Gainesville Regional Utilities rates will increase by just over 2 percent this October.
Wednesday’s City Commission meeting ended in a 3-3 tied vote against the rate increases. As a result of the tie, the previous 4-3 vote to bump the rates by 2 percent remains.
Although Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos had voted for the increase, he reassessed after constituents complained. He asked for a revote, but not enough commissioners changed their mind to impact the decision.
The additional funding will be used to replace aging equipment, Edward Bielarski, GRU’s general manager, said.
“We have 53-year-old units, 45-year-old units,” Bielarski said. “They’re going to break, and that’s what our fleet is comprised of.”
Claudia Rasnick, GRU’s chief financial officer, said GRU rates did not increase for multiple years before last year, when rates increased by 2 percent.
Commissioner Gigi Simmons said residents are concerned about the government’s spending and said the budget should be considered before resorting to raising customer rates.
Residents who both supported and rejected the motion to increase rates agreed that low-income residents who cannot afford higher bills should be considered by the community.
Jeffrey Shapiro, who’s lived in the city for 20 years and rejected the proposal, told commissioners his northwest Gainesville home’s utility bill has not increased significantly since 2012 because he upgraded his appliances in order to maintain a $200 monthly bill.
“Local income residents cannot afford luxuries like upgraded appliances,” Shapiro said. “They need help with their bills.”
Kenya Ellis, a single mother of eight, said to conserve energy in her house, she uses energy efficient light bulbs and windows, keeps appliances unplugged and constantly reminds her children to turn lights off when they’re not being used.
“I won’t even have relatives come visit me most of the time because they say my house is too hot,” Ellis said. “When my daughter and son-in-law come visit, my son-in-law was like, ‘Is she gonna turn the AC on?’ I’m like ‘You gon’ help me pay that GRU bill?’”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said the commission is doing everything possible to keep rates low for residents and reminded them that the average household GRU electric bill is about $20 lower than it was 10 years ago.
“When we cut budgets, when we tighten belts, we say goodbye to working on things like affordable housing, things that we ought to be able to get done in this community,” Ward said.