County votes to fund weatherization plan, homeless center


Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 7:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 7:33 p.m.

Home weatherization and a homeless center were the winners in a round of horse trading Tuesday by Alachua County commissioners who debated favored projects in an attempt to get them funded in a tight 2009-10 budget.

Commissioners on a 3-2 vote agreed to allocate $82,000 for a pilot home weatherization program for low-income residents.

Also, commissioners voted unanimously to earmark $56,000 from a donation by the late Clark Butler, developer of Butler Plaza, for one-stop homeless center that the Gainesville City Commission plans to open next year.

The formation of a new budget by the Alachua County Commission had been relatively easy until Tuesday.

Chairman Mike Byerly wrangled with Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut over weatherization.

"Low-income people have the highest utility bills," Byerly said. "We are talking about stripping, chalking and a heavy education component."

Countered Chestnut, "I see this as duplication of what is already being done by the Community Action Agency and Florida Works. There are already programs out there on weatherization."

The vote to include weatherization funding was 3-2, with Chestnut and Commissioner Lee Pinkoson dissenting.

Other spending -- for the homeless center and for new technology for the Public Defender's Office -- drew unanimous support. The city of Gainesville plans to open the homeless center next year as part of a joint city/county effort to curb homelessness.

In all, the commission agreed to fund about $127,000 in programs -- an amount it will have to cut from the proposed budget.

Pinkoson suggesting cutting an Alachua County Fire Rescue recruitment program and instead draw new hires from a training program at Loften High School. But that drew concern from Chestnut, who said it could harm minority hiring. More information will be presented to the board at a future meeting.

Another fire issue discussed was the proposed reduction of controlled burns on county-owned land under ACFR's wildfire mitigation program.

Byerly lobbied heavily for it while Pinkoson suggested trying to get the state Department of Forestry or private contractors to do the work.

Public Safety Director Will May said it is unlikely the state would do the work because it concentrates on its own land for prescribed burns. He added that private contractors could do the work, but not to the specifications of the county.

County Manager Randall Reid will develop a listed of proposed cuts to compensate for the programs that were funded. Commissioners will meet again Thursday on the budget.

Two public hearings will be held this month to finalize the budget and the tax rate.

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