City agrees to charge county lower rate for RTS
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 10:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:53 p.m.
After an at-times contentious joint meeting with Alachua County commissioners Monday over rates for bus lines that leave the city limits, the Gainesville City Commission agreed Thursday to meet the county's sought-after rate.
Mayor Craig Lowe and other commissioners maintained that the city's proposed rate of $64.88 per service hour, or $1,076,345 annually, was fair, but the commission voted, 6-0, to charge $61 per hour in the coming fiscal year, with a plan to increase the rate for the next two years unless another agreement is reached with the county.
The $61 rate is up from $59.70 this fiscal year.
The city proposed raising the rates for Regional Transit System lines that serve the unincorporated area to cover the costs of depreciation of buses. The County Commission took umbrage with that because the University of Florida and Santa Fe College will both be paying $61 per hour next year without depreciation taken into account.
City Manager Russ Blackburn said SFC is essentially getting a break as it enters its first full year of service to campus, and UF, through a separate agreement with the city, pays for buses that serve its campus on the front end.
For example, RTS Director Jesus Gomez said there are 13 buses that run the route that serves the string of apartment complexes on Southwest 20th Avenue. The university paid for 11 of those buses.
Lowe asked whether non-students can use that route.
"They can use it like anyone else," Gomez said. "Instead of waiting 30, 60 minutes, they only wait five minutes for the bus."
Lowe said County Commission Chairman Lee Pinkoson made it clear that the proposed $64.88 rate would be met with hostility from county officials, noting that county commissioners are dealing with a more difficult budget picture.
"We have to look at the atmosphere the county is dealing with," Lowe said. "They haven't made some of the really tough choices that we have made, and maybe they can't. That's not really something I fault them for, but the fact is I think they have a tougher fiscal situation this year than we do."
Commissioner Susan Bottcher said the proposal to phase in the rate increase was "more than fair."
Still, Bottcher said, "I don't think it's the city's job to help the county get through its budget woes."
Regional Transit System staff proposed three options for the City Commission: approving the $64.88 rate for the coming year, the phase-in method, or an option to charge $61 and negotiate with the county for future rates.
Jeffrey Hays, the county's senior transportation planner, told the City Commission the latter option would likely be approved by the county.
But Lowe said that would leave open the door for the county to put up another fight next year.
"What if in a year from now they balk and say, ‘We don't want to pay it now either,'?" he said.
The City Commission melded the second and third options, setting a plan to raise the rates over the next three years — up to $61 next year, $62.94 in the 2013 fiscal year and $64.88 the year after that — if another agreement isn't reached.
After being criticized for what was perceived as an unfair process, Gainesville Regional Utilities proposed on Thursday that the applicants who weren't awarded space in the solar feed-in tariff program this year should reapply.
The commission approved the proposal and will open up 1 megawatt worth of space at this year's rates, eliminating 1.7 megawatts that would have been open at next year's lower prices.
GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger said the costs are equal, meaning there will be no impact to the ratepayers.
The timeline and details are still being worked out, but GRU acknowledged time is of the essence, as solar projects started by the end of the year are eligible for federal grant money.
In January, GRU held a lottery to add 2.7 megawatts worth of solar projects and turned away about 6 megawatts worth of applications.
Some of those unsuccessful applicants have complained that one company, Solar Impact, was given preferential treatment in the process by being told it could submit multiple applications for one property and was allowed to submit incomplete applications.
Hunzinger said Thursday he believed it was an "equitable process."
"We recognize that not everyone agrees with that conclusion," Hunzinger said.
Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
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