted us to focus on the next two years, was on street lighting… The second thing that I believe we should study or we should fund is… $750,000 for Vision Zero for us to actually start putting real money, to actually start making changes to make our streets safer.”

Both Hayes-Santos and Commissioner Reina Saco thought the commission may have gone too far in reducing the general fund transfer (GFT) for so many years. Saco said, “Maybe a shorter term or lesser term or delayed term would be a better approach. I don’t want to force all of that on to millage alone. I don’t think that’s fair.”

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Commissioner Harvey Ward said he’d like to see a placeholder in the budget for a new City department, an Office of Youth Services. He also said it was unusual to get this far into a budget without having some understanding of the commissioner increments (requests from individual commissioners for projects that aren’t already in the budget). Ward was in favor of keeping the GFT reductions as planned. Ward also questioned the cancellation of the July 14 meeting to discuss the GRU budget, but Mayor Lauren Poe said he canceled the meeting because the commission had already agreed on expenditure reductions and the rate structure, “So there was nothing left to talk about.”

Poe said he would not be proposing increments for FY22. He said they needed to continue focusing on priorities that were set in previous years— the mobility hub, the food security issue, and east side health access. “If we add new increments on top of those when they’re still not close to being realized, something’s got to give.” He said that four of the commissioners have 18 months left in their terms, and he wants to make sure those priorities are fully implemented before they leave office. Poe also said that the American Rescue Plan (ARP) money will allow them to do some additional things. 

Commissioner Gail Johnson also said she would not be proposing any increments, and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said the same. 

Poe said he agreed about moving forward with Vision Zero, but he wanted to identify a stable funding source that is completely dedicated to that. He also said he would support 5.5 mills for the TRIM notice, but he’d prefer to keep taxes at the current rate. 

Hayes-Santos made a motion to adopt the resolution in the agenda with 5.5 mills as the property tax rate and with a placeholder for a jobs center in the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (GCRA) budget, a placeholder in the general fund for the Children’s Services department, funds for the lighting study at $250,000, and funds for Vision Zero improvements at $750,000, with any remaining funds to be put toward the fund balance. He wanted it to be a single motion because removing any individual piece could make the budget not work, but Johnson wanted to split it up. 

During public comment on the motion, Armando Grundy-Gomes brought up the recent increase in shootings: “People are being murdered and dying. Not simply by cars… People are actually dying. Happens to be in our district, you know, the one right outside the door here. Being shot. And some of you are like, no problem here, folks. What are we doing? We gave a 4% increase in the budget to firefighters. For what? Fires are not up. Crime is up… I mean, I know we made much ado when certain folks died when it was on University Avenue. Laurel died, Becky died, and it was like, oh, my God, we got to put up this stop sign and put up this speed limit. People are getting shot? Oh, no, those are not our problem, folks, let more of ‘em die.” Grundy-Gomes advocated for giving ARP money to law enforcement.

After public comment, Poe responded: “Shootings, we take those very seriously. There’s not a simple solution. Our police department is working tremendously hard to address this issue. Tremendously hard. They are all tragic. They are facilitated by having far too many guns on the streets. And in the hands of, especially lately, young people. And we will continue to work — we just got more money for expanding our Interruptors program by another six people. That is a very successful program, but, you know, this is a systemic problem that we’re not going to solve overnight. We should care about shooting deaths, we should care about people who die on our roads, we should care about people who die of COVID. Those are all extremely important. Every life is valuable, and we’ll continue working to protect all of it.”

The vote on a child services or youth department placeholder passed 6-1, with Saco in dissent.

Including the job training program in the GCRA portion of the budget passed unanimously.

The street lighting study for $250,000 passed 5-2, with Johnson and Duncan-Walker in dissent. 

The $750,000 for Vision Zero passed 6-1, with Johnson in dissent. 

The 5.5 mill property tax rate passed 5-2, with Johnson and Duncan-Walker in dissent. The 5.5 mill rate is a 6.8% increase over the rolled back rate.

  • Instead of shoving it up our @r$e$ I wish they would all choke on it. I guess that would be a little difficult considering not many have much hanging.

    You liberal idiots, keep sucking on everything your leaders feed you. Highly educated? Yeah, right.

  • Sadly they’re increasing subsidized rental housing too, which will increase crime and costs on taxpayers for generations longer.

  • We all knew that taxpayers would be left holding the bill for the GREC financial debacle. In the meantime, property values have been steadily increasing, and our town has been exploding with new development in almost every corner of the city. There should be little or no reason to raise the millage rate since the tax base continues to grow and increase in value. This seems like some kind of shell game that is excessive and totally unnecessary. They want that increase to fund more wasteful pet projects and ill-fated social engineering. This is just another bait and switch gambit.

  • These elected power hungry idiots define the term free spending super liberal Democrats! As long as it’s someone else’s money of course! That huge transfer from GRU transfer they refuse to cut much of just adds to their spending money, at our expense…can’t blame their ignorance since not a soul up there has succeeded in anything but gov positions, besides the pubic university mayor who teaches high schoolers (history BA only). It’s our fault for repeatedly electing losers like these.

  • 3/4 of a million dollars spent with no discussion of what it will buy. Most likely pissed way with contractor studies and minimal work. Need to see if he has close connections to people set to get the work. Kickbacks a real possibility on this stuff. Vision Zero just another liberal scheme to raise taxes and spend money. Nothing will make any cities roads 100% safe,especially nothing that this ignorant no job failure Adrian would propose. He was the finance board rep when Career Source failed, bankrupt Nov 2019 then refused the state to review their financial records. Sound familiar? Sound like someone you would trust $750,000 with? Drove for Lyft before being elected as chief money waster commissioner. Claims minority status from Hispanic step dad.

  • I would just like to know how they expect us to pay such an increase in property taxes, parking fees and electricity and water rates? All whiles they wait on rescue plan millions to waste. They will never cut one cent from anything. I’m sure someone else could do a better job not just want more and more money to waste.

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