Other projects underway in city


Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.

Last of two parts.

I bring you greetings on behalf of my colleagues on the Gainesville City Commission. I want to tell you a little bit about what's going on in the city, a bit about where my passions lie, and finally, how to advocate to the city about your own passions.

Last week, I shared with you the many construction projects underway in the city. This week, I will share with you other directives that are underway in the city.

* Economic development initiatives: Two of three key members of the city's economic development team are now in place. Former Director Anthony Lyons has returned to his post to lead the Community Redevelopment Agency's efforts to revitalize blighted areas. Erik Bredfeldt, interim director of Planning and Development Services, has been appointed director of Economic Development and Innovation.

Also, City Manager Russ Blackburn is conducting a national search to fill the position of Planning and Development Services director and planning is underway for the 2013 annual Gainesville Job Fair, which will be held from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 10 at the King Center.

Led by policy decisions to implement streamlined delivery of city planning and development services and by collaborative efforts through the CRA and Public Works, the city continues its partnership with the University of Florida and other community business interests to attract high-tech companies, high-paying jobs and spin-off businesses to Innovation Square and throughout our community.

The city also continues its efforts to develop the Power District as a high-technology manufacturing area by attracting light industrial firms such as Prioria, which benefit from producing products spurred by research and talent at UF.

Increasingly, Gainesville is being recognized for its economic development efforts. Recently NerdWallet, an online, independent comparison site for consumers, used three factors — population, employment and income — to rank the city of Gainesville the second-fastest growing city out of more than 475 cities it considered. New Orleans was ranked No. 1, while No. 3 on the list was Fargo, N.D.

* Gainesville Correctional Institution site: The City Commission has approved a plan to purchase the former state prison to provide community services, including assistance to the homeless, in a community-campus setting.

* RTS service to east Gainesville: At my urging, the City Commission has directed the city manager to identify additional funding through the fiscal year 2014 budget process to provide a higher level of bus service for routes serving the east Gainesville community. RTS has also hosted community forums on Bus Rapid Transit and placed a citizen feedback survey online during the forums. Currently, the BRT has a transfer station planned for Hawthorne Road in the Five Points location.

* Collective bargaining: The City Commission policy directive to the City Manager to engage in collective bargaining with city unions representing police officers has enabled the city to reduce the long-term costs of Consolidated Police Officers' and Firefighters' Retirement Plan to Gainesville citizens and taxpayers. In June, new bargaining agreements were ratified by the City Commission. City administrators had previously projected that annual pension contributions would increase to more than $21 million in a few years if agreements were not reached on pension benefit reductions. The new pension agreements with two police unions will result in a projected savings of $2 million over the next five years. Nearly 92 percent of city employees have taken cuts to retirement benefits that are expected to decrease city contributions to employee pension plans by $12 million during the next five years. This means that these cost savings could potentially be used to help lower the rate of increase of future tax rates and/or potentially provide additional city services that taxpayers may request.

* City government diversity: The Equal Opportunity Office has gotten the go-ahead from the City Commission to conduct a disparity study of the hiring and contracting procedures. The results will give the EOE office more authority to impose percentage quotas and other proactive measures to ensure diversity in city government.

* Nuisance abatement: Code Enforcement is piloting two new projects that will ultimately provide greater enforcement in nuisance abatement issues. Now, $10,000 will be set aside to mow and clean the properties of absentee owners. The cost of the cleanup will be added to the owners' GRU bills. In addition, $15,000 will be set aside to provide money to heirs and owners of properties worthy of being designated historically preserved. The money will provide a resource to make the homes habitable so that the resident will be eligible for loans and other resources to restore them.

* Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization: The MTPO has decided to change SW/SE 16th Avenue to a state road and unload on it trucks and heavy traffic from Archer Road. About $13 million had been allocated to expand 16th Avenue from Main Street to Williston Road. Before I took office, it was decided not to expand the road but to add a dangerous and nonsensical slip on Main Street to move traffic from Williston Road back to Williston Road. I am trying to restore that $13 million and move to the original plan to expand 16th Avenue.

* Biomass facility: I support biomass, primarily for one reason. Over time, it will be more sustainable and stable than other fuels. This sustainability and stability will have the same affect on the rates, thereby creating a more consistent billing structure.

* Parent empowerment taskforce: From this taskforce, incredible movements have occurred in the eradication of the "School to Prison Pipeline" and the organizing of the Parent Emissary Program. The two movements are a collaboration of the city of Gainesville, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County branch NAACP and the School Board of Alachua County, along with other not-for-profit organizations. I am now recruiting an army of volunteers for the sole purpose of providing support to parents of school-aged children. If you are interested in volunteering, email your name, phone number and email address to rawlsyh@cityofgainesville.org.

If you have issues for which you need to advocate, send an email to citycomm@cityofgainesville.org or schedule an appointment with a commissioner by calling 352-334-5015.

I can be reached via email at rawlsyh@cityofgainesville.org.

As your District 1 commissioner, I am humbled to be entrusted to serve the interests of this community. I am here and available to you. Please know that I want you to contact me if you have issues that I can assist you with.

Yvonne Hayes Hinson-Rawls is a member of the Gainesville City Commission and represents District 1, which consists of residents in east Gainesville.

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