Fact check: commission candidates

Virginia

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Over the course of several political forums, Gainesville City Commission candidates have shared their opinions on some of the biggest issues facing the city, while also suggesting changes.

At two of the most recent forums, the Business Community Coalition and Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation (GCAT), District 1 Commissioner Charles Goston and At-Large Commissioner Harvey Budd faced off against their challengers, Gigi Simmons (District 1) and Gail Johnson (At-Large). Candidate Tyra Edwards wasn’t present.

The Gainesville Sun fact-checked several statements made during the forums as part of an ongoing effort to inform readers about the upcoming city election. Here are some of the claims:

Golden Corral

At the business forum, Goston said Golden Corral was coming to Gainesville.

Currently, no plans have been submitted to build a Golden Corral within city limits, according to city officials. City officials have recently reached out to a representative of the restaurant to inquire about any interest, but nothing has come of it.

Goston has said for several years that Golden Corral, as well as other businesses — Publix, Outback Steakhouse and Olive Garden — would start popping up in East Gainesville, but so far none have have submitted plans to do so.

RTS

While discussing needed improvements for Regional Transit Systems, Budd said there are “two” bus systems within the city, one for the University of Florida and one for everyone else.

Budd likely meant that UF receives better RTS services, compared with the rest of the city. And while it is true that buses have routes around UF, RTS is the city’s only bus service. The university provides about half of the funding for RTS and has several buses taking students and faculty to different parts of campus and the city.

GRU rates

Also at the business forum, Goston said Gainesville Regional Utilities' “high” rates are burdening businesses and that he has attempted to lower bills.

GRU officials acknowledge their commercial rates are among the highest, if not the highest, in the state. The City Commission in December established an enterprise zone, in part, to retain Double Envelope, a manufacturing company whose general manager threatened to leave the city if the company’s monthly electric bill structure wasn’t lowered. Goston supported the initiative in hopes of attracting other businesses to the area. However, he also voted against the GREC biomass plant purchase, which GRU officials said would lower commercial and residential utility bills. He was absent for the 2017 GRU budget vote where commissioners approved a 2 percent rate increase.

CRA funding

Simmons and Goston implied that funds for the Community Redevelopment Agency aren’t being spent fairly across the CRA’s four districts, particularly in East Gainesville. Goston, who sits on the CRA board, called it “financial abuse.”

It's true that the Eastside CRA is the least funded of the four districts. But it's also true that funds from one CRA district cannot simply be transferred to another CRA district. Funds for those districts are generated by taxpayers living within the areas, but the city and county commissions can pour additional taxpayer dollars into projects.

Funding cuts

Budd said the Legislature has cut funds away from affordable housing in recent years.

Budd is correct to say state lawmakers are gutting affordable housing funding. According to the Miami Herald, Florida lawmakers have consistently pulled money collected from affordable housing trust funds over the last 10 years and used the money elsewhere. The latest reduction calls for $182 million to be pulled away from affordable housing initiatives.

Road safety

At the transportation forum, Johnson, Budd, Simmons and Goston said there are issues with the way people get around town and that local government could do more to prevent traffic fatalities.

According to Gainesville police statistics, there were at least 14 fatal crashes that killed 15 people in Gainesville in 2017. At least eight of those fatal crashes were vehicles hitting people and one was a vehicle hitting a person on a bike. There were two recorded fatal crashes involving vehicles and a motorcycle and motorized tricycle.

GPD stats show that four of the accidents occurred in each northwest, northeast and southwest Gainesville. Two were on East University Avenue and none in Southeast Gainesville.

Southeast Fourth Street

Goston said at the transportation forum that he “forced” the City Commission to redo Southeast Fourth Street. He has claimed credit for the renovations throughout his campaign.

It is true that Goston has vocally expressed support for the initiative. However, Goston was absent for the Nov. 16, 2017 vote when the commission awarded a contractor the bid to work on the project and to ask the city manager to finalize that contract.

On Dec. 7, 2017, and on Jan. 4, commissioners were given updates on the project. Motions were made, by Adrian Hayes-Santos and seconded by Helen Warren, to accept the presentations. Goston supported each motion.

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