The city of Gainesville analyzed the budgets for five departments on Thursday as it continues walking through the budget schedule and looking for cuts.
For those five departments, city staff identified $4.2 million in cuts, with only one department asking for an increase for the next fiscal year. Cuts came from 22 unfilled and 8 filled positions, along with programs like youth services and the Ironwood Golf Course. The parks and recreation department took the largest hit with a $3.1 million decrease.
The City Commission voted in April on a 55% reduction in the government services contribution from Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), helping the utility tackle debt but leaving a $16 million hole in the general government budget for fiscal year 2024.
"Nothing that we talked about today makes the city of Gainesville better for the people who live here,” Mayor Harvey Ward said.
He called the budget process a manufactured crisis and said the cuts were forced by the state, not the economy.
In a previous workshop, four of the city’s six charter officers presented budget increases as salary and benefits erased any cuts in administration or services. The police and fire departments also requested an $11 million combined increase, again mostly from stepping up personnel salaries in accordance with union contracts.
The proposed budgets, which will receive final approval in September, include eliminating youth services funding, one city-produced event at Depot Park, funding for July 4 sponsorships, special exhibitions at The Thomas Center Galleries, a stipend for the management of the Wilhelmina Johnson Center and the security contract for Peaceful Sundays.
Several filled positions would also get cut, including the bicycle pedestrian coordinator, nature operations manager and staff assistant positions, custodial worker, golf course manager, golf course concessions supervisor and staff specialist.
Even with the cuts, commissioners eyed additional revenue to offset the $16 million reduction.
"These cuts don't even get close to what we need to fill in the hole at all,” Commissioner Casey Willits said. “They get us down the path, but they don't us anywhere close. And a tax increase is probably the only way we're going to fill in the hole—probably."
Commissioners also discussed the Ironwood Golf Course and potentially selling the asset.
Commissioner Ed Book said the city may need to look at a salary cut from the manager level and up, hitting non-union employees. While painful, he said Gainesville needs to look at the impact of a 5%, 10% or 15% salary decrease.
Book said that decrease might save a job further down the line.
Linda Demetropoulos, nature and culture manager, spoke during public comment about her job scheduled to be eliminated. She said it's tough to see her position removed with no impacts listed, as if she doesn’t do anything for the city.
Demetropoulos explained what the natural resources side of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs department does and how that work ties into the priorities of citizens.
"It's not because you're not valued by our community,” Commissioner Bryan Eastman said to Demetropoulos after public comment. “It's just that the state of Florida decided that they're going to beat up on Gainesville for a little bit, and we are doing our best to live within the reality of where we are. I hope that the weight of all this sinks in on people."
City Manager Cynthia Curry said no position eliminations are final and staff is working to fill empty positions with employees whose job might get removed. The city decided to enact a hiring freeze in March, but some vital positions remain unfrozen, Curry said.
City staff also proposed route cuts to the Regional Transit System (RTS) schedule, including Routes 3, 36, 119 and 121. Those routes mostly impact UF and one in east Gainesville. In the past fiscal year, UF paid around 37% of the RTS budget, and staff said that number is closer to 50% most years, fluctuating based on the number of grants the city receives.
Perhaps you could do an article regarding how GVL got into this situation.
Sue, it goes back several years to the biomass purchase. I too would think it would be a great community service if this publication would detail it to the community.
But I highly doubt it as this news publication is starting to follow the same path as the Gainesville Sun.
I don't know if the commission is just disconnected or chooses to ignore the hard facts.
Every core function from traffic signals to police officers and meter readers/linemen are severely understaffed due to low wages and high workloads (causing high turnover). However, almost all of us have several bosses/managers directly above us and even more above them that provide little or redundant value/services (and they are paid much higher than their private sector counterparts).
Just look at the amount of charter officers and commissioners we have for a city our size, this is very disheartening. I am no fan of the state or governor but the city has no where to look for blame then how the commissions have been running this place for the last 10+ years. Ward/commission, PLEASE look inward at the city government for answers as to why things are as they are, focus on rebuilding the core services a city should deliver and flattening the organization to free up money and hire more frontline workers.
Spot on. Time for major change.
Excellent post! Thank you for that. And I agree - we're definitely top-heavy. I would truly like to see a considered reply to your thoughtful comment from our City leaders. (Main Street Daily News, can you request a response for your readers, please?)
In parallel to your post...
