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Rise in Gainesville property taxes on horizon
City must pay for new firefighters hired with federal grant
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With less revenue coming in, the city of Gainesville is proposing to increase its existing millage rate by 0.26 mills.

That increase, which is equivalent to $26 per $100,000 of assessed property value, is necessary to balance the proposed $25.5 million budget for the 2011 fiscal year, city staff say.

The council held the second of three public hearings about the proposed budget prior to its work session Thursday morning. Although no residents chose to voice their opinions about the budget, Councilman George Wangemann expressed why he opposes the proposed millage rate increase.

In 2009, the city accepted a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responder grant, which allowed the department to hire 18 new firefighters. The grant required that the city maintain a certain level of staffing for the fire department, which could lead to a millage rate increase to accommodate the extra staff.

“My opposition to the increase has nothing to do with my support of the fire department,” Wangemann said. “I said (in 2009) that I did not support (accepting) the grant because of the possibility of a tax increase.”

According to City Manager Kip Padgett, because of the staffing requirements of the grant, the city’s firefighters will have to be removed from the city employee furlough policy.

The proposed increase is the first one the city has had in six fiscal years. In 2005, the millage rate was 1.69 mills. That figure dropped every year until it plateaued in 2008 at 1.43 mills, where it remained until the current budget proposal was presented.

On the same token, while the millage rate decreased, property tax revenue increased every year since the 2005 fiscal year — except this fiscal year, when revenue dropped from $5.1 million in 2009 to $4.9 million.

The city council will host its final public hearing on the proposed budget June 22.

In other action during the work session following the public hearing, Tina Wetherford received the council’s informal approval to proceed with a utility roundup program.

“Currently, we budget some money to help customers (that are having problems paying their utility bills), but this year that money was used up in six months,” said Wetherford, Gainesville Public Utilities Department finance and administration division manager.

The roundup program would give interested customers the opportunity to choose to have their utility bills rounded up to the next dollar. The spare change would be rolled over to the Community Service Center, which oversees the utility assistance program.

“The program wouldn’t impact any one customer too heavily, we anticipate that we would get around 50 cents from each customer that chooses to opt in,” Wetherford said.

If only half of the city’s 46,000 customers chose to participate, the program could generate around $11,500.

After the city department has gotten the proper software in order, city customers will receive a notice with their utility bill, that will allow them to donate their change to the roundup program.