Lowe, Braddy sharply disagree in last forum
Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 10:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 10:32 p.m.
In the final forum before next week's election, Gainesville mayoral candidates Ed Braddy and Craig Lowe clashed on recurring campaign issues of transportation and biomass Tuesday evening at the Oak Hammock retirement community.
Questioned on how to ensure the city's roads are adequately maintained, Braddy, a former two-term commissioner, said the city needs to put more gas tax revenues toward road repair, including repairs of neighborhood streets.
Braddy said that, while in office serving with Lowe, he'd supported a plan to reallocate more gas tax money toward roads and it did not get the support of the City Commission majority.
"What he doesn't tell you is that meant cutting money for buses," Lowe said.
Lowe said Braddy did not mention that consequence of such a move when discussing the need to improve bus service in east Gainesville during last week's African American Accountability Alliance forum.
On the topic, Braddy noted that the Regional Transit System receives a substantial amount of its budget through federal funding and reiterated his campaign theme that the city should put three out of every four new transit dollars toward improving bus service in east Gainesville.
Braddy criticized Lowe's support for the development of a bus rapid transit system, something Braddy feels the city does not have the population density to sustain. He said it would do nothing to fix the deficiencies to existing bus service on the eastside or address Gainesville's "two-tiered transit system."
As their disagreement over transportation continued, Lowe said he supported a "comprehensive" plan that includes road repair, improvement to existing transit and, in the long term, a bus rapid transit system.
He said that system would be built in phases over decades and Braddy was using "scare tactics" by focusing on its build-out price. That price is currently projected to be upward of $300 million.
Lowe noted that he also had a funding source identified for that plan in the form of a transportation sales tax but a prior County Commission majority removed all transit projects from the tax plan before putting a roads tax to voters last November. That tax failed with 67 percent opposition.
Braddy said he voted for that tax to fix roads. He also noted that Lowe's funding plan for transportation hinged on a new tax, something he also saw with the incumbent's plans for long-term development of the parks system.
"Everything requires a new funding source," Braddy said.
On biomass, Lowe said he continues to stand by the decision to go with a 30-year contract to purchase power from the privately owned plant, which is slated to come online later this year and bring electric rate increases with it.
Lowe said the plant would diversity Gainesville Regional Utilities' fuel mix and keep money in the area economy with the introduction of a local fuel source.
"I think this is a long-term decision and should be looked at in that light," Lowe said.
Lowe also said that, while in office in 2008, Braddy "made a very enthusiastic motion" to go with the biomass plant.
Braddy, who has campaigned against the biomass contract because it will drive up electric rates that are already toward the high end in the state, said Lowe was distorting his record in a "desperate" campaign move.
He had made the motion in 2008 but was out of office by the time the biomass contract came back in 2009, he noted. The proposal he motioned to move ahead with was for a shorter 20-year time frame, he said.
It had a better financial outlook than what the city, which has been unable to find a buyer for excess power from the plant, faces today, Braddy said.
At the request of former Commissioner Jack Donovan, the contract would also have included a back-out clause. Under such a clause, the city would have had the option to pay a negotiated fee to the firm behind the biomass plant in order to exit the contract before construction on the plant commenced.
In a 2008 memo to GRU staff, the firm sought a fee in excess of $32 million. The clause was eventually not included in the significantly redacted contract that commissioners approved in 2009.
On Tuesday, the mayoral opponents also clashed on overall campaign themes. Braddy said his focus was on making sure the city was affordable for residents and businesses. Lowe said the city needs to make investments to provide the quality of life that has helped attract and retain high-tech companies. The city, Lowe said, would take a step backward under a "regime of harsh austerity measures."
In response, Braddy said Lowe was using "scare tactics" to distort a campaign message.
"This regime of harsh austerity measures, really, what are you talking about?" Braddy asked.