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City commission votes to reduce the general fund transfer, raise electric and wastewater rates through 2027

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the July 19 Gainesville City Commission meeting, the commission took up two resolutions regarding budgetary plans for upcoming years.

$2 million per year General Fund Transfer reduction through 2027

They first took up a resolution to decrease the amount of the General Fund Transfer (GFT) from Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) to the General Government fund (GG) by $2 million each year from fiscal year 2022 through fiscal year 2027.

Commissioner Gail Johnson immediately asked whether staff had followed up on her previous request to research some assistance programs for residents who would have difficulty paying their utility bills with the proposed GRU rate increases. It turned out that nobody had worked on that because GRU staff had assumed the commission was referring to GG staff and vice versa. However, GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski said that GRU cannot legally make an income-based assistance program, so such a program would have to come from the GG side. Mayor Lauren Poe said he had assumed they would use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for that, so he was expecting that discussion when the commission looks at how to spend the ARP funds. Johnson said she was “very clear that I was not going to be voting in favor of an increase until those programs came back to us.” City Manager Lee Feldman also said he was not aware of a mechanism that GG could use to subsidize accounts. 

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos asked about the effect of the GFT reduction on the general fund its ability to issue bonds. Feldman said there is a negative revenue impact on the general fund that increases every year – from $2 million the first year, to $4 million, $6 million, up to $12 million per year, for a cumulative total of $42 million over six years. He said it would reduce their bonding capability by about $85 million and that they anticipate a negative outlook, if not a downgrade, in the general government’s credit rating. Hayes-Santos said he had “serious concerns for us trading one problem for another… I don’t know how we keep this up, especially if this is for six years. I think we can do a shorter period. I would support a three-year period.”

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Commissioner David Arreola supported the resolution because “we are stepping down from [the current GFT level] rather than jumping off of the cliff… This is for the health of the overall organization, both sides of the house… It’s a difficult choice, but a lot of healthy choices are difficult ones.” He moved to adopt the resolution, and Commissioner Harvey Ward seconded the motion. 

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said it felt “disingenuous and disrespectful, quite frankly,” to move past Johnson’s objections. “I’m hoping that when those types of directions are given… that staff doesn’t just blow off what the commission directs them to do.”

Feldman repeated what he had said earlier about not thinking the direction was for him, and he said that he didn’t take full responsibility because they had several weeks’ notice that this item was coming up, and no commissioner called him to say the information was missing. Johnson tried to move to continue the item to a future meeting, but Poe said there was already a motion on the floor. Poe suggested that commissioners be more explicit in the future in stating which charter officer is responsible for responding to requests. 

Commissioner Reina Saco said they “may have overcorrected” in their desire to remedy the GRU downgrade situation, but she didn’t think it had been clearly communicated that general government could also be downgraded. “You don’t want to trade one problem for another.” She said she preferred a 3-year plan. 

Commissioner Harvey Ward said he supported the plan, knowing that any future commission could change it. 

Arreola added to the motion a direction to GG staff to return with a utility assistance program and for GRU “to participate in the framework of that.”

Johnson said she appreciated that, but she had been told “multiple times” that she didn’t need to be specific about which staff should respond to their direction because she was told to “just say ‘staff’ and they will figure it out… This is me practicing an incredible amount of restraint right now because it is not lost on me… how often I am the one that makes motions that never get followed up on, or they do it differently, or somehow it gets twisted, or something just doesn’t come back to us right… It’s not lost on me that many of you can make motions on this commission, and the work gets done right away, so this is yet another example… I’m going to continue to point it out. That was me being restrained.”

Arreola said GRU “does not have an increase in customer base,” but property values are growing, so that provides more of an opportunity for an increase in revenue on the GG side than the GRU side. 

Hayes-Santos told Johnson that he’d had an experience “just last week” where GRU hadn’t responded to a motion he made “months and months ago… I think it’s an issue with our system that doesn’t work well… It’s frustrating and I hear you, but I want you to know you’re not alone in that.”

Johnson said she would support the motion, and Poe said he would, too. Poe said that in addition to more opportunities for revenue on the GG side, “We can have a serious discussion about programmatic cuts… We haven’t, really, I think a lot of us.” He also said they could scrutinize GRU’s operations budget more closely. 

