City officials, residents meet to discuss future

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:48 p.m.

For the sixth year in a row, city government officials, staff members and residents met to discuss the city’s focus on the future.

The Monday night meeting, which intended to gather public input for city commissioners before they begin budget meetings, gathered about 70 members of the community to voice their opinion on topics ranging from redevelopment and economic development to recycling and public safety.

Seven roundtables with different focuses provided residents with an environment to discuss their opinions and ideas for each section.

City staff will summarize the information and bring it before the commission to process before plans for the next fiscal budget are underway, said Mayor Ed Braddy, who attended the meeting.

Residents have the opportunity to “drive the discussion and flesh out new opportunities” for the city, Braddy said.

One group discussion focused on the redevelopment of areas surrounding Kennedy Homes and Depot Road redevelopment. Among the points of discussion were establishing affordable housing in the area, managing parking and retaining wealth in Gainesville.

Resident Nancy Deren suggested emphasizing local business and exporting only surplus goods and services instead of attempting to import what the city could provide for itself.

“We have to come up and work harder to replace the money that’s left town,” she said. “This way, it keeps cash in town and focuses on our unique attributes that we could employ here.”

A common thread throughout different groups was the need to not only improve parking, but improve city transportation overall.

While lowering taxes and finding affordable energy sources are high on Gainesville’s list of challenges, the city is “getting hammered” on transportation, said Gainesville resident Bill Boe, who spent the workshop at the table dealing with economic development issues.

He said that if the Innovation Square takes off as expected, there will be little parking and no new methods of commuting.

In the business vein of the discussion, residents supported a “one stop shop” for entrepreneurs and small business, where they could meet with all city departments at one time. A new business owner could meet with the city, county, Florida Department of Transportation and GRU all at once and set a schedule and agenda for that business.

While one group recognized the need to clean up the downtown area, another group scribbled notes on an idea board for the new Empowerment Center — a building dedicated to aid in ending homelessness in Gainesville.

Ideas about governance, committees and volunteer-based projects for the center bounced among residents.

Deborah Harden, who sat at the round table discussing the center, suggested the city use “skilled inmate labor” for remodeling and developing projects.

Residents expressed the need, if the budget allows, for a fire department master plan that evaluates staffing levels and outlines locations for new fire stations.

Other ideas included a new recycling program to encourage residents to meet a 70 percent recycling goal by 2020 and a millage increase over the course of 20 years to fund the approved Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Master Plan.

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