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City Council moves forward with school tax increase
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The Gainesville City Council took the first step in adopting the city school board’s proposed tax increase Tuesday, but not without some opposition.

City Councilman George Wangemann spoke against the Gainesville board of education’s proposed tentative tax increase, which will charge residents $7.81 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

"I’ve searched myself in hope of finding a justification for the new school millage and I couldn’t find it," Wangemann said.

Wangemann was the only council member to vote against the proposed tax increase, as other council members moved to approve it, citing the need to move forward.

Before voting to approve the school board’s tentative millage rate Tuesday, Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick noted that the City Council had not been a part of discussions explaining how the city school board ended up in a deficit in the millions.

More important to Hamrick was the deficit’s impact on students in the Gainesville school system. The Ward 2 councilman said it was important to consider that state funding for the schools has been limited significantly this year.

"I’m not one to raise taxes, but in this case, I don’t think we have a choice," Hamrick said.

Hamrick said he was confident that the school board had thoroughly looked at the needs of the city school system, and implied that opposing the tentative tax rate could be detrimental to students.

"I have a lot of confidence in the school board members as they certainly have looked at the needs of the system, and certainly we don’t want to penalize any student that is enrolled in our system," he said.

The City Council has no role in the Gainesville school system’s budgeting process or in setting the school board’s tax rate, but since the city government sends out property tax bills for the school system along with city taxes, the council must formally adopt the school board’s chosen tax rate, city manager Bryan Shuler said.

"We don’t have a role in their budget process, we don’t approve their revenues, we don’t approve their expenses or their budget, but we do bill for their taxes," Shuler said. "... The government entity levying the tax, actually collecting the tax, must pass a millage rate to do so."

Yet Wangemann said that he hoped the school board, which has an estimated deficit of $6.5 million, would spend the money they would receive from the tax increase carefully.

"My hope is that they ... will work diligently to spend less this school year, thus reducing the millage rate that they will have to levy in future years," he said.

Other council members sided with Hamrick, however, and voted 4-1 to give initial approval to the school board’s proposed tax increase. The council will give final approval to the tax rate at its Oct. 7 meeting, three days before mailing property tax bills to city residents.

"I think for the children, we must move forward in this community," Mayor Myrtle Figueras said.

In other business, the Gainesville City Council:

Approved a construction contract with Optum Construction Group Inc. for the construction of a new parking deck in downtown Gainesville. In January 2009, the Gainesville-based contractor will begin building the four-level, 419-space deck in place of the current downtown parking deck, and construction should be complete by July 2009. The total construction cost, including consulting and legal fees, should not exceed $6.85 million.

Amended the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinances to allow license holders to pay renewal fees for the following year by Dec. 15. License holders must file renewal paperwork by Nov. 15, and those who do not pay their renewal fees by Dec. 15 will be charged a penalty equal to 10 percent of the renewal fee, according to the ordinance.

Approved an alcoholic beverage license for Sweetfire Lodge.

Gave final approval to the annexation and heavy industrial zoning of 5.369 acres at 1694 Barber Road. The land is part of the New Harvest Road Industrial Park.

Gave final approval to a request to rezone 2.19 acres at 2023 Memorial Park Drive from residential to general business.

Gave final approval to a request to rezone 10 acres at 1465 Jesse Jewell Parkway from residential to office and institutional.