During public comment on the motion, Nathan Skop said it had been obvious to him, as a former Public Service Commissioner, that GRU couldn’t legally engage in discriminatory rate-making, so any assistance program would have to be on the GG side. “Now, the reason for the subsidies is because you are about to increase the largest multi-year unjustified rate increases in GRU’s history on top of people that are least able to afford it… So your solution to everything is subsidizing it, but you never consider to cut your spending and stop expanding government.”

Armando Grundy-Gomes said Duncan-Walker’s “point was very well made when she was talking about a level of discomfort… Those of us that watched the videotape, there was no misunderstanding… It’s uncomfortable for me to watch Commissioner Johnson be that uncomfortable… It happens too much and too often.”

The motion passed 5-2, with Hayes-Santos and Saco in dissent.

Electric and wastewater rate increases through 2027 

They next discussed a resolution for a 3% annual base rate increase on the electric system (after this year’s 7% increase) and a 5% annual base rate increase on the wastewater system from fiscal years 2023 to 2027. Arreola said that while future commissions could reassess this every year, the intention was to put forward a plan. He moved the resolution, and Hayes-Santos seconded the motion. 

During public comment on the motion, Skop said that revenue requirements should drive rates; they shouldn’t be set years in advance. “Low income households have every right to be upset because what you approved, or are poised to approve, represents a 20% increase in electric rates spanning the next five years, as well as a 25% increase in wastewater… How are people going to pay for that, Mayor Poe?”

Ward said he wasn’t looking forward to the increases: “I don’t want to pay it myself. I believe it’s necessary… I want to point out that one of the reasons we are where we are, cost-wise, is that the people of Gainesville have consistently said ‘We want renewable energy.’ And that predates everybody up here. Well, one of the ways we do that is by having a biomass plant, a renewable energy plan… Renewable energy is not as cheap as, say, coal.”

The motion passed 5-2, with Johnson and Duncan-Walker in dissent. 

  • ​(March 4, 2014) Motive for UF stabbing incident remains a mystery. Michael Cravey used the alias Thomas Brinkley on social media to espouse conspiracy theories

  • The $oci@list Seven have spoken…screw Gainesville residents! You idiotic liberal voters of Gainesville and Alachua county. You don’t have a clue what’s causing homelessness and social disparity in the community.

    Harvey “Two-face” is a lying sack of dung. People want reasonable utility rates.
    Poe is the most uneducated idiot I’ve ever seen in a position of leadership in my lifetime.
    Arreola should go back to his drug and alcoholic days.

    I’ll close with this…if any of these seven were on fire, I wouldn’t piss on them to put out the fire.

    • realtruth2020 helps me learn. Rock On realtruth2020! (Bo Diddley Thursday and Friday July 15/16th were safe and fun downtown events) Thank you happy GPD and Happy Gainesville Community for fun downtown events!

      Ellas McDaniel (born Ellas Otha Bates; December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008), known as Bo Diddley, was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter and music producer who played a key role in the transition from the blues to rock and roll. He influenced many artists, including Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Clash

      Go Gators!

      • Don’t think “teach” is the correct word. More like lie and brainwash the most vulnerable of the population. In his years of claiming to educate our youth, there’s no telling the damage he has caused to society.

    • As to the homeless problem…this has been escalating for, literally, decades. The history of it has to do with an article that appeared in a magazine years and years ago saying that Gainesville was not kind to the homeless. Believe it or not, the police were actually chasing them away from store fronts (such as at the old Burrito Bros.). I think that stunned our commissioners and made them decide we needed to be nice to the homeless. Since then, we’ve been inviting them here with all sorts of freebies and perks. In any event, our problems are endemic and long-term in nature. Conservatives in this town have, as a rule, kept their heads down and their mouths shut…and this is what it has wrought.

  • I’m just stating the obvious, but if we had a thriving business community, we’d have lots of money for charities and helping the poor. Instead, we have THE highest commercial electric rates in the state, vagrants are treated like sacred cows, and the crime levels are going up while the rest of the state has been decreasing. None of these things attract businesses here. Students think they are entitled to A’s in school by putting forth minimal (or no) effort including completing homework and actually attending school. These are the potential employees for businesses (another reason to avoid Gangsville like the plague). So…….. The city and GRU aren’t going to do what should normally be done by charitable organizations in a normal city, where people have money to donate and life is good and not like life under a pudgy Fidel Castro wanna-be.

