Updated 10:30 a.m.: Gainesville residents did not have the privilege of overseeing their utilities provider and they won’t anytime soon.
A bill in the Florida House of Representatives that would have given local voters the option to create an oversight board to help govern Gainesville Regional Utilities is now dead according to state Rep. Keith Perry, R- Gainesville.
House bill 1325 was originally filed in early March by Perry in response to complaints from citizens about high electric rates, which he noted are the highest in the state. As the bill was moving through the house, he said he believes its process was hindered by the city.
“The city has spent a lot of money on very high-paid lobbyists, with one intention: to kill the bill,” he said. “They did a good job of maneuvering and getting the right people to not hear the bill.”
The Regulatory Affairs Committee postponed their consideration of the bill this week. However, since the Committee will not meet again during this legislative session, the bill will not progress.
Additionally, the highly debated bill would have capped the transfer of money to the city’s general fund at 9 percent of GRU revenues.
Commissioner Todd Chase is confident that the city is managing GRU well, but does want to see a more permanent change to the governing structure in the future.
“I was originally opposed to the first bill that was released,” Chase said. “But in the end I was ultimately leaning towards having a vote of the people to at least determine if they even want to change the governance.”
Chase said he and the rest of the commission are working on language for the next ballot to allow voters to choose. He commends Perry for doing what he believes is in the best interest of his constituents.
“Perry has been an instrumental figure on keeping pressure on the city commission to take action,” Chase said. “We’ve [city commissioners] taken some significant steps to move towards what Perry was trying to do.”
While Perry hopes the city will address voters’ concerns itself, he has already started work on amendments to the bill and plans to re-file it in the next session, which will open in January of 2016.
“If the city comes up with what I think the majority of GRU customers want,” he said, “then I would have no reason to push anything in Tallahassee.”