GRU presents budget reductions, Mayor Ward pushes to reduce paper bills

Mayor Harvey Ward and GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham discuss reducing paper bills | From broadcast of May 15 meeting


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At a May 15 Gainesville City Commission Special Meeting, the commission heard a proposal to reduce Gainesville Regional Utilities’ (GRU) budget by about $3.4 million for FY24.

GRU Budget Reduction Plan

Mark Benton, GRU’s Director of Accounting and Finance, gave the presentation, which is part of a series of presentations that will culminate in an August 9 meeting to set utility rates, and said the Budget Reduction Plan was a response to the Florida Auditor General’s findings that GRU debt levels are significantly higher than comparable municipal utilities and that no consistent methodology had been established for determining the amount of the annual transfer (now called the Government Services Contribution or GSC) from GRU to the City’s General Fund.

The City Commission, sitting as the General Policy Committee, voted on April 13 to approve a formula for determining the transfer amount and a plan to reduce GRU’s debt by about $315 million (30%) over the next 10 years. The plan will reduce the GSC from over $34 million in FY23 to about $17 million in FY24. The debt reduction plan also requires GRU to reduce its budget by about $2.8 million per year.

Benton said the reductions are “made more problematic” because over the past five fiscal years, GRU’s operations and maintenance budget has only increased an average of 0.45% per years, and staff has only increased by an average of .41% per year, most of which was driven by hiring the staff of the biomass plant when the City purchased the plant.

GRU proposed eliminating positions that are currently unfilled, which will reduce the budget by almost $2 million, and eliminating $1.4 million in non-labor expenses, for a total of $3.4 million.

Proposed budget will reduce proactive maintenance

After the presentation, Commission Bryan Eastman asked about $480,000 in proposed cuts to Contractual Services, and Brett Goodman, the Director of Water and Wastewater Treatment Operations, said they had tried to figure out where they could make cuts with “the least amount of pain” while making sure that none of the cuts would erode safety or sacrifice environmental or regulatory compliance. “Generally, I would say the Contractual Services cuts are where we’re taking a less proactive role with our maintenance. So… things that are essential, we’re going to continue to do. Things that are preferred, in the future, we’d like to be more proactive with, those are what we’re cutting.”

Goodman also said the $220,000 cut in spending on chemicals in the Wastewater budget came from “a significant market change in the chemicals we use… We’ve seen some of those prices start to taper off.”

Regarding maintenance, Goodman said, “We don’t want to cut things that are ultimately going to haunt us next year, but there are things we’re pushing off and deferring that we know are ultimately going to come back–we need to, you know, change this motor out or we need to do these–while they’re not essential now, they’re going to become–so for this budget year, we just pushed them into the future.”

Commissioner Casey Willits asked whether the changes would increase the likelihood of unplanned repairs, and Cunninham said, “It increases the risk of that, but we tried to identify areas where we didn’t see that being the reality… We are deferring a little bit of maintenance, but it’s a small portion… These are smaller reductions in areas that people in those areas, that operate those areas, that are managers, supervisors, develop the places where they can trim that.”

Mayor Harvey Ward asked about the $175,000 LEEP reduction, and Cunningham said GRU had modified the program to have more impact on individual homes over a wider range of incomes, so they increased the budget, “and this reduction is bringing it back down, but still not back to its historic level.” He added that GRU is in the second year of three years of American Rescue Plan Act funds that are being used for LEEP. Cunningham said they were hoping to do about 200 homes per year, and this cut will reduce that by about 23 homes per year. 

Ward estimates that eliminating paper bills could save almost a million a year

Ward also asked how many paper bills GRU still sends out, and Cunningham said about 75% of bills are still mailed (about 75,000); Cunningham said they’re using marketing and communications to try to get customers to convert to e-bills. Ward asked whether GRU had considered charging for paper bills, and Cunningham said they had considered both charging for paper bills and requiring new customers to opt in to a paper bill, “but we haven’t landed on a strategy yet, beyond marketing and communication, to get folks to convert.” He said that charging people for paper bills is “on the table.” Ward said, “If it costs a dollar per bill, that’s $900,000 per year… approaching a million dollars per year.”

Clemons’ bill adds uncertainty

Eastman was concerned about whether some things currently done by GRU would be within the powers of the upcoming governor-appointed Authority and said, “I worry about sponsorships, I worry about the LEEP program, various things that are not explicitly related to the management of the utility… Obviously this budget may have to change at some point, once that occurs.”

Willits said that the budget was more a response to guidance from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), rather than Clemons’ bill: “We would be doing this, anyways… JLAC already told us we have some issues and identified them, and that is what we’re working on. This is good due diligence… Those 20 positions or so probably could have helped GRU, could have lightened the work load, added their knowledge, and really helped, but this is what we’re tasked with.”

Ward said, “We can’t operate on assumptions about what may or may not happen… There are lots of different things that an Authority could move forward with or could not move forward with. We can’t let those things enter into our decision-making, honestly… Our job is to put this budget together within the constraints of… what the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has made very clear, they expect… But reducing $315 million worth of debt to the people of Gainesville is not a bad thing, anyway… It’s a painful process, but it’s a positive move.”

