“I didn’t open it; I just didn’t want to know”: Gainesville City Commission reduces water connection charges for very small houses, discusses property tax notices

Commissioner Bryan Eastman asks about reducing water/wastewater connection charges for very small houses


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At today’s General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting, the Gainesville City Commission voted to reduce water/wastewater connection charges on new homes under 850 square feet; they also discussed low-income housing that is falling into disrepair and the TRIM notices arriving in residents’ mailboxes.

Water/wastewater connection fees

Mayor Harvey Ward places an agenda item on every GPC agenda so the commission can discuss the transition to the Authority that is scheduled to take over governance of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) on October 4, but Ward was clearly reluctant to discuss the issue today, saying, “I would remind everyone that this next item–if we don’t have anything, we don’t have to do it.”

But Commissioner Bryan Eastman said he understood that GRU had some information about a request he had made to look at reducing water/wastewater connection fees on small houses. 

GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham said that if the commission voted on the change today, it could still go into the Fiscal Year 2024 budget; Rick Hutton, from GRU’s Sustainability Office, told the commission that connection fees are designed to make new construction pay for itself.

Hutton said that when GRU looked at usage by home size a few years ago, they found that houses under 1,400 square feet use less water than houses over that size, so in response to Eastman’s request, they looked to see whether another tier below that could be established, maybe for accessory dwelling units. Hutton said residences under about 850 square feet use significantly less water than the 1,400-square-foot home, so it makes sense to make the connection charges lower. 

Slide from Hutton’s presentation to the Gainesville City Commission on August 24

Commissioner Casey Willits said he supported the change because “it shows a commitment to understanding that there are barriers, and we can control some of those barriers in what is still a housing crisis.”

Ward pointed out that this would reduce the cost of building an 850-square-foot home by about $1,600. 

Eastman made a motion to direct staff to draft an ordinance reducing water/wastewater connection fees for homes under 850 square feet, and Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut seconded the motion. 

Commissioner Ed Book asked whether this would affect the budget, and Cunningham said they typically have a small number of new homes in that size range, so “it’s a very small difference in our projected revenue.”

The motion passed unanimously. After the vote, City Attorney Daniel Nee said that staff won’t be bringing back an ordinance as directed in the motion because the change will instead appear in Appendix A of the budget, which will be presented to the commission on September 7.

Gainesville Housing Authority and deteriorating housing stock

During commission comment, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she was concerned about a lack of response to her requests for information from Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA). She was also concerned that several of GHA’s apartments had fallen into disrepair and that two of them are going to be razed. Duncan-Walker said, “If [GHA is] going to partner, the first thing they have to do is be responsive… But beyond that, I want us really to start thinking about what this partnership means. What do we really want from them?” 

Duncan-Walker said she had recently received complaints from people living in GHA units about mold and a lack of responses to complaints: “If we are fronting money, and if we are putting our support behind this agency, there needs to be a level of accountability… I want us to build in certain requirements of them to make sure that we are preserving that stock of housing and that the residents are getting what they need.”

Duncan-Walker said the lack of responsiveness from GHA began when she showed a picture of a building with a hole in it, and that hole is still there. She said she would like some entity within the City to “take an inventory of the state of housing at Housing Authority. I want to know what is going on… I don’t want to see an apartment complex leveled that’s providing housing for the most vulnerable and replaced with housing that will not include them, or does not include the same amount of them. That’s not going to help our houselessness population at all.”

Property tax bills: “Go look at your TRIM”

Commissioner Casey Willits said he had received his TRIM (Truth in Millage) notice, and the fire assessment fee for his “very, very modest condo” has an “over 100%” increase in the fire assessment fee: “So I want that to be known, what we did–and I voted against it multiple times.”

Chestnut said she hadn’t looked at her TRIM notice: “I didn’t open it. I just didn’t want to know.”

Willits continued, “We have done a double whammy on people who live in multi-family over a certain size of square footage under one roof… People who live in single-family standalone homes are paying less, literally less, and people in multi-family are paying more, and in some cases, more than 100% more, just on that portion… Go look at your TRIM.” 

“They want us to feel pain, and people are going to feel pain, but we made a decision that people who live in multi-family housing will feel even more pain, and I’m disappointed with that decision.” – Commissioner Casey Willits

Willits said the commission had increased the fire assessment fee because they wanted more of the funding for fire services to come from the fire assessment fee, but he said the decision had also been made “with a real force from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and those kind of threats. They want us to feel pain, and people are going to feel pain, but we made a decision that people who live in multi-family housing will feel even more pain, and I’m disappointed with that decision.”

Ward responded that what stood out to him on the TRIM notice was that “the City of Gainesville continues to be the third most expensive item on the tax bill. The honors still go to Alachua County and the School Board.”

Eastman said he recently became a Regal Unlimited member, “so I go see as many movies as I want to see; that cost a little bit more than how much I’m paying for police, fire, parks–I was surprised, actually, how good of a deal–as a single-family homeowner with a fairly large homestead exemption… I was surprised at how good of a deal it was to be a resident of the city of Gainesville for everything that we get out of that.” Eastman has a $50,000 homestead exemption on his home, double the standard exemption.