Alachua County has had 2 non-binding referenda votes for city-county consolidation (aiming for a merger similar to that of Jax-Duval) to help eliminate management redundancy and unnecessary costs, but we can't overcome stubborn turf-guarding. Consolidation is a proven budget-paring concept, and we've got great models that would help get us there from here:
Jacksonville–Duval County, Florida
Athens–Clarke County, Georgia
Augusta–Richmond County, Georgia
Butte–Silver Bow County, Montana
Indianapolis–Marion County, Indiana
Kansas City, Kansas–Wyandotte County, Kansas
Louisville–Jefferson County, Kentucky
Macon–Bibb County, Georgia
Nashville–Davidson County, Tennessee
The County residences want nothing to do with your Bankrupt City. Consolidation with Gainesville would give Birth to Springs County in a heart beat. You can enjoy what Gainesvilled has voted for while smirking at surrounding Cities and Counties. Take you Biomess and puff it.
The chickens came home to roost.
I think we should cut the ENTIRE City of Gainesville government and negotiate for essential services with the state. That's the only way local taxpayers will be able to save money. The regressives on this commission will never quit spending and expanding government. They believe that they are your benevolent overlords who have to steer you through life because they know what's best. But that's not how government is supposed to work. Government is supposed to provide essential services only and then get out of the pockects of taxpayers! If they can't do that (and they can't), then get rid of them entirely and re-think local government.
Yep, start cutting at the top! Only 1 of the top 3 highest paid in EVERY department should remain, figure out which 2 are leaving within a week (rock, paper, scissors a good way to choose!). Then, cut 50% of Parks and Rec, sell Ironwood. Any Equity and inclusion or other radical woke-ism cut 100%. Plenty of room left to cut!
The Mayor and the commission once again continue to show their lack of leadership and incompetence. They want to blame the State of Florida for their fiscal irresponsibilities. I would suggest they cut their salaries before they cut anyone else’s and eliminate the useless and redundant positions like “Equity and Inclusion “. Balance your budget like normal responsible people, necessities first. Then put a tax to a vote for fluff and entitlement programs.
Government was never to provide fluff and entitlement programs.
Well said Nancy! Gov is to enable success through reasonable infrastructure. This government has gone out of their way to NOT fix roads, provide public parking, or provide reasonable priced utilities. But they have plenty of time for silly woke money wasting ideas.
Time to look once more at combining Gainesville City government with Alachua County government. Citizens of Gainesville have too many layers of government - state, county, city and special districts. Don’t just study it - do it.
Jim X. You are totally correct.
Heck No Jim. The County Taxpayers want nothing to do with your bankrupt city! You deal with it, No Bail outs for SOS. Gainesville will never change or learn.
Ed Book speaks with experience. Cut the salaries of managers up.
The narcissism and lack of accountability of the commissioners is mind boggling. For these commissioners to have run this city into the ground over decades and refuse to accept any responsibility is eye opening. For years the city commissioners have been (illegally) using GRU as a piggy bank to promote their liberal wishes. Now, when the state steps in and says 'Enough is enough', these children pout and blame others for their own wrongdoing. It's ridiculous. Clean house and eliminate all of their positions.
We don't need seven commissioners to run this city. At least, three of them need to be removed. I'd also like to know if Ward and the Commissioners have taken a cut to their salaries. They need to cut them in half to go back to what they were before they greedily doubled their salaries without input from Gainesville's residents. Their salaries should be affected first, and then the upper management's, managers', supervisors, Union employees, etc. before non-union employees since they're paid less than everyone else.
Stop having meetings about it and just do it.
The present Commission did indeed reverse the earlier (prior) Commission’s vote to increase their salaries, back to what it was. It alone isn’t sufficient to the fiscal challenges ahead. I am struck by some of the disgruntled comments here, whose basic remedies are to just whack gov’t services with a meat cleaver, which is a knee-jerk response at best. The State has most certainly imposed ultimate pressure on the City, and in the process, has revealed its contempt for home rule, local control, and citizens are further disenfranchised., to the detriment of us all.
The State will help GRU . Gainesville can waller in the City Commision pig trough .
They didn't say in the budget that we can't relocate our activities on Sunday let's go to Northwest Park or we can even go to the Northeast pool formula known as MLK... Just saying
I’m choking over here that anyone could mention that we need to raise taxes…….wth
City of Gainesville employee here. You wouldn't believe the amount of monetary waste I have witnessed or heard about from peers. I know about one software program license that was purchased to the tune of $20,000 that was never implemented or used by employees.
Waste is never addressed. And yes I am anonymous to mitigate retribution.