Ward read from a statement he had sent to Cunningham for a recent press release: “As Mayor and as an owner and customer of GRU, I know that it’s critically important that the lights stay on and the water flows where it’s supposed to, when it’s supposed to. All of that is non-negotiable, and I will continue to work hard to support the women and men who make sure that happens. While I have disagreements and concerns with the process of this bill, please make no mistake that the continued excellent delivery of services from our municipal utility is my priority.”

  • I sure hope the governor signs the Clemons bill the transfer to the City should be zero dollars until the debt is paid off. They are transferring 17 million dollars how much profit did GRU make last year if it was less then 17 million they should not be taking it

  • Make a deal with FPL to take over GRU if they will absorb the debt. No more liberals running us into the ground by raiding the GRU coffers for their wasteful social engineering.

    • GRU needs to declare bankruptcy. Cancel the debt they can, cut off the City of Gainesville permanently , and would love to get a list of the Bond Holders that we enriched by the Biomass 8. Right now GRU is insolvent and the Biomass plant is worth nothing. No one will absorb their massive City Commission debt.

  • Remember this – these meetings and all of the proposals being suggested are a direct response to Clemons’ legislation. If the commission wasn’t terrified of losing their cash cow and making feeble attempts at reducing the debt, they would be increasing it.

    You Democrats, when are going to live up to what Poe promoted, “highly educated community” instead of the liberal lemmings you have proven yourselves to be?

  • First of all, I don’t trust GRU to make an accurate withdrawal from my checking account. Second, not everyone has the ability do allow an accurate withdrawal from the account.

    • Haggis. Nobody is proposing to implement ACH payments for their GRU bills systemwide. If an individual wants to set that up on their own, that’s their prerogative. They’re suggesting emailing bills instead of snail mail. This would save a LOT of money. You would still be able to print out and pay your bill via snail mail or online with a link.

      • You do know that 20 percent of Americans have not sent a single email? About 7 percent don’t have access to the internet?

        Who is that going to affect? Mostly older people and the poor.

        • Haggis, where are you getting the stat that 20% of Americans have not sent a single email??


          Also, based on actual research, the older a person is, the more likely they are to use email for financial/banking usage.


          And yes, the poor definitely need access to the internet. There should be more funding of THOSE projects and less funding of pipe dream NetZero pet projects.

          And to ‘Teach..’, aren’t they already buying stamps/envelopes to pay their bills by snail mail? They can opt into paying online if they want to save more money, IF they have access to the internet. If, and only if, the city can save money by getting enough people to convert to online payments, they should set up an indigent fund so that people without computer access CAN still pay their bills by paper and not be charged a fee for doing so.

      • So everyone should run out and buy a printer, paper, envelopes, stamps, not to mention the ridiculously expensive printer INK? Just so GRU and dimwit Harvey can say they saved a couple bucks of what is NOT their money!

        Also, customers would now have to already have, or buy, a personal computer with internet access, or set up printing capability on their smartphone (assuming they have one).

        Not a good option for lots of elderly, and others, struggling to make it on a fixed income.

        Oh wait! They can get on a RTS bus, ride to their local library, use the library’s PC and pay them for printing their bill! Get back on the bus and go home to mail in their bill. Bingo, what a deal (sarcasm)!

  • Old habits die hard. When confronted by the need to trim the city budget, their first victim is GRU maintenance.

  • How anyone thinks the running of GRU’s business should be by an unaccountable board appointed by a governor who’s never made payroll in his life or even gotten a pay check from anything other than the government, would be amusing if not do pathetic. So far he’s appointed board members to a college with no experience in education or administration, but are true politically correct ideologues and religious nuts, and similarly party hacks and more religious nuts to run some of the business of the states largest employer and biggest tax payer.

    What could go wrong? Everything there ain’t be a darn thing anyone in Alachua County or Gainesville will be able to do about it. Well maybe if you’re a big donor to the governor or the state GOP.

    • I’m sure you’ve seen the television shows that help people with interventions, like Hoarders or Bar Rescue. Our city needs an outside intervention, and we are getting it, thankfully. You’re like one of those bad little girls on the Maury Povich show giving the finger and screaming “I do what I want!” even though she’s 14, pregnant, has AIDS, and has a boyfriend in prison. WE NEED HELP.

    • Jazzhole: You’re a fricken idiot. It’s because the GNV CC tried to stop climate change and implemented UN agenda here is why the utility is ruined. I bet you like those paper straws they foisted on us too. Net 0 by 2050 will also triple GRU debt.

      • Come on jazz is just a poor miss guided sole who has drank the woke tea it has clearly interfered with him being able to think rationally he can only say what they have programmed him to say One day he will wake up and realize they really screwed up his mind 😂😂😂😂

    • Sure beats having to blow Poe or whore with Harvey.
      We know your choice.

      No wonder they’ve never listened to conservative voters.

