By Caitlyn Finnegan
The Gainesville City Commission is preparing to tackle the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget – but first it wants input from the community. Commissioners let residents voice their opinions for future spending plans during the fifth annual “Focus on the Future” city forum Tuesday evening at the Gainesville/Alachua County Senior Recreation Center.
The event drew a crowd of more than 50 residents and city officials to discuss topics including public transit, economic development, urban planning, environmental concerns, public safety and parks and recreational funding.
Attendees filled oversized notepads with ideas and recommendations during the two-hour long roundtable discussion period, covering issues ranging from road improvements to transparency in government funding.
Some topics drew larger crowds, with the tables designated for transit planning and public safety filled completely and surrounded with additional observers. Commissioners at each of the discussion tables provided residents with current action plans and listened to the outpouring of feedback.
“All of this community input is what makes Gainesville the great city it is,” Commissioner At-large Lauren Poe said.
Although the topics covered a wide range of city issues, many of the recommendations from residents overlapped.
Early intervention was a recommendation for both public safety training and encouraging higher graduation rates to promote economic growth. Residents discussing both economic development and parks and recreation agreed that areas across the city, not just on the east side, need attention and could benefit from more green spaces and cultural centers.
The need for a more diverse selection of transportation options was presented at both the transit planning discussion and the economic development discussion, with residents noting that the inconsistencies in service for different parts of town affects both local businesses and people going to and from jobs.
Potential options were also presented for funding the 20-year master plan for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, with most of the discussion groups favoring a sales tax that would be similar to the Wild Spaces & Public Places half-cent sales tax.
The commission hopes to hold a virtual town hall meeting sometime in June to gain even more insight from community members who may not be able to attend the in-person meetings. “The more online opportunities we provide, the broader the net cast for gathering feedback from the community as a whole,” Poe said.
All current members of the city commission except Mayor Craig Lowe were present to participate in the discussions. Mayor-elect Ed Braddy was also present at the meeting. Braddy observed each of the different topic groups to listen to public comments and responses from city staff. “I came to listen, and it was really very productive,” Braddy said.