The Gainesville City Commission passed the first reading of an ordinance on Thursday that will keep commissioner salaries on the same formula used for years.
The previous commission authorized a change in methodology that would result in a 91% increase in salaries for the seven members starting on Oct. 1, 2023, and the current commission ratified that change on Jan. 19.
However, the city’s new evaluation of finances following a meeting with the Joint Legislative Audit Committee prompted a reconsideration of that change in methodology. The commission voted to scrap the salary raises in a March motion following the audit meeting.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, Commissioner Bryan Eastman and Mayor Harvey Ward changed their vote from January, joining commissioners Ed Book and Desmon Duncan-Walker in the five-person majority.
That 5-2 majority held on Thursday for the first reading with commissioners Reina Saco and Casey Willits in dissent. A future second reading will finalize the decision.
Willits repeated past arguments that the commissioners currently receive pay equal to a part-time job but put in full-time hours. He said the current commission should follow the previous one and aim for a professional commission that anyone, regardless of stage in life or finances, can join without obstacles.
He also said low wages for government officials increase the threat of corruption.
“I think the previous commission made a step forward—a bold, a brave step to professionalize in essence this commission,” Willits said.
Ward said he agrees with Willits but added that the timing has fallen through with the city under scrutiny from Tallahassee and needing to cut budgets. He said that he wants the commission to revisit the issue in a couple years.
City Manager Cynthia Curry and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Tony Cunningham updated the commission of its budgeting process. The two charter officers will present a full plan for the 2024 fiscal year budget on April 13.
That plan will guide the commission through the budgeting season with workshops and votes from May through September. Curry said the commission faces a worst-case scenario of a $38 million hole in its budget, equating to 25% of the general government budget.
The hole would come from entirely cutting the general fund transfer from GRU, but Ward said he doesn’t think the city will face this scenario. At past meetings, he has said the transfer would likely be cut by half and could total $10 million or less. But he has pointed out that the entire commission must make the decision.
Curry said the staff has come up with a new name for the transfer — the government services contribution — and plans to return with a formula that will determine future contributions.
On March 17, state legislators decried the fact that the city has taken more money from GRU over the past four years than the utility has earned in profit—$68 million more according to the state report. The formula, alluded to by Ward at the meeting, could prevent similar excesses depending on the structure.
Curry also said strategic hiring freezes started in March have impacted 39.5 positions on the general government side and 11 positions within the city’s Regional Transit Service (RTS), totaling over $3 million in savings for the current budget.
“It has to be done; it’s not just words,” Curry said. “I want to make sure we share with the commission that we have clearly taken this seriously since March 1.”
Those savings will roll into the next budget as well, she said. The city has also cracked down on purchases and who can make them. The city has used 183 purchasing cards in the past but has limited that to 44 cards.
Curry said that expenditures used with purchasing cards only get reviewed afterward. She said that isn’t the best practice and has begun shifting toward purchase orders which get reviewed before the buy.
She said the upcoming budget cycle will differ from those of the past.
“It’s going to be a sobering experience,” Curry told the commission on Thursday.
I haven’t seen one major thing they’ve cut! Start looping off these goofy positions an offices like climate officer, equity folks, etc. Then cut all salaries over $110k by 15%. Cancel new idea of solar PPA tonight! Not another penny for any entertainment, food, or sports support. We are in desperate times. Ward agreed at JLAC to go big, but hasn’t done crap, just backtracked! He’ll likely be gone by Oct 1!!!
Please don't preach to us about corruption. Please leave LaLa Land. Every Penny of your past kickbacks from GRU is gone. GONE . I think you owe every customer reparations' so you need to cut the City budget by at least $68,000,000. Shame on this regime.
39 jobs have not been filled. But all positions that Candidates were interviewed were allowed to be filled after march 1. How many positions were filled in march. What were the job titles?
The city uses professional temporary employees and contract labor to circumvent the hiring freeze. How many, what are the job title, by department, both GRU and general government, of these types of position' s have been added? Were any of these positions been included in the freeze or eliminated? Have consultants been reduced? So many ways to get around the "hiring freeze". At some point, JLAC will be asking these questions. The City's HR and all other departments needs to submit the answers at each commission meeting. If the City can get 2200 employees paid bi weekly, departments should be able to provide the number of new and contracted employees added during the pay period. Need more detail than 39.5 jobs were affected and a saving of $3 million dollar. Averaging $75, 000 per affected job per year. The math does not add up. Need transparency!
Yes the City Of Gville Commissioner's are good a monkey math and numbers manipulation. One good point about a sobering experience for these people ,it will be a great step forward to drug test them.
The former Commissioners who voted in the Biomess Plant that has caused all the trouble should be held accountable.
Really, pay us more or we are going to cheat?!!
On the last meeting's agenda there was a consent item for $353,000 for a pool slide. Make it make sense to me.