Lowe touts savings, progress in first State of the City address

Mayor Craig Lowe delivers his first State of the City address at the Hippodrome Theatre, where about 50 protesters lined the sidewalks in opposition to the city code that limits soup kitchen meals.

Doug Finger/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.

In his first State of the City address, Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe on Tuesday looked back at a year of overcoming obstacles — namely an $8.3 million budget deficit and the worldwide attention a small church drew for its plan to hold a Quran burning — and looked ahead to embracing a so-called innovation economy and making more investments in mass transit.

Municipalities across the country have struggled in this recession, Lowe said, and Gainesville is no different.

Heading into this budget cycle, $10 million and several positions had already been cut.

"It's safe to say that the low-hanging fruit had been harvested. We were left with few choices for balancing the budget, and none of them were easy," Lowe said in his 22-minute speech at the Hippodrome State Theatre. "But we didn't duck the tough choices, and we didn't turn away from the values that brought our city ongoing recognition as one of the top places to live, work and play."

While he didn't address the fire service assessment — a fee passed by the City Commission with a 5-2 vote in July that was expected to raise about $5 million to fund the fire department — during the speech, he said in a news conference later that he believes it will stay in place next year.

Over the summer, Lowe and Gainesville were reluctantly forced into the spotlight during coverage of the Dove World Outreach Center's plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book to mark the anniversary of 9/11.

With the story of the 30-member church gaining steam internationally, Lowe announced his condemnation of Dove World and its pastor in July.

On Tuesday, he thanked local residents for speaking out against the church and its proposal, which eventually was called off.

Outside the Hippodrome, a group of about 50 assembled to protest the city code that limits soup kitchens to serving 130 meals in a day.

The group also served food to about 70 homeless and hungry who had been turned away after the St. Francis House on S. Main Street reached the limit, said Joe Cenker, a member of the Coalition to End the Meal Limit Now.

When asked about the meal limit at the news conference, Lowe said there were other institutions that could feed the homeless.

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