It is expected for the Gainesville City Commission to approve the proposed General Fund Operating Budget for 2021. The budget totals approximately $137.8 million dedicated to Gainesville’s environment, transit system, police department, health programs, and community development, along with other programs.
The budget affirms Gainesville’s end goal of becoming a “zero-waste” community. It allocates approximately $11.2 million for further development of the city’s composting program and effectively educating its residents on recycling and contamination. The 2020 budget allocated $230,000 more for these programs than did this year’s budget.
The community group known as “Zero Waste Gainesville” plays a prominent role in influencing the city’s environmental policies, advocating for the ban on plastic straws and the hiring of an official sustainability manager. However, the group has not been able to persuade the City Commission to raise the environmental budget this year.
The proposal also addresses Gainesville’s Regional Transit System. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, RTS has significantly reduced the number of riders for each individual bus.
To help alleviate this, the CARES Act awarded Gainesville $13.1 million. A portion of that will be going toward a purchase of 12 new buses. The budget also explains that RTS will purchase another electric bus with their $1.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Low-No Grant.
Additionally, funding for the Gainesville Police Department will increase by about $220,000. Mayor Lauren Poe claims this money will go toward getting body cameras for every GPD officer.
This increase in funding led to heavy backlash, especially from the nonprofit organization Dream Defenders. The group’s founders formed Dream Defenders after the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin. They work to abolish the current police and criminal justice system.
The Dream Defenders hosted a Zoom and Facebook Live event to question the city commission’s decision. They hoped to give marginalized communities a chance to voice the ways they have been affected by the racist criminal justice system.
In response to this, city commissioner David Arreola implied that change is not likely to occur this late in the budget-making process. He mentioned that if this uproar had happened earlier in the year, the Dream Defenders might have seen the results they wanted. However, he reaffirmed that “this could be a great segue into the next budget discussion.”
The Gainesville City Budget proposes transferring savings from the termination of the Joint Aviation Unit to the Community Resource Paramedic Program in order to support healthcare needs in Gainesville. It also allocates about $4 million more than was allocated in 2020 for health insurance benefits for retirees.
Considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the health care needs of Gainesville are significantly more important than before. This is especially true for the elderly and minority communities who are more likely to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. With this in mind, the budget says this increase will further address the health care needs of the community.
The budget proposes approximately $266,000 dedicated to the Cultural Affairs Fund. This is a $100,000 increase over what was proposed in the 2020 city budget.
Floridian municipalities often cut funding for programs driven by art and culture. Current chair of the Cultural Affairs Fund David J. Ruiz has been critical of this. He wrote that in 2019, “Florida now stands at 48th out of 50 states in arts funding. Florida was previously number 10 in the country in such funding.”
This doubling in budget, while small, will provide citizens greater access to the arts and cultural programs.
Featured image: The Gainesville City Hall sign. Unmodified photo by Ebyabe used under a creative commons license. (https://bit.ly/3kdB0Tr)