Motion passes to file bill to transfer control of GRU to governor-appointed board

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Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 1:51 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - The Alachua County Legislative Deligation took the next step to take Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) out of the hands of the city during a public meeting in Tallahassee.

The Republican members of the delegation, Rep. Chuck Clemons, Rep. Chuck Brannan, Sen. Jennifer Bradley, and Sen. Keith Perry, voted to move a proposed bill forward that would create a five-member board to regulate GRU, instead of the city commission.

RELATED STORY: Rep. Clemons GRU state-appointed board proposal heads to Alachua County Legislative Delegation

“The debt is unsustainable. I don’t know if this will solve the problem but we have got to try something. We’ve got to do something,” said Sen. Perry.

Democrat Rep. Yvonne Hayes-Hinson voted against the measure.

“I think we owe our Floridians, our citizens, our commissioners, our elected officials, GRU the opportunity to fulfill the request of JLAC,” said Rep. Hinson.

JLAC stands for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. That board gave the city 18 findings to help get Gainesville into a better financial situation.

At the meeting, delegation members questioned Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward about the utility and the city’s plan to address the large debt it owes.

Members of the public were then given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the proposed legislation. Those against the proposal wore stickers with the phrase, “Let the voters decide” referencing a similar voter referendum in 2018 that failed. The delegation members who voted for the proposal say customers outside of the city are not represented by the utility, Roberta Gastameyer lives outside of Gainesville, and disputes that claim.

“I’m not a city resident, I’m an Alachua county resident. I’ve never been denied a meeting with the commissioner or the mayor. I’ve never been told to sit down and shut up because I’m not a city resident or I can’t come to the meetings anymore,” said Gastameyer.

More Alachua county residents, like Jim Kornish, made it to the Tallahassee meeting to support the proposal. They are debating city leadership’s ability to lower the nearly $2 billion debt.

“(In) 2000, $200 million, 2019, $1.7 billion, 2023 $1.7 billion. If they didn’t take a GFT (General Fund Transfer) at all, not including interest it would take 40 to 60 years to eliminate the debt just by not taking the GFT,” said Kornish.

The bill will be officials filed on April 10. It must then go through the legislative process and be signed by the governor to become law.

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