BY JENNIFER CABRERA / AUGUST 13, 2019
The agenda for the August 15 Gainesville City Commission includes an item on Broadband Study Next Steps. While no new spending will be approved at this meeting, the agenda states that up to $530,000 may be required to investigate issuing bonds and perform a digital divide study, an engineering analysis, and a public education campaign. It is unclear why this is even being discussed before GRU has done its analysis of the consultant’s report. Our previous articles on the consultant’s report appear here and here.
The city has already paid at least $139,764 (some invoices are still outstanding) to CCG Consulting since 2016 for work on the municipal broadband plan (and possibly other work – we’re not sure what they were doing in 2016).
During the June 20 city commission meeting, Commissioner Helen Warren said she was reluctant to vote for additional expenditures to study the broadband proposal: “I’ve been a bit reluctant to embrace this idea because the cost factor is something that I’m really concerned about. I support this idea of doing more research to explore that out. But what I would also want, with the motion that you’ve got, to know what’s going to be the cap on how much research—at what point do we keep putting money into the study? I was concerned with an item on the agenda saying that the next steps could range up to $630,000, and I certainly would not be supportive to go into that limit, just to get information.”
Mayor Lauren Poe replied that they would not be spending that much: “I’ll remind all of the commission, if our tentative budget is ultimately approved, we only have approved up to $100,000 for an engineering study specifically, but nothing additional will be on that. I don’t know where that 600 came from, from the staff report, but that’s not what we approved in our budget or what we tentatively approved in our budget.”
In an August 8 email to the city commission, the Utility Advisory Board, and GRU leadership, GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski wrote, “I must reiterate that GRU and the City attorney’s office have yet to perform due diligence on the Broadband study. We must take a deliberative, prudent approach to evaluating the risk and rewards of entering a new business, namely residential internet service. As a result of CCG’s study, there are already monthly numbers and prices being expressed throughout the community, which have not been vetted by legal, financial and operational experts.”
Now the August 15 agenda states that “Staff is not requesting commission appropriate funding at this time. If the Commission determines to proceed after hearing the staff’s analysis in October, staff will ask the Commission to appropriate additional funding to complete the project review.” The amounts listed, as described above, total up to $530,000.
The city is currently in a budget deficit for FY20 that will require a 15.64% increase in property taxes, a 10% overall increase in GRU revenue, and a 32% increase in the fire assessment fee. Where will they get this additional money if staff requests half a million dollars for further work on the broadband proposal after the budget has already been set?