GNV: All options on table to deal with debt 

Commissioner Casey Willits
Commissioner Casey Willits speaks at a city meeting on Feb. 16, 2023, with Commissioner Reina Saco, left.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission said at a Monday workshop that it’s placing all options on the table to tackle debt at Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) after demands for action by state lawmakers at a proceeding meeting in Tallahassee last week.  

At the workshop, City Manager Cynthia Curry said the city has already implemented an unofficial hiring freeze and the charter officers will develop a new budget from scratch this year, not relying on previous numbers.  

The workshop follows a trip that Gainesville officials took Thursday to respond to a state audit before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC). Lawmakers from both parties on the committee warned the city to take drastic measures to deal with GRU debt

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Gainesville commissioners said the city will tighten its belt on both the general government and GRU sides of the budget. No motions were filed at the workshop, but commissioners will have the opportunity at Thursday’s regular meeting. 

“It’s like we’re on the operating table and we’re in critical condition, and the surgeon is having to make some critical decisions,” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said. 

Commissioners highlighted similar options to reduce spending and reiterated ideas offered by the JLAC. Staff will roll many of those ideas and potential cuts into its regular budgeting process that ends in September. (See full timeline below.) 

The general government’s annual transfer of funds from GRU, known as the general fund transfer, received much attention. The transfer finances around 20% of the general government’s spending, according to Mayor Harvey Ward, and totaled around $34 million last year.  

Several commissioners and the JLAC targeted this money transfer and called for it to be reduced or eliminated.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut listed several possible cuts: repeal the salary increase for commissioners, pause GRU’s solar energy contract with Origis Energy, consolidate duplicate services between general government and GRU, attract UF as a GRU customer, push for a fee from UF in lieu of taxes and possibly raise the ad valorem tax.  

The city has no power to demand a fee from UF, but Chestnut said the commission can ask the Legislature to look at the possibility.  

Duncan-Walker said all options are on the table, including selling Ironwood Golf Course, reducing travel budgets and postponing the city’s Net Zero by 2045 goal.  

Commissioner Reina Saco added that the commission could sunset the two at-large commission seats that she and Chestnut occupy, eliminating two salaries and additional costs.  

One option that several commissioners rejected, however, is selling GRU outright. Commissioners Casey Willits, Bryan Eastman and Saco each spoke against that path.  

“I want to leave for my daughter less debt than what we see, but a utility that is owned by the people it serves,” Eastman said.  

Willits said GRU and its endurance as a public utility was a key part of what pushed him to run for a seat on the commission.   

Ward said the city also needs to take action on the Power District—the subject of an upcoming workshop. 

“It’s high time we make decisions there so we can start generating some tax revenue from a big chunk of downtown Gainesville that just sits there fallow,” Ward said. “And shame on us, and the other commissions that I’ve sat on over the years, for not having moved forward with that with more haste.” 

He said the city might pull back from paying for services everyone enjoys and called on Alachua County along with other institutional partners to step up and cover some of the slack. 

State Rep. Mike Caruso, co-chair of JLAC, attended the meeting virtually. He said he heard bold actions offered by the commission that could resolve the issues. He added that he would attend the next workshop as well.  

Budgeting Timeline:  

  • GRU Budget Workshops: March 23, April 24, May 15, May 22 
  • General Government Workshops: May 17, June 14, August 21 
  • May 31: Commission votes on GRU rates and tiers for fiscal year 2024 
  • July 20: Commission votes on maximum possible millage and fire assessment rates 
  • Sept. 7: First public hearing for Fiscal Year 2024 Financial and Operational Plan 
  • Sept. 21: Second public hearing for Fiscal Year 2024 Financial and Operational Plan 
  • Oct. 1: Deadline to submit plan to JLAC about GRU debt  

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Yvonne Kendall

Thank you, Commissioner Chestnut for constructive Common sense suggestions!

John Corr

After many years of progressive hype, fiscal reality appears on stage.


Fiscal reality appeared on stage years ago but no one on the commission was watching the play.


yep, they were too busy firing people trying to open their eyes.


the whole “owned by the people it serves” joke. funny or not, it doesn’t feel that way to many people that are forced to use it beyond the city commissioners.


Well as least the unwarranted raises , newly hired staff and charter officers will be the first thing to go.
Right Commissioners and Managers?

Angela Casteel

Interesting that Bryan Eastman doesn’t seem to care… he has made it clear he doesn’t care about what Tallahassee has said, and isn’t going to give up things… I can guarantee he didn’t watch the JLAC, because if he had he would know what numbers were place out there.

Kathy Kidder

Why isn’t annexation a possibility? If the city got revenue from all the actual contiguous land occupied by people who benefit from the city while paying only county taxes, we could reduce debt while continuing services.

Jeffrey Chaney

Also the city could sell their golfcourse and other land they own to generate more taxes.


They were order to sell all of city land that is not used by JLAC.


How much revenue can we add from the economic building trip poe hayes santos and Arreola went on to Israel in December?

Jeffrey Chaney

Go bankrupt. start over with no biomass.


Donald Shepherd should be put in charge, he did win the Mayor Seat. But Democrats fixed the election. He wouldn’t have to hire outside help to figure things out. What’s the bill on outside Council? I bet that would decrease the debt.