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Gainesville City Commission holds first vote on 2020 budget, tax could increase 4.6%

About one month after being recognized as the college town in America experiencing the highest rent increase, residents of the city of Gainesville can also expect to see tax increases during the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

Mayor Lauren Poe said the budget proposal includes an all-in increase of 4.6%, two percent of which will be GRU rates alone. Some of the new tax revenue would go toward funding new positions within the city government, two new positions on the GPD focusing on minimizing arrests and jail-time, and increasing current wages for city employees and RTS workers.

Other costs that the new tax revenue will cover are more controversial among affected citizens, such as the 29 new positions created to replace prison labor.

“You’re going to have to pay 29 employees for what you were getting for free,” resident Gary Williams said. “That doesn’t really make sense.”

At the first budget approval meeting on Sept. 12, Gainesville citizens unabashedly raised questions and concerns about the tax increase. The final vote is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Residents called into question the legitimacy of the tax increases, and one noted, “Fiscal Year 2021 is expected to have a surplus. So why are we raising taxes?”

According to the city’s proposed budget, there are a few other reasons why 2020 is going to be a more expensive year overall.

Of the estimated $449,559 deficit the city will face in 2020, $445,000, or 98.9%, will be taken up by the one-time expenditures such as a proposed broadband study to assess the feasibility of extending internet across the city and the 2020 census.

For residents like Laura Ann Bjornson, a 58-year-old resident nurse, the problem isn’t paying for infrequent expenses like the census or maintaining the infrastructure.

“I know roads and fire protection are not free,” she said. “If only my wages were going up at the same rate.”

During the public meeting, commissioners addressed the concerns that the citizens present vocalized. The problems can’t be fixed in one year, Commissioner Helen Warren said during the meeting.

But for former city commission candidate Annie Orlando, owner of Atlas Screen Printing, the problems go back much farther than one year.

“She [Commissioner Warren] had almost six years to do something about the mess her and her colleagues have made with the city’s finances, their refusal to limit or cut back on their own wasteful spending,” Orlando said.

After Orlando shared the Gainesville Sun article on the FY-2020 budget to Facebook, residents were quick to comment:

“It’s time to turn this blue city red!” one resident wrote.

“Time to look at housing away from Gainesville,” another chimed in.

“VOTE THEM OUT!!”

But for residents like Rick Sharp, 32, the choice between waiting for the next election or moving away just isn’t viable.

“This is my home, this is where my career is, and where I’ve built my family,” Sharp said. “Personally, I feel trapped.”

Featured Photo: Gainesville City Hall sign. (Unmodified photo by Ebyabe used under a Creative Commons license. https://tinyurl.com/3m8xmaz)

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