Gainesville City Commission proposes ideas to reduce debts owed by GRU

Mayor Harvey Ward says the City has been told to take ‘bold action’ to lower the more than billion dollars of debt the utility company faces
Mayor Harvey Ward says the City has been told to take ‘bold action’ to lower the more than billion dollars of debt the utility company faces
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 7:34 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - The Gainesville City Commission held a workshop Monday to hear ideas about how to reduce the more than billion dollars in debt owed by Gainesville Regional Utilities.

The workshop comes after an audit report from Florida’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee shared 18 findings about the utility’s finances.

The three main findings in the report suggest that Gainesville’s main priority must be to lower GRU’s debt.

“The things that we have to do as a city,” said Mayor Harvey Ward, “the services that we will continue to deliver to our people, all that still has to be done, but we have to find a way to do it and lower the debt as well.”

One of the most popular ideas proposed is either eliminating or significantly reducing the $30 million General Fund Transfer that GRU pays Gainesville each year.

“We’ll certainly work on changing that,” said Ward. “There’s no question that it will be lowered, I don’t know by how much, that’s not just my decision to make, it’s something the full commission will need to discuss.”

The idea received near unanimous support from Commissioners.

At-Large Commissioner, Cynthia Chestnut, floated the most amount of ideas.

Chestnut began by proposing that Gainesville works with the University of Florida to create a partnership where UF would get their power from GRU.

Gainesville has tried and failed to get UF to buy their power from GRU in the past, currently they buy their power from an independent provider.

Chestnut suggested multiple other ideas including a hiring freeze, reducing travel budgets for Commissioners and putting a halt to the Commission’s plans to increase Commissioner salaries.

District 2 Commissioner, Ed Book, proposed leaving the solar contract that the city and GRU have recently been discussing. He said it would not be what he wants to do, but it may be what they have to do.

Perhaps the most surprising idea presented was from At-Large Commissioner, Reina Saco, who suggested she would be willing to eliminate the two at-large seats on the board--one of which she occupies--to reduce costs.

“We’re asked to provide bold action to move in that direction and we will,” said Ward. “I’m not sure exactly what that action will be—today is a workshop, we can’t make motions at a workshop—but as we move through the budget process for the coming fiscal year, we will certainly find ways to do exactly what the committee asked of us.”

The Commission will hold four more of these workshops over the next few months, and a formal plan is not due until October 1.

The next workshop is currently scheduled to take place March 23.

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