City OKs slight hike in tax rate, electric rates

Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

The City Commission gave final approval Thursday to general government and utility budgets that include a slight increase in the property tax rate and a hike in electric rates from the biomass plant.

The approximately $107.2 million general government budget includes an increase in the property tax rate from the current year's level of a little less than $4.50 for every $1,000 of taxable property value to just under $4.58.

The budget and tax rate both passed 4-1, with Commissioner Thomas Hawkins in dissent, Todd Chase out of the room and Randy Wells absent. At prior budget meetings in July, Hawkins voted against the budget because he felt it lacked spending for programs he deemed a priority. That included some $1 million for signalized midblock crosswalks and other pedestrian safety improvements that did not make the annual budget.

The more than $400 million Gainesville Regional Utilities budget and an increase in electric rates passed 4-1, with Mayor Ed Braddy in dissent and Chase and Wells absent.

With the biomass plant coming online, the bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month will go up from $127.67 to $141.15.

The increase would have been more substantial without a series of moves that included a reduction in base rates, a bond refinancing, the use of money typically earmarked for construction to pay off debt and the hotly debated move to charge customers above actual fuel costs in recent years to build a fund intended to limit rate hikes from the biomass plant.

That fund is slated to stand at almost $22 million at the end of this current budget year and is expected to be spent down in two years.

Starting next budget year, GRU residential electric rates will be among the highest in the state, based on monthly comparisons from the Florida Municipal Electric Association.

Commercial electric rates that already hovered toward the high end in the state will rise. An office using 1,500 kwh would see its bill rise from $222.50 to $250.50. A GRU staff comparison with 13 other Florida utilities showed that as the highest bill for that usage.

Most city fees will increase by 5 percent next year.

Costs for parks and cultural affairs programs, except youth and children's programs, will increase more substantially — by 15 percent — under a surcharge recommended in the department's long-term master plan.

The city's fees passed 4-1, with Braddy in dissent and Chase and Wells absent.

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