City and County Commission Discuss Future of Fire Station and GRU

By on December 9th, 2013

The Alachua County and Gainesville City Commissions held a special joint meeting Monday to discuss the future of Fire Station 19 and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) Governance.

The Gainesville City Commission voted to begin negotiations with the Alachua County Commission on the transition of Fire Station 19 in the Southwest 20th Avenue Area. The vote also included a workshop in January to further discuss the negotiations.

Alachua County Commissioner Charles Chesnut and other commissioners voiced the importance for holding a workshop on negotiations before staff begins discussions of the sale of the station.

“There’s no sense of a workshop. It doesn’t make any sense to me to have a workshop when you’re already directing staff what to do,” said Chestnut.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly believes the annexation of the Fire Station to the city should also include Forest Park and the surrounding area.

“I do think it’s important to include in our direction to staff, that when they’re negotiating, this is not just about the fire station. If there’s any infrastructure we think needs to be part of the discussion, I don’t know how you want to address that, but that parks got to be included in the discussion,” Byerly said.

Fire Station 19 is currently under county control, but the City Commission hopes negotiations will end with the transition of the fire-rescue services to city staff. The station was first built in 1999.

The Alachua County Commission and the Gainesville City Commission also debated over the future governing authority of GRU at their quarterly joint meeting.

Mayor Ed Braddy explained the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s report on an appointed utility board released late last month. The chamber hopes the nine member board can also represent customers who don’t live in city limits.

“On our regional utility committee, which currently is chaired by Commissioner Todd Chase, we would add a seat for a county commissioner. You all would designate someone to sit at that committee level. So, my thought would be that since that some of the issue, how does that 30 percent receive representation?” Braddy asked.

City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins was very supportive of GRU customers serving on the board.

“And one of those myths is that you can get better representation of the community through an appointed board than you could through an elected board. I don’t think anybody could exist that is more representative of the residents of Gainesville,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins also said an appointed governing board would have no more expertise or be any less political than an elected board.

Hawkins also suggested the County Commission reduce the cost of utilities bills for people who live in unincorporated areas.

“First thing it ought to do is lower utility tax. That’s something the county commission can do without looking at the city commission, without looking at the state legislature, without looking at the chamber. County commission has entirely within its power to reduce that tax. And it’s substantial,” said Hawkins.

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