GRU protesters against rate increases take to the streets

GAINESVILLE, Fl. (WCJB) -- Their numbers were few but their voices were loud. Protesters took to the Gainesville streets to express their displeasure about possible coming GRU rate hikes.

We met with those protestors and GRU's general manager to learn what both sides say needs to be done.

The protesters' message is simple, GRU rate hikes hurt the poorest in the community, while GRU's standpoint is people should stand up for what they believe. However, there are ways for affected citizens to lower their bills even if the rates go up.

Protesters want the city commission to find alternative ways to fill their budget rather than raising taxes and rates across multiple city platforms.

Brian O'Brien was one of the protesters, he said "this is a regressive tax. It's going to hurt the poorest people in our community, elderly people on a fixed budget. It's totally unnecessary, the commission should cut their budget and cut the nonsense. This is hurting people they are supposed to be helping."

Commissioners have previously said these rate increases are needed to help pay for amenities Gainesville citizens want like better equity, transportation, and housing.

O'Brien said, "the city has a lot of wonderful goals that we're all for and the commissioner is right people do want these things, the question is what can the people afford and what do they understand they're buying."

GRU's general manager Ed Bielarski says he has no problem with the protesters spreading their message. "If people are affected by GRU they have every right and should voice their opinion and displeasure with what we're doing."

He says many of the poorest in Gainesville's population have infrastructure issues in their homes which keep their rates high. "We have sub-standard housing we have air-conditioning and heating systems that are just totally inefficient and cost the least among us the most to pay for."

But also says there are things those people can do like switching to LED lightbulbs in their home and even a GRU program specifically goaled towards making low-income homes more energy efficient. "We have the LEEP program for people who need a total retrofit of their home so there are things that can be done, they need to call us and we have a team of professionals who will work with them for that."

Gainesville commissioners will have their second vote next Thursday on the issue of raising taxes and rates. Bielarski says if that passes the average 1000 kilowatt customer will see a five dollar and seventy-one cent increase on their bill.