Diverse group addresses issues with GRU


Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.

Members of the Gainesville community came together Wednesday to voice their concerns over the rising costs of utilities as part a Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce event.

Representatives from the city, county and Legislature offered their insight on GRU issues at the conversation with the chamber.

State Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said there should be more diversity in the energy discussion. He compared a single professional's cost of utility bills compared to a stay-at-home family's use of electricity.

"Stay-at-home families should not be penalized," he said. "It doesn't make sense to penalize people for a tiered structure."

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson offered remarks on the GRU surcharge for customers living in unincorporated areas.

"There are a number of unincorporated areas that can't be annexed," he said. "We can't make them pay a surcharge."

Wednesday's meeting was a continuation of a chamber series to discuss ways to make living and operating in Gainesville easier.

The Chamber released a statement Wednesday explaining its position on GRU's fuel levelization fund, which it is continuing to collect to cushion rate increases that are expected to occur when the biomass plant goes online in the fall.

The Chamber said it recommends that the City Commission direct GRU to cease collecting for the fuel levelization fund for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The Chamber also recommends that GRU explore the mechanics of how to implement a one-time credit refund of the excess in the fuel levelization fund to GRU customers.

Gainesville mayor Ed Braddy said the conversation over utility increases has long been overdue.

"GRU has gone from being a provider of a service to a political tool for social change," he said.

Braddy said GRU should consider reforming its tiered structure. The lowest tier of 250 kilowatts fits the profile of an empty apartment, he said.

"An abandoned dwelling is one that gets the most advantageous rate," he said. "That's a problem."

At one point in Wednesday's conversation, audience members joined breakout sessions to discuss the rate increases.

Mark Willard, Haven Hospice facilities manager, said he came to the event to find ways to cut Hospice's utility costs.

"As a nonprofit, we want to be able to be good stewards of our money," he said. "We're always looking for better ways to control utilities."

Each breakout group looked for ways GRU could improve rates with regard to affordability, accountability and openness. The groups then made their points on how to deal with the rate increases. The feedback will be used for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Energy Study Group.

In one breakout session, County Commissioner Susan Baird said there should be representation for all ratepayers.

"These rates just keep going up and it's getting harder for families," she said.

Pinkoson said he hoped the event would provide useful solutions to the rate issues.

"I would hope some of the ideas that come as a result of the input people give here get brought forward and hopefully get implemented," he said.

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