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Gainesville approves $50K for ice storm cleanup
City dips into contingency fund to handle downed trees
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City approves changes to alcohol ordinance

The Gainesville City Council has formally approved changes to the alcohol ordinance, which include lowering seating requirements at restaurants; allowing for a monetary fine in place of a suspension of an alcohol license for ordinance violations; giving the city marshal full authority to approve or deny alcohol licenses; expanding taste tests at local farm wineries; and allowing growlers stores to obtain special event permits to sell pints.

The move has been hailed by many local residents and business owners, who said the ordinance had stifled growth.

The changes are opposed by Councilman George Wangemann, who cast the lone dissent.

The Gainesville City Council voted Friday to allocate $50,000 from the general fund contingency budget to support continued cleanup efforts in the wake of this week’s ice storm, which sent trees and limbs crashing onto homes and power lines.

Public Works Director David Dockery said all roads in the city had been cleared and were passable Friday afternoon.

But the scope of work remaining is “tremendous,” Dockery said, as hundreds of trees must still be chopped up and removed.

“I’ll tell you one thing: This city looked like a war zone,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

With so much storm debris left to be removed, Gainesville officials also took the unusual step of suspending some city ordinances regarding the volume of vegetation that residents can place curbside for pickup. Fees for excessive volume have also been scrapped.

The changes will also allow commercial tree-trimming businesses to leave vegetation curbside for the city to pick up.

Officials said tree limbs should be separated from other storm debris, such as roofing tiles and fencing.

The changes will remain in place until the end of March.

Dockery asked for patience, as cleanup efforts will take several weeks.

“We have a colossal task in front of us,” he added.

There is no estimate on the storm’s total cost to taxpayers thus far, but Dockery said disposing of trees and other debris could run $65,000 alone.

Dockery said Public Works employees had already logged 173 overtime hours by midday Wednesday.

Councilman George Wangemann said the storm’s financial toll could be in the millions of dollars when both public and private costs are tallied.

And with the prospect of more ice and snow falling in the next week, city officials cautioned that more damage may be on its way.

“We have a long way to go,” Councilman Bob Hamrick said.

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