GRU bill soon may add hydrant costs
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 11:44 p.m.
Gainesville Regional Utilities customers may pay higher rates in coming years to help pay for the costs of installing and maintaining fire hydrants and streetlights throughout the utility's coverage area.
How they voted
But those living in the city limits also could pay lower property taxes to partly compensate.
The City Commission on Monday instructed city staff to develop a proposal that would shift responsibility for funding streetlights and fire hydrants in areas served by GRU from Gainesville to the utility's rate payers. The commission stopped short of endorsing the proposal, which would take effect in the next fiscal year, however and agreed to discuss the matter at a later time.
"We're not making a decision today," Commissioner Tony Domenech said. "We're just pushing the boat away from the dock."
The motion was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan dissenting.
Under the current system, Gainesville essentially pays for the costs of streetlights and fire hydrants in all parts of the county where GRU offers water and electricity.
"Now, rate payers no matter where they live will pay their fair share," Commissioner Ed Braddy said. The 1990 agreement between the city and the county, which established the current arrangement, has "hamstrung" city government by forcing it to pay for improvements not only for its own residents, but for those in the unincorporated area as well, Braddy said.
Last year, the city paid about $1 million from its general fund for streetlights and hydrants in the unincorporated areas and another $2 million for those inside the city limits.
To fully fund hydrants and streetlights, GRU would have to increase its water rates by about $14 a year and its electric rates by about $12 a year for the average customer. Alternatively, the utility could add a flat rate to all customers' bills to cover the cost of the hydrants and streetlights.
But a number of proposals detailed in the utilities report would reduce or eliminate the costs to ratepayers within the city limits. The proposal commissioners instructed staff to look into would combine the increase in utility rates with a decrease in the property taxes to an amount equal to about $1.5 million in the city - which is about half of what the city pays for streetlights and fire hydrants. The other $1.5 million would go toward a bond issue for recreational improvements.
During the meeting, commissioners worried about how changing the funding structure for hydrants and streetlights would impact relations between the city and county and could lead the county to impose fees on GRU.
GRU General Manager Mike Kurtz said the 1990 agreement was forged after a history of disputes between the city and county over the issues. At one point, these arguments escalated into threats that the state Legislature might take the utility from the city, Kurtz said.
"There was a lot of history that led up to that, a lot of bad blood," he said.
But Braddy said the motion was not a "shot across the bow" of the County Commission, as several commissioners suggested.
"The BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) budget will not be impacted," Braddy said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or email@example.com.
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