Chase seeks a second term in District 2

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 4:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 4:07 p.m.

In 2011, City Commissioner Todd Chase came into office and soon began conveying concerns about the terms of the biomass contract and its impact on electric rates and Gainesville Regional Utilities’ finances.

At first, Chase said, he felt like the lone voice of concern among seven commissioners. He recalled former Mayor Craig Lowe once comparing him to Chicken Little at a commission meeting for the dire tone he often used when discussing the impact the biomass contract would have on Gainesville Regional Utilities’ future finances and electric rates.

Move ahead to May 2013, when the commission majority voted to send Chase to New York City so an elected official was present at a mediation session with the biomass plant owner over a multimillion-dollar contract dispute going through arbitration.

Chase said he feels this turn of events showed that during his time in office his concerns over the financial and rate impacts of the biomass contract and the expense of government in general for residents and businesses had gained traction with his fellow commissioners.

Chase said he felt the same has happened with his call for commissioners to become more involved in the oversight of GRU.

“What I’m most satisfied with is that we are at least talking about it,” he said

Seeking a second term in District 2, Chase, 47, said working for the future financial health of the utility remains his primary focus. It is an issue that permeates city government since the transfer of utility revenues and money generated by the utility tax are very much the lifeblood of the city’s general fund, he said.

“While I’m in office, my main priority will be focusing on the long-term viability of the utility,” he said.

In the midst of an ongoing community debate over potential changes to the governance of GRU, Chase said he feels the lack of county representation needs to be addressed when roughly 30 percent of the utility’s customers are outside the city limits. He’s previously said that GRU needs a decision-making board with more utility expertise.

Still, he said he has misgivings over some portions of the bill that state Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, is mulling to require a vote of GRU account holders on whether a new utility authority board should take over decision making from the City Commission.

Specifically, Chase said a vote of account holders would mean that some registered city voters would not have a voice and that was a cause for concern.

He was also troubled by the current draft of the bill that would have the governor appointing three members of the board that would make decisions for the local utility.

He said he would like to see the City Commission take the lead on an open-minded discussion on potential changes to governance, with the participation of the County Commission and input from residents and the business community.

Ultimately, he said the decision on any change to utility governance should lie with the city’s voters.

Chase said he appreciates the commission’s push for renewable energy sources through the biomass plant and the solar feed-in tariff. Noting that the city says it has already reached its carbon reduction goals, Chase said there needs to be a balance between affordable rates and environmental responsibility.

“This is not about cheap power. Cheap energy is just a word thrown out by people who want to stir up the issue. The term cheap energy has never left my lips,” he said.

“I think there has to be a better balance between environmental responsibility and affordability. I think the average person knows the difference between cheap and affordable.”

Looking ahead to 2014, Chase said a key issue is a potential county transportation sales tax referendum and the City Commission’s decision on a project list to submit for funding.

In 2012, Chase was the lone city commissioner to vote against opposing the County Commission’s transportation sales tax referendum that removed the city’s transit projects.

The point of contention that year was bus rapid transit. Chase said roads should be the main priority of a transportation tax but money should also go toward bicycle facilities, sidewalks and transit.

Chase said the city should focus on improving the current bus system, adding routes and cutting down on the time between buses, instead of a rapid transit system.

Three years ago, Chase said he ran because of the financial impact that the cost of government could have on senior citizens or those of moderate to low income. He recalled the money concerns that his mother, who has since passed away, expressed after the commission adopted the fire assessment.

He said he still keeps that in mind when voting on spending and budgeting issues.

Chase said he feels he has treated city residents with respect and listened to their concerns during his time in office. He said he supports the current limit of two terms and won’t run for city office in the future.

“I hope people have seen things in my first term that will make them support me in my second term,” he said. “Then I will be on my way.”

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