City seeks $212M for 2007 projects


Published: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Nearly $6 million in new revenue would be spread through several departments, focusing on the environment, public safety and technology, in Gainesville's proposed 2007 budget.

Facts

Homeowner's expenses

  • The proposed budget includes a reduction in Gainesville's property tax rate from $4.9355 per $1,000 of property value.
  • The proposed budget also includes a 25-cent increase in the stormwater fee charged by the city, bringing the monthly rate for a single-family home to $6.75.
  • With the tax reduction, a homeowner using the homestead exemption on a house at the median sales price in Alachua County -$200,000- would pay $1.80 less in txes than the owner of an equally valued property last year.
  • But with the stormwater fee increase, that homeowner would end up paying about $1.20 more to the city each year.

  • The $212-million budget, bolstered by a 16 percent increase in the value of taxable property in the city, includes money to buy conservation properties, start online services, expand Regional Transit System service to Sundays as well as money for major water quality improvement projects.

    A general government fund of $91.8 million, which covers most of the city's operating costs, includes money to staff a planned additional fire station, an expansion to the city's code enforcement and money to help fund homeless services.

    "I think we've come up with a good, sound budget," said City Manager Russ Blackburn, who oversaw the budget process for the first time in Gainesville this year. The proposals were drafted to meet commission objectives laid out at a retreat earlier this year, Blackburn said.

    The proposed budget would shave the city's tax rate but raise stormwater fees on properties, changes that, at best, will be a wash for many homeowners.

    Some city commissioners have called for a reduced tax rate in response to increases in revenue as a result of rising property values. Under the proposed rate, taxes on a homesteaded house in Gainesville worth about $200,000 would be about $1.80 less this year than on an equally valued property last year.

    But homeowners would pay $3 more in stormwater fees this year under a plan that raises the rate from $6.50 to $6.75 a month. The money from the fees would largely go to fund about $10 million in improvements over the next five years, such as the Depot Avenue Stormwater Park and projects to improve Sweetwater Branch.

    The rate of increase in property values also means many residents will pay more in taxes even if they're paying at a lower rate.

    The budget was provided to city commissioners, employees and the public following a press conference Friday morning.

    City commissioners will spend the next three months hashing out the final details of the budget and the city's tax rate, which will receive final approval in September. During that time, commissioners will also discuss Gainesville Regional Utilities' budget, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

    One of the new projects proposed in the budget is the establishment of a fund the city could use to buy properties in the city for conservation purposes. In the first two years, the program will receive $525,000 to help buy land in northwest Gainesville, which had been the proposed site of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and which would now partially be used by a proposed Home Depot, Blackburn said.

    The program would receive $250,000 a year in the future, he said.

    "It's time to enhance our focus on environmental issues," Blackburn said.

    Sunday service through RTS is also included in the budget package. The service, which is partially funded by University of Florida Student Government, would require new drivers but no new buses, said Teresa Scott, director of the city's Public Works Department.

    "Student government - that was one of their top priorities to be able to put Sunday service on," said Scott, who added that the service will start Aug. 21. "We're excited to realize that partnership because it helps us realize something we've wanted for a while."

    Public Works is also setting the stage to bring large-scale road maintenance in-house, rather than contracting it out to private firms, Scott said. The proposed budget for the department includes money for hiring new staff and buying equipment that will allow projects that are larger than the pothole repairs Public Works now takes on but smaller than major projects, like the reconstruction of SW 2nd Avenue, she said.

    The budget also calls for the city to conduct its own environmental reviews of development projects, rather than relying on a contract with the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. The city has budgeted $90,000 to hire an environmental generalist who would be able to provide more responsive service to development officials while contracting with private firms for projects that require specific expertise, Scott said.

    Some of the items are intended to cover rising costs and fix underestimates in past budgets.

    An additional $546,000 a year will be budgeted to cover overtime costs for Gainesville Police Department and Gainesville Fire Rescue workers. In past years, the city had paid out a similar amount of overtime but not planned for it in the budget process, Blackburn said.

    The city is also looking into hiring more firefighters to reduce the amount of overtime required of staff and could make a decision on new hires this year, he said.

    The budget includes an additional $1.1 million over the next two years to cover the rising price of fuel and other vehicle costs.

    "E-Gov" initiatives, designed to provide more access to government services on the Internet, also received a prominent place in the budget.

    A system that tracks and allows citizen access to information on the city's development review process is one of the centerpieces of the $800,000 plan and the item that will involve most of the costs. The proposal also includes software that will allow residents to pay traffic tickets and apply for business licenses online.

    One of the most long-awaited proposals included in the budget is the construction of the city's first new fire station since 1979.

    The station, planned for the area around NW 34th Street and NW 39th Avenue, will receive $3 million in funding from a bond issue and money for a four-member staff in the latter part of 2008 as part of the proposal.

    "We're pretty excited about it," said GFR Chief William Northcutt, who said the station would help provide better service in the northwest area.

    Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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