The Gainesville City Commission finalized its property tax rates, fire assessments rates and budgets for the next fiscal year at its regular meeting on Thursday, closing a long budget season.
The series of votes established a 16.9% property tax rate increase, which is a 29.2% increase over the rollback rate. The new millage rate for property taxes will sit at 6.4297 mills instead of this year’s 5.5 mills. The rollback rate, which takes into account higher assessed property values, would have been 4.9764.
The votes also finalized a 3% electric rate increase and 5% wastewater increase.
The new rates come as the city of Gainesville sues the state of Florida in order to keep control of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). State discussion on the relationship between GRU and general government and the utilities debt have dominated the budget cycle, pushing the city to reduce money transfers from the utility and find cuts within the general government.
While the city cut millions in positions and services, Gainesville’s fire and police budgets saw $11 million in increased funding to pay for contractually obligated pay raises. The budget situation led to the higher property taxes to cover general government costs.
Commissioner Casey Willits tried to reduce the millage rate on Thursday, making a motion for 6.4052 mills instead of the staff recommended 6.4297. He noted that the city was able to reduce its budget between setting the maximum rate and the final vote and advocated for the reduction.
The reduction, if passed, would have lowered city revenue by around $250,000. That money, City Manager Cynthia Curry said, would come from Gainesville’s contingency funds for the next year, currently at around $1.2 million.
Willits’ motion failed 3-3 with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker absent.
Mayor Harvey Ward voted against the motion and said Gainesville’s contingency of $1.2 million is a small failsafe against a budget of $156 million.
Commissioner Reina Saco added that the city isn’t sure what will happen in the next year if the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority takes over on schedule in October. She said the city could face another reduction in the general services contribution sent from the utility to general government, forcing the city to dip into fund balance reserves.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut joined Saco and Ward in voting against the measure.
“We must really be very careful about how we tread, and I don’t want to go into fund balance,” Chestnut said. “We have a very, as far as I’m concerned, low contingency.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the property tax rate increase.