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Gainesville's lean utilities budget won't last long, director says
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Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall took a cue from the city’s police chief Thursday, telling council members that although his budget is leaner, it won’t last long.

"I don’t want y’all to think this is business as usual, because it’s not," Randall said.

Randall presented a budget to the council Thursday for 2010 that projects the year’s revenues to be nearly $20,000 lower than they were in 2008. The department this year experienced a drop in customers for the first time since 1966, and water sales are also below the department’s projections.

To make up for lost revenue, the department cut back on preventative maintenance and eliminated 20 positions, Randall said.

"Most of these were vacant," Randall said. "But we have had to let a couple of warm bodies go."

Despite declining revenues, the department has been able to increase the amount it transfers to the city’s general fund — the fund that finances most city operations — and keep next year’s water rate increases at 5.5 percent.

The utility director objected at Councilman George Wangemann’s statement that Randall’s newly trimmed budget could stay lean when the economy improves, however.

Randall said that some of the positions and maintenance that has been cut from the department’s budget will need to return to effectively serve customers.

His statements were reminiscent of those of Police Chief Frank Hooper, who said last week that his employees would need raises again as soon as the city’s budget could support it.

"We very much are cut to the quick," he said. "We can’t keep this up too terribly long."

With Randall’s proposal and another meeting with the director of the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center, the City Council wrapped up budget preparation meetings with city department heads Thursday morning. City officials have two weeks to mull over the budget proposals and cut about $750,000 from it before City Manager Kip Padgett presents a final draft of the budget on May 14.

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