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Gainesville approves higher trash pickup fees
Council keeps property tax rates at 2007 levels
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In two weeks, Gainesville residents will pay more for their garbage collection, but their property tax rates will stay the same.

The Gainesville City Council gave final approval to an ordinance on Tuesday that will raise trash and recycling collection fees by $2.20 beginning July 1.

The ordinance was only opposed by Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick, who has previously stated that the city should not raise the fees at a time when most Gainesville residents are weathering difficult economic times.

The City Council also gave final approval to the city’s millage at Tuesday’s meeting, which will cost residents $2.66 on each $1,000 of their assessed property values.

The tax rate is the same as the one the City Council approved when it rolled back the millage in October 2007, but city officials still expect about $300,000 more revenue from property taxes this year than last year.

Gainesville’s Chief Financial Officer Melody Marlowe said the majority of the expected increase in property tax revenues can be attributed to property improvements that occurred during the past year. Marlowe said the city can count on an extra $125 million in taxable property value because of property improvements and additions within the city limits.

Hamrick was also the lone council member opposing the adoption of the city’s tax rate and its $27.9 million budget for fiscal year 2009, which begins on July 1.

In a prepared statement he gave two weeks ago, Hamrick said that some of the city’s proposed projects, such as an upcoming reconstruction of the city’s parking deck, should be paid for by sales tax funds instead of with property taxes or even postponed until economic conditions improve.

"I would advocate a general ‘tightening of our belts’ until economic conditions improve," Hamrick said in the statement.

The belt has been tightened, even if not to Hamrick’s liking, however. The fiscal year 2009 budget is 2.5 percent smaller than the city’s current budget.

In the budgeting process, city department heads were forced to cut their spending. And not all cuts were of departments’ discretionary spending.

To absorb rising health insurance costs without raising taxes, every city department went to the chopping block more than once, and all of them will have to wait on hiring new employees until at least next year.

City Manager Bryan Shuler thanked Marlowe and city budget manager Jay Mancin for making ends meet in the upcoming budget year.

"While we had some difficult choices and difficult issues to face, I’m very proud of what our staff did on the budget — all of our staff, but particularly Melody and Jay," Shuler said.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras echoed Shuler’s gratitude, saying that Marlowe and Mancin "did some humongous things this year to make us have a balanced budget."

When the Gainesville Board of Education decides its millage, the City Council will vote to approve it at that time.

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