  • I’m calling BS on Ward!!!… I never wanted renewable
    Energy or biomass plant…I don’t want zero waste
    By 2045…that’s all UN agenda21 agenda 30 crap..

    • Oh, and Gail Johnson, I’m hearing the world’s tiniest
      Violin playing for you…was it your constituents that
      Wanted renewable energy and biomass as Harvey
      “Two face” ward implies? What’s the problem with
      Them paying their own utility bills? Must you always
      Play the race card? Your constituents need to get a job
      And off the subsidy. Gail, you sound like a broken record
      And so does Grundy with the race baiting. We are all
      Equal. Stop with your racism already. You’re embarrassing yourselves…

  • Just a general question…why does almost everyone else here have a pseudonym on their posts? Is it possible that cowardice is one of our main problems?

    • No. Just like using name de plume. Many authors
      Do this. And the homeless, crime, & panhandling
      Problem is the result of poor public policy…build it
      And they will come like with Grace Mkt.

      • For example, my new favorite writer is “commiekiller”
        And got a chuckle..lighten up. The issue is city problems, not our monikers. The webmaster know who we all are and has our email addresses.

    • Remember the old Salem witch hunts? I’m sure you’ve heard of “cancel culture?” It’s arguably affecting more lives than the wildfires out west. Best of all, unlike a person using a pseudonym that doesn’t cost anything, current leadership and the people who keep empowering them are costing more residents the financial ability to maintain a home without going into bankruptcy.

      Some of us still have to work to pay bills and the crazy high tax and utility rates being shoved up our @rses by the $oci@list$ Seven.

    • Benjamin Franklin using the pseudonym “Poor Richard” is an obvious example. Was he a coward? That should answer your question.

    • Deborah Bucci, are you bugged? What bugs Deborah Bucci most? Will she run for office to defeat HappyCorporateCovidHosts with her courage so contagious and her prideful boasts?


      i am not anonymous

      Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970): whoa, thought it was a nightmare, Lord it was so true, they told me don’t go walking slow, the devil’s on the loose

      • CCR (1970): they told me don’t go walking slow, the devil’s on the loose

  • And from the photo, they are still wearing masks and
    Probably have all had the Covid shot, except for Gail…why is that? Because It’s a control thing…the mask
    Is a political thing…the mask is the commie flag. These
    Commie cowards are hiding behind the mask…

  • Wawa Store, 1614 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603, 11pm Friday Night, July 23, 2021, 3 different helpful GPD officers stationed inside the store to prevent incidents and harrassment of employees. Any Wawa incidents reported this month? 24-hour-Wawa becomes a dangerous late-night-club? Two Stop Signs taken down at NW 18th Street/NW 2nd Avenue this month. Incidents being hidden?

    • Incidents being hidden???—someone mentioned to me, and they may have be mistaken, that there may have been 2 more
      Shootings on the east side and I don’t think it’s the
      Drive by shooting after the NE 8th Ave drive by shooting…if that happened, I don’t think the media
      Could keep that quiet…but, things are definitely getting
      Dangerous and the city needs to crack down and
      Have zero tolerance for open container, vagrancy,
      Panhandlers, and thugs carrying concealed weapons,
      And whatever you’re taking about with “harassment of
      Employees at wawa” on university Ave…I live in the area
      You mentioned by 18th St & 2nd Ave, and this week I had called
      The police twice after vagrants put out a mattress in
      Front of the defunct BTW on NW 14th St & 1st Ave…
      —-A month ago, a bum put a mattress on my front porch and set up
      Shop and then kicked in the building door
      and GPD caught him and he’s in jail…this is a college town, and the CC needs to keep the panhandlers out of the medians…The bars need to be shut down at
      Midnite and drunken patrons need to go home until
      Law enforcement gets things under control.

  • i sometimes pick up debris to stop this homeless trash thing, thank you good humans locally while arrogant CorporateCovidGoons TryToBeSoMeanWithCity/County/State/Fed lying for UnitedNations DeceptionTeam

    LongLiveHappyGainesvilleCommunity and WiseLawEnforcementTeam Freeing More Than Framed Tommy Zeigler From DeathRow BigScamScene

    • Law enforcement may need to enact a curfew on the east side of town to get things under control.

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