No other commissioners seemed to be interested in revisiting the fire assessment fee.

Pine Ridge

Commissioner Ed Book said he had attended a recent meeting at Pine Ridge, and he observed many units in disrepair, with tarped roofs, trash and debris, and properties that are not well-maintained. He said he was planning to send a letter on his letterhead to all the owners in that neighborhood and “see if we can get some traction for some improvement there, for the people who live there.”

Ward said efforts have been made over many years in Pine Ridge, but few owners have been interested in the resources that were offered. He said Phoenix and the SWAG area have similar issues, as neighborhoods with many different individual owners, and have had “the same results… If [the owners] don’t pick up the slack and do what they’re supposed to do for that rent check that they get every month, we don’t see the longer-term improvement.”

City Manager Cynthia Curry said the City has worked to listen to and respond to concerns at Pine Ridge, but “it’s always been a problem, at least for the last 18 months that I’ve been here.”

  • This is the result of several things:
    1. The commissioners and mayor are idiots who don’t think logically or with any reasonable sense of intelligence.
    2. The people who continue to vote for them are idiots and don’t think of the repercussions of electing those in #1.
    3. They really have no regard for and don’t care about the burdens they put on the residents they claim to represent.

    The next meeting will probably see them increasing the rates on homes over 850 sq. ft to offset the “giveaway” in this meeting. On top of that, they’ll probably vote themselves a raise to offset the increases we will bear the brunt of. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that?

    All of you libs, hope you’re enjoying what you’re doing to the place.

  • Willits – They wanted you to feel pain by making big cuts in the budget and trimming the woke/progressive/DEI fat you love so much. That’s what they meant.

  • Explain to me how connecting the same sized pipe to the sewer system costs more to install with a home that is more than 850 square feet. I have a 1700 sq ft home, I have neighbors who have homes that are 2900 Sq ft. We both have the same size sewer pipe. How many people build homes less than 1200 Sq ft. ?? These people hate the fact that someone might work harder and make good decisions in life to improve their lot in life so they will find a way to tax your happiness 😡

    • The explanation was that each new connection increases the required capacity of the system, so the connection charge is “compensating the utility for the investments that we make over time that are related to creating capacity.”

      • Why does Eastman get a $50k exemption ( double the standard homestead exemption ) on his home? Is he over 65 or a veteran or something??

    • Don’t let the doublespeak fool you. Since it’s only a certain socioeconomic class this affects, they’re effectively finding another way to buy votes.

      • Yes, possibly, but won’t get many as this would do nothing already connected and paid for, only new connections.

        Bottom line is these self-absorbed DEC dem lib radicals just want to do something, anything to keep their goofy name in the news.

  • My wife and I own a small apartment complex in the Southeast Historic District. We are in the “Enterprise Zone” whatever that is supposed to be. We used to provide affordable housing but now we cannot afford to.
    Our property taxes are:
    Taxes for 2023 – $37,623 up 23% over 2022
    Taxes for 2022 – $30,493 up 30% over 2021
    Taxes for 2021 – $23,409 up 20% over 2020
    Taxes for 2020 – $19,460
    I spoke with someone last year about the 30% increase and his response was basically: suck it up buttercup.
    We are a business not a charity, guess who ends up paying these increased expenses.
    By the way, our Duck Pond historic house we have owned for 25 years one went up $159!
    Has anyone in the government considered spending less money?

    • no one in government has ever considered spending less money when all they have to do is raise taxes

  • Wish it was that easy.

    Chestnut thinks just because she doesn’t open it, it’ll go away.
    Here’s news Cynthia, if it were that easy we would have made you and the rest of those clowns go away a long time ago.

  • Is there anyway of eliminating the City Commission and just go with the County Commission? Also GPD and just have the Sheriff Department. Money saved

  • Why do they ignore the numbers of unrelated adults — including migrants— stuffed in homes, trailers or apts that small? Shouldn’t Biden’s climate GPD surveillance use infrared to count how many people live at each address, just to be fair and DEI? Then set the water meter rates.

    • Those are Biden voters you know. Dems will find them, give them food and instructions on how to vote the ballots they will be provided (and instructions not to speak to “the man” or anyone in authority, be particularly cautious of “whitety”.

  • Aw…yes…the commissioners trying to make a dollar out of 99 cents. Oops….they probably now have only 49 cents after their masterful management of GRU. Equity=Motivated hard workers paying for those that don’t give a damn.

  • Eastman didn’t have to admit he’s a Regal Unlimited member, most of us have known he’s been living in La La Land for quite some time now.

  • “ Ward pointed out that this would reduce the cost of building an 850-square-foot home by about $1,600. ”
    Currently it cost about $300 a square foot to build a house plus the lot it sits on. That makes a 850 square foot house cost $255,000, at current interest rate approximately $1700 a month plus taxes and insurance. When I was younger we used to figure 1/4 of your income for the mortgage payment. I don’t see how a $1600 reduction is going to make any difference at all. Mr. Ward is only trying to make the gullible voting citizens out there think he has a handle on affordable housing.

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