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Gainesville City Commission sets utility and property tax rates

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At a September 8 Special Meeting, the Gainesville City Commission passed increases in utility rates and a flat property tax rate that will collect more revenue because of increased property values. They also passed budgets for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and General Government.

Wastewater 

The wastewater ordinance increased new connection charges and other related fees by 8.24%, but those are mostly one-time fees for new construction. The ordinance also eliminated the wastewater winter maximum calculations and adjustments. The winter maximum provision established an individual winter maximum for each customer in January or February that determined the maximum wastewater charges for that customer for the remainder of the year.

After several residents objected to eliminating the winter maximum calculation, GRU Interim General Manager Tony Cunningham said the change was made last year and that the ordinance was just “cleaning up the language.” Cunningham added that GRU was only one of two utilities in the state of Florida that used winter maximum calculations to cap water usage in the summer.

The ordinance passed unanimously.

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Utility rates

As the commission decided a year ago, electric rates were increased 3% and wastewater rates were increased 5%. 

Residential electric rates will go up from $0.0797/kWh to $0.0821/kWh for the first 850 kilowatt-hours (Tier 1) and from $0.1056/kWh to $0.1088/kWh for usage over 850 kWh (Tier 2). The Electric Customer Charge will also increase from $16/month to $16.50/month. The new rates will apply to all bills mailed starting October 1.

During public comment, multiple residents complained about long billing cycles that pushed their usage into the more expensive Tier 2 just because there were more than 30 days between meter readings. They also complained about low bill estimates when GRU says they weren’t able to read the meter; those also push the next month into Tier 2 and lead to an overall higher bill over the two months than they would have received if the estimated bill had reflected the actual usage for that month. One person said that when she complained about this, GRU told her to go to a community organization that helps people with utility bills. However, those organizations told her she made too much money to qualify for help. She said the only other thing GRU offered her was a payment plan to spread out the high payment over several months. She added, “It’s not our problem they’re short-staffed. It’s not our problem you guys aren’t hearing us when we’re saying there’s a problem.”

After public comment, Mayor Lauren Poe said that the 3% increase in electric rates was lower than the inflation rate; he did not mention the fuel adjustment charge, which is currently higher than the charge for the electricity itself ($0.08/kWh), more than doubling the amount paid by customers.

The fuel adjustment charge is designed to balance fuel expense with fuel revenue, but in spite of big increases in the fuel adjustment charge over the past year, the fuel levelization balance has dropped below -$18 million. At the September 9 General Policy Committee meeting, GRU’s Chief Financial Officer Claudia Rasnick told the City Commission that these funds have to be replenished at some point, and she expects the fuel adjustment charge to stay at its current level for some period of time, possibly as long as a year, until the balance gets back to zero: “If [the balance is negative], that means customers owe the utility for fuel costs that have already been incurred.”

Poe continued, “We understand the difficulty. We do. And we have significantly increased our programs to try to help people. And anybody out there that’s listening or watching, if you are struggling, please reach out and contact GRU, and we will do whatever we can to work with you.”

The vote in favor of the rate increases was 4-3, with Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut, Desmon Duncan-Walker, and Harvey Ward in dissent. Ward, who is now running for mayor, voted for the multi-year increase last year before voting against it this year.

Fire Assessment Fee

The Fire Assessment fee will remain flat at $133/unit. During public comment, Nathan Skop said that the number of units on his bill increased from previous years, causing a significant increase in this fee, so homeowners should compare the Fire Assessment fee on this year’s tax bill with last year’s bill. Skop said he was told by the Fire Chief that the units are calculated by consultants.

The Fire Assessment fee passed unanimously.

GRU Budget

During public comment on the GRU budget, questions were asked about the City’s audited financial statements, which were not prepared on time this year. Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry said they hope the statements will be ready in another 30 days. 

The tentative GRU budget passed 5-2, with Ward and Duncan-Walker in dissent.

Property taxes and general government budget

The city commission adopted a property tax rate of 5.5000 mills, the same as the previous year. A presentation showed that the property values in the City of Gainesville have increased 11.8% since last year, so that millage will raise $4.5 million more revenue (and cost property owners more) than it did last year. This millage rate is 9.23% higher than the rolled-back rate, which was calculated at 5.0351 mills. 

The general government budget for FY23 is $154,356,686, a 6.2% increase over the FY 2022 budget of $145,312,788. The City added 22 new full-time employees in the upcoming budget.

The property tax millage rate passed, 6-1, with Duncan-Walker in dissent.

The budget passed 6-0, with Duncan-Walker absent.

The final votes on all these items will be taken on September 22.

  • The problem is city leadership… actually it’s the lack of. Harvey “two face” showing the side most of us know – the lying side. I guess we’ll see how many votes he “buys” this November.

    One thing’s for sure, you’re a fool if you trust anything Harvey Ward says. An even bigger one if you vote for him.

    • Like anyone believes Lying Ward is sincere in voting against the increases he was definitely for last year. Hypocrite and liar. Much like his bro Lying Hyphen-Hayes who lies about his minority status (from step dad and white Canada) and so anxious to be a victim. Both of these jobless and municipal ignorant know-it-alls need to be gone from public service via public outcry and voting box. They have nearly bankrupted our community whose damage can’t be undone for years. 11 or 12 years ago before these ignorants showed up, GRU had one of the lowest utility rates in the state. Then came Poe-mass-biomass via Queen Beijing, followed by these ignorant radicals that think it’s great, along with the $2 billion (w/interest) payback over 30 years to local citizens for the purpose of burning 10,000 trees a day up into carbon release and smoke. Great job crappy city commission. Vote them all gone yesterday.

  • The citizens want to see the financial audit that remains to be avoided.

    This feckless crew doesn’t have the business sense of a housefly.

    Do not vote for Ward. He’s a ship without a rudder.

    • Well said Vet! The state audit just BBQ’d the idiots, who basically replied, ok, will take care of it and still spending like drunk sailors (sorry about that!) Right on not a clue of how plans, taxes, finance and bonds are supposed to work. They just wing it and hope to get noticed by Camel toe, creepy Joe or Nancy P, their heroes. They were all soooo high on Andrew Gillum! Thought he was the greatest! A crack head, warped sex addict and bribe taker (please guilty). Boy they’ve got good judgment!

  • Property values increased 11.8% last year so I just raised my rent 25% on a 2bdrm apt renewal and got it easy because of the unintended consequences of the city’s landlord ordinance…thanks GNV CC and Alachua County CC for meddling in private property rights….now we’re gonna have both the highest utility rates and highest rents in the state.
    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because we pass your tax increases on to the tenants.

  • I see 7 face masks in the photo with this article…If they are afraid, they should get their c19 boosters or is wearing the mask some kind of whako political solidarity thing?

  • This is yet another example of what government by regressives looks like. In spite of complaints about high utility bills from people and groups throughout all of Gainesville, this commission voted to INCREASE your rates. When will voters on the left see that these people do not care about representative government? They care about governing you. The effect of their actions while in office has been to increase citizens’ dependence on government and/or to increase the power of government at the expense of the people.

    • They were so worried about being called “Hateful to the homeless.” Now they are “Hateful to citizens.” And recently, “Hateful to homeowners.” Poe, Hayes-Santos, Arreola, and Ward ALL need to go. And Saco, when it’s her time. I can’t imagine she plans to run again.

  • Property Values increase so tax revenue increases. This incompetent commission still has to increase utility rates to get even MORE money to spend on their pet projects. VOTE THEM OUT!

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