GRU

Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Edward Bielarski Jr discusses increasing electric rates with the Gainesville City Commission on Wednesday during a meeting. Gas rates will increase by 0.57 percent, wastewater by 0.42 percent and water by 0.44 percent.

Gainesville Regional Utilities customers might be seeing slightly higher bills after the City Commision approved a 6.4 percent electric rate increase.

The topic of raising rates had been discussed for months, but was voted on during a city commission meeting Wednesday. Gas rates will increase by 0.57 percent, wastewater by 0.42 percent and water by 0.44 percent.

The commission voted to increase property taxes but set a maximum for the rate, also referred as the millage rate. The current rate in the city is 4.74, the lowest in the county.

“We sent out a trim notice where the millage will not go up over 0.55 mill,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos.

Mayor Lauren Poe said citizens cannot control their property taxes but they can control their utility bills.

The commission will meet again in July and September to vote on the final increases. Commissioners Gail Johnson, Harvey Ward and Gigi Simmons voted in dissent.

GRU presented an updated budget at a city commission meeting on Wednesday that outlined a 5 percent electric rate increase and a reduction in the General Fund Transfer (GFT) of $3 million. The GFT is the utilities revenue transferred to the city’s general fund that pays for various city services, such as public transportation.

The utility company initially asked the commissioners to lower the GFT by $6 million rather than increasing it, which would have reduced the impact for customers.

Simmons said the proposed budget concerned her as the increased residential electric rates potentially put the city among the highest in the state.

“You cannot address the challenges we have as a community by reducing the level of service that our customers both expect and need,” Mayor Poe said.

Poe said a proposed Renter’s Bill of Rights will set basic energy efficiency standards that will help lower-income residents who mostly live in rentals. It will have a positive effect on customers’ bills and a negative effect on GRU revenue.

“A challenge for GRU, but it still makes it the right thing to do,” Poe said.

During public comment, citizens and customers of GRU asked commissioners to consider other options before resorting to an increase for taxpayers. Ernesto Martinez, a Gainesville resident and GRU customer, addressed the committee to voice his disapproval for the proposed increases.

“This failure of your own making is destroying our low-income population in this city,” said Martinez, of Gainesville. “And it is evidenced by the people that cannot pay their light bill.”