  • I want paper bills. You don’t have to give me any BS inserts with the bill.
    Why on earth is Sako wearing that face diaper? Why is she even still on the CC? Desantis needs to replace all of them except Ed Book.

  • Why would GRU reduce their budget and maintenance — except to get revenge on the 97% who didn’t vote? Are they also planning rolling blackouts if that’s what it takes to make the 97% turn out for a “return to city sanity”? 🤡👹🤪🤬🍦🍦🍦🍦🍦

    • Maintain current maintenance. Reduce overstaffed GRU starting with the Climate Zar and her minions. There is always staff salary deductions. Don’t put a once good utility in more peril. Oh , and yeah: Fire Gainesville Commissioners and City Managers/Mayor and BS STAFF that helped get them where they are financially.

  • Isn’t this the same GRU that can’t get its bills out now in a timely manner, and then bills at a higher tier rate, through no fault of the customer? Isn’t this the same GRU that already doesn’t have enough people to read the meters?

  • Commission Bryan Eastman asked about $480,000 in proposed cuts to Contractual Services.
    Is food catering considered contractual services? If it is, lard arsed Harvey and wacko Saco will definitely be feeling the pain.

    Cunningham stated, “and this reduction is bringing it back down, but still not back to its historic level.” He added that GRU is in the second year of three years of American Rescue Plan Act funds. These idiots even have GRU suckling on the federal government’s teats. What happens in year 4, after the well has gone dry?

    Willits said that the budget was more a response to guidance from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), rather than Clemons’ bill: “We would be doing this, anyways… JLAC already told us we have some issues and identified them, and that is what we’re working on.
    Willets exposed, he still tell the truth. They wouldn’t be working on anything other than finding more ways to further their progressive ideologies at the expense of the citizens.

    They are clearly using a Dixie cup in an effort to save the ship they’ve been sticking holes in for years. It’s not Mikey’s fault… it’s their fault, this is on them.

    • No. All the electricity it takes to light up monitors & CPU’s has a greater carbon footprint and adds to global warming.…the paper bills
      can be recycled and I need paper bills for accounting purposes.

  • When king Harvey said “reducing $315 million worth of debt to the people of Gainesville is not a bad thing” tells you all you need to know. Being forced to be an adult is hard……

    • Last Chance Harvey wouldn’t know a bad thing if he woke up naked in a hotel room with pills strewn about…

  • We need to go back to basics and apply the budget to the most necessary services that affect the most citizens, which is ultimately emergency services, utilities, safety and roads. No more special projects like rebuilding the Thelma Bolton Center or supplying tampons in government buildings or painting rainbow sidewalks, etc etc etc. I understand the good in “some” projects but the budget shouldn’t be treated like their personal budget. It’s gotten out of hand over the last 20+ years with frivolous spending.

  • Lots of elderly people will require paper bills and isn’t the left always b*tching about the poor not having access to a computer and the internet???

  • This is another classic case of government and business combining to form a toxic sludge to be cleaned up AND paid for by the taxpayers and customers.

    My cynic self is thinking DeSantis and legislators are, by not signing the bill, enabling the Gainesville leadership to continue the nonsensical charade of fixing the debt not to mention the daily interest on that debt.

    It is now becoming clear GRU is a target for aquisition as Willits brought up the ‘unplanned repairs’ (read as a tropical storm or worse) as problematical with any proposed GRU cuts.

  • Does anyone know why GRU is slowly installing small cell sites on their utility poles in residential areas? Maybe for reading smart meters or are they maybe leasing the small cell sites to telecom companies? Either way they have no business installing millimeter wave small cell sites near homes!

  • GRU needs to go back to economic dispatch instead of trying to run the less than reliable wood burner. Maybe if they convert it to dual fuel like they did with DH2, then they might actually save some money and it would be better for the environment.

  • Saving on paper bill is like a family budget that has out of control spending using savings on toilet paper as a way to save the day – eyeroll.

    Cut your pet projects, don’t spend millions on Historical building Renovations, narrowing lanes, bloated staff, useless departments and the list is very long – but paper bill, bahahaha.

    • “Using savings on toilet paper as the way to save the day”…nice analogy. 😃

  • So let me get this straight: People who do not have internet access or computer access or have a disability that would make it difficult for them to use technology to access a bill should be punished by way of a “tax” to help these bankrupted souls generate revenue? So a tax on the poor or disabled is the solution to generate revenue for GRU? I got it, Mr. Woke the Wonka Ward. Way to go in achieving equity! You just can’t make up the stupidity of this man or his minions.

  • Your Local DA Mayor just exposed a major cost saving issue on todays meeting. If I understood his comments , a city Gainesville’s size would typically have 2 ,maybe 3 Charter Officers. F Harvey has 6 Charter Offficers. This is his management chaos challenge and needs to go back to 2 and save more money and time . Then with GRU being taken of the COG plate , you could reduce hours, cut the Mayor and Commissioner’s Salary in half . OMG Harvey ,you are on to way to funding the reparation’s you owe us .

  • Cutting paper bills to save $900k per year? Fantastic idea. It saves enough to pay off the GRU debt in a little under 2000 years.

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