The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 to approve a rate schedule for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) that will raise the residential rate year over year until 2027.
Thursday’s special meeting contained the second reading for the millage rate, general government budget GRU budget and other financial items.
Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut and Harvey Ward voted against the GRU rate increase schedule. Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners David Arreola, Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos voted in favor.
With the approval, residential rates for customers using 850 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month or less will increase to $0.08210 for 2023. Customers using more than 850 kWh will have a rate increase to $0.1088 in 2023.
The rates come as part of a six-year rate increase plan voted on last year.
Ward commented on the issue, addressing charges that he has changed his stance because of the upcoming elections. He admitted to voting to increase GRU rates last year but pointed out that the circumstances have changed. Last year, the fuel adjustment charges hadn’t increased by 300%.
As natural gas prices bounded upward this year, GRU bills followed suit. Customers began speaking out as Florida’s heat kicked AC units into high gear at the start of summer.
From October 2021 to August 2022, rate increases only accounted for a $6.90 increase at 1,000 kWh while the fuel adjustment charge increased by $50.
Ward called the rate change a “token amount” but said even that should wait.
“I don’t think we should raise rates this year because the fuel cost has gotten out of control,” Ward said at Thursday’s meeting. “I really don’t know how to say it any differently than that, and if somebody chooses to perceive it differently than that, I can’t help you.”
Ed Bielarski, running against Ward on Nov. 8, highlighted the change after the first reading on Sept. 8. He said Ward changes on issues and that his voting pattern has hurt GRU.
“The Mayor needs to be the chairman of the board of GRU, a $400 million plus utility,” Bielarski wrote in a Facebook post. “Harvey Ward’s actions tonight make him unqualified for that position (if he had ever been qualified before).”
For the millage rate, Duncan-Walker stood as the lone dissenting vote on Thursday evening.
While the rate itself will stay at 5.5 mills, that rate will net the city additional money over last year because of a rise in property value. The city estimates an increase of $4.5 million because of the 11.8% increase in the taxable valuation.
To keep revenues the same, the commission would need to adopt the rollback rate of 5.0351—9.2% less than the approved rate.
The commission also approved the budgets for general government and GRU. Those budgets are available online.
The city of Gainesville will add 22 new full-time positions and a budget of $154,356,686.