GRU Authority votes to keep Cunningham, reduce expenses in tense meeting

(From left) Robert Skinner, Ed Bielarski, Tony Cunningham, Craig Carter, Eric Lawson and David Haslam at the swearing in of the new Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority on May 23.
(From left) Robert Skinner, Ed Bielarski, Tony Cunningham, Craig Carter, Eric Lawson and David Haslam at the swearing in of the new Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority on May 23.
Photo by C.J. Gish

In the end, the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) Authority directed staff to cut more than $20 million from the proposed 2024-2025 budget and failed to fire General Manager Tony Cunningham after a 2-3 vote. 

But it took a while to get to the end results as Monday’s nearly three-and-a-half-hour special meeting, with only one item on the agenda, was shot through with tension between board members and unexpected tangents.  

“I almost want to fire you to put you out of your misery,” Craig Carter said of Cunningham during a heated exchange with Chair Ed Bielarski, who voted with Vice Chair David Haslam to dismiss Cunningham.

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At the end, Carter and Bielarski both stated their passion to strengthen GRU moving forward, leading to some confrontations during the meeting. Bielarski said he believes the budget is in a strong place.  

The GRU Authority finalized a major decision concerning the general services contribution (GSC) funds the utility sent to Gainesville’s general government each year.  

GRU staff presented multiple scenarios for the GSC, and board members said they’d like to recoup $68 million in excess funds sent to the general government from 2018 to 2023—a number still disputed by general government staff.  

The motion, proposed by Carter, directs GRU to keep the money transfer even at $15.3 million per year for the next decade while holding back $6.8 million of that transfer per year to recoup the $68 million overage. Meaning the annual transfer, if finalized in future meetings, would be $8.5 million. 

Gainesville’s general government has prepared for an elimination of the GSC, presenting two budget scenarios to the City Commission. The two scenarios were a GSC that stayed at $15.3 million and one that eliminated the GSC.  

Carter’s motion also included recommendations that Bielarski presented in a special slideshow. Other board members, including Carter and Eric Lawson, disagreed with Bielarski’s manner of presenting the information, calling it a surprise as none of the information was included in the backup documents or given to staff ahead of time.  

However, the recommendations passed.  

Bielarski said that GRU can cut more than $12 million from the budget. Now, GRU staff will alter the budget accordingly and present the potential impacts to the board members on June 26.  

That meeting will determine the budget, whether it includes all, some, or none of Bielarski’s recommendations.  

Bielarski’s presentation pointed to flaws that he sees in the budget. Cunningham returned on Monday and recommended the same budget as on May 29, which Bielarski said could be cut further.  

Cunningham said he and GRU staff returned to department leaders and decided to return with the same budget because of the potential risks associated with further cuts to operations and maintenance.  

Cunningham said GRU has reduced operations in the past two years while dealing with higher costs. He pointed out that Monday’s budget recommendation has no rate increases, keeps enough cash on hand for 250 days of operations (giving confidence to credit rating agencies), meets the debt reduction plan and invests in future infrastructure.  

Bielarski said his cuts—primarily defunding 27 vacant positions and reducing GRU’s anticipated payments for electricity used by the utility—would then allow further funds to be used for rate reductions or debt payments.  

“I’m extremely disappointed that I have to make these recommendations, but that’s how we should operate,” Bielsarksi said, calling out what he said was “fluff” in the budget.  

Bielarski said GRU staff wouldn’t own up to the mistakes he found in the budget, instead further entrenching behind the numbers. 

Several other areas that he pointed to in the presentation were clarified by GRU staff and dropped, including a request for qualifications about a gas plant and service level agreements with general government.  

In a separate motion, the GRU Authority passed another series of recommendations by Bielarski. The recommendations focused on keeping the Authority in the loop on any changes and the status of the integrated resource plan, Main Street Wastewater Reclamation Facility projects and service level agreements with general government.  

The motion also directs the budget and finance staff to review the formula that creates the GSC. Staff will analyze the appropriate percentage of GRU’s net earnings to be considered in the formula. 

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R Nelson

As a GRU customer over 30% of my monthly utility bill goes directly to the city. When adding the monthly city utility taxes and fees, garage service fee, and storm water runoff fee, these charges represent approximately 30% or more of my monthly GRU bill. This total does not include the monthly percentage of my GRU bill that used as part of the annual transfer of GRU revenue directly to the city general revenue fund.

I am but one low consumption GRU customer. When all of these charges and fees, for all GRU customers, is added up I am sure that the final amount of the annual payments made to the city’s general revenue account easily exceeds $15 million dollars! I further believe that this amount could be $215 million dollars annually and the city commission would still find a way to waste every last penny!

Christine Baker

The city has recklessly spent millions on radical wasteful ideas, mainly with transfer funds and increasing property taxes, which are outrageous! Keep cutting. Don’t give the city another dime!


GRU really used to work for the citizens, not the city. There used to be almost no general transfer to the city and, as a result, GRU used to have the lowest rates in the state. Why does the city need to keep sucking money out of the hands of the customers? It’s very disappointing and obviously not necessary. Our GRU board members should review the utility’s finacial history going back maybe 40 years to see how it used to achieve those low rates.


Unfortunately city management is incapable of running the city finances so they are always seeking funding.


That is the reason these money grubbing , failed and inept, Commissioner’s have been fired