Gainesville City Commission Discusses Water Rates For Apartments

The Gainesville City Commission recently gave the first of two required approvals to the Gainesville Regional Utilities and general government budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, although local concerns about the water rates for apartment complexes prompted debate.

Representatives for area apartment complexes recently came forward with concerns about the proposed increase in GRU’s multi-family residential water rate for fiscal year 2014-15, which applies to their properties, leading to discussion over whether to make a change. “I think there are things about any industry or business that we just don’t really know about until it gets brought to our attention,” Commissioner Lauren Poe said. “One thing we need to do is make a better effort in how we include these stakeholders in the discussion process.”

Under the current proposal for fiscal year 2015, GRU’s multi-family usage charge would increase from the current level of $2.30 per 1,000 gallons to $3.05 per 1,000 gallons, according to interim Chief Financial Officer David Richardson. Commissioner Randy Wells made a motion to modify the rate plan in order to lessen the increase in the multi-family water rate, which would have meant further increasing the water rate for single-family residential customers.

The motion failed with Mayor Ed Braddy and Commissioners Todd Chase, Poe and Helen Warren voting against it. That proposal would have reduced the multi-family usage charge for fiscal year 2015 to $2.70 per 1,000 gallons instead of the currently planned charge of $3.05 per 1,000 gallons. Chase said he wanted to find a way to resolve this issue without increasing what single-family residents have to pay and suggested looking elsewhere in GRU’s budget for a way to make up the roughly $250,000 difference. GRU’s proposed water rates, as well as those for other services, still require a second and final approval later this month, so the matter may not be settled.

Richard Ashbrook, who is director of operations for Collegiate Properties and is also involved with the North Central Florida Apartment Association, told the commission Monday he thought the apartment association would be happy with the modified rate plan, which then failed to get enough votes to pass. “The truth is you’re impacting single families regardless,” Ashbrook said. After the motion to modify the rate plan failed, Ashbrook told The Sun he hopes the city finds a way to make the situation fair. “Let’s not stick it to the big guy, which is what they’re doing,” he said. “The big guy represents the little guy.”

The conflict over multi-family rates will likely come up again later this month when the City Commission convenes on Sept. 18 to OK the final adoption of the GRU and general government budgets as well as the related rates and fees.

For fiscal year 2015, the city plans to reduce the property tax rate slightly from the current fiscal year’s rate of 4.578 mills to 4.5079 mills, where one mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of taxable value. The fire assessment will hold steady at $78 per fire protection unit. The city’s tentative general government budget totals about $107.4 million compared to this fiscal year’s approved budget of $107.1 million.

There are no layoffs in the new budget, although an earlier version did involve plans to lay off 11 employees, including the city’s nine custodial workers whose services were going to be outsourced. That proposal was nixed after several commissioners raised concerns about it earlier in the budget development process. As for employee raises, neither the general government budget nor the tentative GRU budget include them.

The utility’s budget does include rate increases for electric, wastewater, water and natural gas customers. Initially, an increase of $2.25 in the monthly electric bill for GRU residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month was proposed, but changes made during the budget process reduced that rate hike.

GRU’s budget for fiscal year 2015 now incorporates a $1.35 electric rate increase, resulting in a monthly bill of $140.50. The utility’s transfer of revenues to the city’s general fund for next fiscal year is expected to total almost $34.9 million. Comparatively, it is now anticipated that the general fund transfer for the current fiscal year will total around $37.2 million, although it was budgeted for $38.1 million.

The general fund transfer for fiscal year 2015 has been reduced by $250,000 to account for the City Commission’s decision to enact a one-year moratorium on the collection of a surcharge fee collected from unincorporated Alachua County residents for connecting to water and wastewater services.

That surcharge is related to ConnectFree, a program that covers some or all of the costs needed to connect people to the city’s water supply.

Source: The Gainesville Sun




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