GNV commission to discuss UF projects, contracts

Meeting table and agenda
Meeting table and agenda

The Gainesville City Commission will meet 1 p.m. Thursday and plans to discuss separate deals with UF, along with how to proceed with litigation against the state.

The commission met last week to discuss how its regular meetings operate, including rules for public comment and switching the start time to 10 a.m. The commissioners still need to take a final vote on the time change, so it has not taken effect yet.

Here are some of the major issues the commission plans to tackle Thursday:

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UF to pay more for RTS services

Commissioners will vote to allow the city manager to execute an amendment to the current agreement between the city-owned Regional Transit System (RTS) and UF.

The amendment extends the transportation contract for another two years, 2022 and 2023, and also increases the rate per hour that UF pays.

For the 2021 school year, UF paid $68.36 per hour. That number will increase to $71.44 for the 2022 term (July 1, 2021―June 30, 2022) and $75 for the 2023 term (July 1, 2022―June 30, 2023).

UF also pays a fixed, yearly fee of $106,536 to allow all employees and spouses of employees to use RTS, along with a $18,696 fee for retirees to use bus routes.

GRU receives invitation to negotiate from UF

On Sept. 9, UF released an invitation to negotiate for a central energy plant project. Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) intends to respond to the invitation and secure the contract with UF to build and maintain a power plant that will provide electricity, chilled water and steam to the campus.

GRU already provides power from its South Energy Center to the UF Health South Campus.

The first step of the process would be for GRU to submit a statement of qualification that showcases the utility’s ability to complete the process. From there, UF will select different bidders to send in proposals.

The commission will vote to allow Ed Bielarski, GRU’s general manager, to begin the negotiation process―submitting a statement of qualification, entering in a contract with JP Morgan as a financial adviser, and executing agreements with outside legal and construction firms.

GRU estimates that the cost to apply for the project will fall below $200,000 leading up to the statement of qualification and will acquire the funds through savings or reprioritizing items already in the utility’s budget.

Assuming GRU advances past the initial qualification, cost could range closer to $1 million―$300,000 to $400,000 for procurement of an engineering, construction and procurement contractor and $300,000 to $600,000 for outside legal counsel.

If GRU wins the contract with UF, GRU will pay JP Morgan a $2.25 million fee under the current agreement. But GRU owes nothing if it fails to receive the bid.

Thursday’s vote would allow GRU to get the ball rolling, and if GRU advanced past the qualification stage, the utility would return to the commission, likely in December, for permission to continue.

Lawsuit to challenge HB 1

The commission will need to choose between two different recommendations on how to proceed with its lawsuit that challenges Florida’s House Bill 1 (HB 1).

The commission retained outside legal counsel on a pro-bono basis to draft a lawsuit for the city.

In August, the legal counsel presented the lawsuit to the commission, and the commission voted 4-3 to move forward.

Now, the counsel recommends retaining additional, pro-bono attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the law firm of Jenner & Block that will work with the current counsel on the litigation.

The outside counsel also wants Gainesville to allow seven other Florida cities to join as co-plaintiffs on the case. The attorneys plan to file the lawsuit by Jan. 1.

However, the agenda for the item shows that the city attorney’s office “continues to recommend against filing this litigation and against allowing advocacy groups (who are pursuing their own positions/agendas) to represent the City.”

The city attorney’s office would end the retention letter with the outside legal groups and have the commission take no future action.

The staff recommendation says the city attorney’s office will continue to monitor and update the commission on any litigation filed in connection with HB 1.

Non-binding resolutions

Two non-binding resolutions also made the agenda for Thursday.

The first, presented by Commissioner Reina Saco, announces the Gainesville commission’s support of the Cuban people and their fight for humanitarian aid, democratic governance, freedom of speech, assembly, religion and press.

The second, presented by Commissioner Harvey Ward, charges the city manager’s office to fulfill a number of activities throughout the year as a response to Gainesville being named a Bee City USA.

The activities include educational programs, installing an authorized BEE CITY USA street sign and creating a pest management plan.

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