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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Gainesville City Commission approves GPD budget increase, affirms lift on open container restrictions

City Commission graphic generic
City Commission graphic generic

The Gainesville Police Department’s funding is set to increase next year. 

The Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to approve its 2021 budget, totaling to $137.8 million, including a $220,000 increase of the Gainesville Police Department budget. It also finalizes a stop enforcing open container restrictions, meaning people over 21 will be permitted to drink and carry alcoholic beverages on public property like sidewalks and parks. 

The 2021 city budget will increase Gainesville Police’s budget from $36.33 million to $36.55 million. 

This decision comes after organizers of a local protest last week said the commission was increasing the budget by $1 million during the protest. Their event followed several similar protests during the summer that also called for defunding GPD.

The increase from $36.33 to $36.5 million will buy body cameras for all GPD officers, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said. He added that the claims from protesters about the size of the increase being $1 million were inaccurate.

During public comment, several callers took a stand against the funding increase. One caller said the GPD budget should be reduced and reallocated to programs promoting mental health, affordable housing and ending homelessness. 

“If we have that much money to throw at people with guns who don’t wear masks when they come to eat at my restaurant, we can throw some at the houseless people,” the caller said.

Some callers pushed back against calls to defund GPD, arguing that it would lead to defunding Reichert House, a GPD mentorship program for at-risk youth. Several callers said they were participants of the program as children.

While there was support for Reichert House, the program only makes up 2.27%, or $828,000, of GPD’s budget. Many callers in support of defunding the police didn’t say they wanted Reichert House defunded but called for less lethal equipment purchases, like firearms and armored vehicles, and armed officers. 

“There is no doubt Reichert house made me into the leader I am today,” one caller said.

While Poe detailed how the city budget is approved each year, a several month long process that begins at the start of the previous year, he didn’t specify if the commission could control where in GPD’s budget potential reductions would occur.

After the commission’s vote, residents will no longer receive a citation from law enforcement for carrying open containers of alcohol on public property. The vote was their second in a week supporting the change, because two votes during two separate meetings are required to affirm changes to ordinance enforcement.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis will allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity Monday.

During public comment before the vote, one caller said he was concerned that the lift was too broad and would allow public drinking on any public property, including the steps of the city hall.

“We could even have a keg party there as long as we are socially distancing,” the caller said.

The lift on enforcement might remain in effect for the length of the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency, but it can be removed at any time through a city commission vote.

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