Even though a bill state Rep. Keith Perry introduced for three consecutive years was vetoed Friday, he plans to continue giving the people what he believes they need.
Gov. Rick Scott vetoed House Bill 1355, which would give Gainesville residents a chance to vote to create a self-governing Gainesville Regional Utilities board. If approved, the board would have consisted of five members who would each be paid an annual salary of $18,000. The salary was one of the main reasons Scott vetoed the bill.
Perry said the plan was for the board to meet publicly once a month in addition to working on issues and improvements throughout the month.
Now, that option is off the table.
Perry said he was surprised and disappointed by Scott’s decision but can understand his public reasoning and rationale.
“The governor’s reasoning was that he didn’t want any board members paid, so that’s his opinion. I disagree with that,” Perry said. “Having people paid versus volunteering … you would hope they would take it more seriously, treat it as a job even though it’s a nominal amount for the people who would serve.”
But utility advisory board member Annie Orlando said she has mixed feelings about the governor’s decision.
Regarding the size of GRU, Orlando believes the annual compensation is reasonable because GRU’s operations are more than $430 million per year, she said.
“(GRU) is running a business, and they want to have good oversight and want get people with expertise on this board who are willing to serve,” Orlando said. “I think there are some good things and a down side, but if the Perry bill wanted to pay people, then I didn’t have a problem with that.”
Even though the bill has been denied again, Perry said he will continue to look into the bill.
“I’m responding to my constituents,” Perry said. “They have constantly talked about the high rates of utilities in Gainesville. If a year from now there are people who are still voicing their frustration and they aren’t happy with the advisory board, then it is certainty something I would be looking to run again.”
In order to become a board member, Orlando said, one had to own a company with at least 25 employees, be a GRU ratepayer and have certain expertise in different areas such as electric, utility law and financing.
Orlando, who owns the company Atlas Screen Printing with her husband, got involved in 2011 when she applied for the Feed-in Tariff program, she said.
At the same time, she began running into people who were going to the city commission trying to prevent the Gainesville Biomass Plant from being built.
“I found that there was a lot of similarities between my situation and their situation,” Orlando said. “That’s when I started looking really closely at GRU and how things were getting done and how the decisions were being made.”
Since then, Orlando has been following the GRU issue and has served on the Utility Advisory Board.
“I thought, ‘What’s going on here? What’s going wrong? And how can we fix it?’” Orlando said. “That’s what motivated me.”
Orlando said the Utility Advisory Board will have its first meeting April 12 as a new group of members. They will make recommendations for the city and the governance of GRU, she said.
“I’m not really sure where the board is going to go now that the Perry bill is out of the picture,” Orlando said. “It’s really going to be up to the advisory board to do a good job.”
Orlando said she thinks there is still a lot of work to get done and changes to be made. Regardless of what happens with the Perry bill, Orlando said that because it has been vetoed, it gives the board a little more responsibility and pressure.
But, she said, the board will continue to run.
“It’s like a business like my own in many ways,” Orlando said. “I’m looking at this and saying, ‘Man, this is an operation that you should be making money in and be profitable and we shouldn’t have the highest rates in the state.'”