Mayor Harvey Ward said Gainesville needed to modernize aspects of the city, bringing 21st century technology to customer service at Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU), adding commercial solar to its energy mix and creating a dashboard so citizens can track city progress.
During a meeting with media on Friday morning, Ward addressed broad initiatives the city is working on along with specific projects and his thoughts. He expressed his views on single-family zoning and interim charter officers during Thursday’s city meeting. But, other projects include behind-the-scenes work he’d like to move forward.
Ward said the city has worked on a dashboard that citizens can access to track anything from crime rates to GRU’s energy mix, homelessness and more. The dashboard could also compare Gainesville’s statistics to other peer cities like Athens, Georgia; Knoxville, Tennessee and Columbia, Missouri.
He said the city already has the data—a lot of which gets collected for presentations or reports to Tallahassee. However, Gainesville needs to work on synthesizing it in a useful way to present for citizens.
“I would rather have something out there that I can remind myself of and that the community can remind me of and our commission of,” Ward said. “Great is good, but useable is better.”
Ward said the idea of a community dashboard has existed since he began serving as a commissioner but has never reached a final stage.
While the system may need perfecting, Ward said something good and useful now is better than waiting for a flawless rollout. He said he’d like to air the dashboard—GainesStats—by the State of the City address on Feb. 14, but the city doesn’t have a hard date.
Technology could also boost GRU’s customer service. The city might be constrained on utility rates, Ward said, but it can be responsive to citizens and not add long waits to high bills or other problems, he said.
Part of that could be bringing in third parties to help during peak seasons, Ward said. GRU has already completed contracts with a third-party firm to ensure meters are read each month. The firm should begin work this month.
Connected with GRU, Ward said the city needs to move forward with solar energy. The city is contracted with Origis Energy to produce a 50-megawatt solar array, but the project is still searching for an appropriate site after a location in Archer failed.
Ward noted on Friday that the city, through its contract with Origis, lacks a final vote in the solar array location. For future projects, he said the city needs to negotiate for final authority of the location to make sure it fits with surrounding residents.
“We need to be looking at maps as a commission of where the science works and where the people work, and then we can figure out who our partners are,” Ward said.
The city extended its contract with Origis in December 2021.
Gainesville set a net zero goal for emissions by 2045. Ward said battery technology doesn’t yet allow for total solar, but the city needs to push for further solar, giving a goal of 200 megawatts.
It would be nice if the commission would look, objectively, at all the costs of going solar instead of just what the city expects to pay up front.
True ‘NET ZERO’ should include ALL the costs involved including from the product and material design stage through project end of life. It’s not as inexpensive as advertised and ongoing operations, maintenance and administration is often overlooked. Passing the elements of cost onto other companies isn’t true ‘net zero’.
You mean you are going to produce legitamate timely Financial Statements to the State and Public?And all meetings will be in the sunshine , full citizen input without censorship and held in a place with adquate audience capacity?