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Gainesville City Council set to tackle spending needs
Challenges, optimism emerge from council retreat to plan next budget
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It’s all smiles this time of year when Gainesville officials “retreat” to a neighborhood meeting hall and take their first meaningful steps toward balancing next year’s budget.

The 2016 fiscal year may be six months out, but budget time is right around the corner, with first details of the City Council’s priorities and goals revealed Friday.

For now, city officials are confident about how the next fiscal year is shaping up.

“There’s lots of good things going on and lots of good things coming,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

Transportation and infrastructure projects are core agendas, most especially because they signal the willingness of officials to step on the gas. As job growth trickles up and businesses see more opportunity to grow, private industry and local government partnerships are likely to become frequent.

The city’s first priority is then ensuring roads are paved, sidewalks are complete and water and sewer are accessible.

The results we already know. City officials OK’d a 199-lot subdivision off Ahaluna Drive last year. And more commercial development has been proposed on Thompson Bridge following the controversial renovation of Lanier Plaza into a Wal-Mart.

City officials are also considering tax allocation district funding for several local businesses, an incentive aimed at securing additional commercial redevelopment. But there has to be a backbone to economic development, and for Gainesville officials, that comes in the form of water, sewer and roads.

Aging stormwater drainage remains a burden. Officials have long identified the need to replace this infrastructure, but funding is a challenge.

While water rates remained unchanged this year, officials have said they might consider other revenue sources to pay for these upgrades.

Road resurfacing is a never-ending priority, and officials have their eye on projects old and new.

Widening Green Street, like it has for so many years, is said again to be on the table. Any work could potentially include relocating the Post Office entrance, another long-standing priority.

In conjunction with road improvements, officials expressed a desire to finally install welcome signs and way-finding markers throughout the city. The initiative corresponds with increased tourism efforts and rising hotel/motel tax revenues.

Improvements for libraries and parks also are on the agenda. But much of that will hinge on a vote this spring to continue a special purpose local option sales tax. SPLOST VII will fund infrastructure projects for the city and county, if approved. If it’s not, the formula changes.

Finance officials said they expect to use fewer reserves than anticipated to balance the budget this year, a sign that revenues are holding strong with projections.

That could mean salary and benefit increases for some workers, an issue officials said they want to address if the economy continues to show positive signs.

They cautioned, however, that it’s too early to peg whether spending will rise next year. That, in large part, will depend on the demands. Departmental budget presentations will occur in the spring.

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