Gainesville City Attorney Recommends Revising Ordinances to Reflect Fuel Adjustment Practices
Published March 5th, 2013
GAINESVILLE - More than five months since members of the Gainesville City Commission first requested more information on GRU's fuel adjustment fund, Gainesville's city attorney has released a memorandum stating the utility has been using that money to cover allowable costs associated with the new biomass plant.
The 10-page memo stops short of calling the practice of saving up fuel adjustment money for biomass-related expenses legal, but does suggest that changes be made to a couple of existing city ordinances so that they are "reflective of the city's desired rate practices."
One of the ordinances suggested for amendment is a 1985 fuel levelization provision, which allows GRU to build up its fuel adjustment fund if it's deemed in the public's interest, something the utility is doing now in order to offset costs associated with the biomass plant after it goes online.
But former members of the city commission who helped draft the 1980's ordinance say the fuel levelization fund was never meant to be used in this way.
"We were able to show the cost of fuel in the electric bill, and that was the sole intent of that ordinance," says former Gainesville mayor and city commissioner Mark Goldstein, who left office one year before the ordinance passed, but was still very involved in crafting the provision's language.
"We didn't intend, when we created this ordinance, for it to pay private companies, to lower costs or to raise costs, or to subsidize their particular problems in contracts," said Goldstein. Despite the city attorney's memo, Goldstein says he believes the practices currently in place regarding the fuel adjustment fund are illegal.
But when speaking to city attorney Nicolle Shalley over the phone, she seemed to imply that the original intent of those who crafted the ordinance is irrelevant when it comes to the city's current interpretation.
"Whether or not that was the original intent of the people who approved it in 1985, certainly you could talk to those people, but the city's practice in interpreting it all these years, that's what puts meaning into the words," said Shalley.
Gainesville city commissioners will discuss these possible ordinance revisions next month, according to the city attorney's office. Shalley says the commissioners can return part of the $20 million currently in the fuel levelization fund back to GRU's ratepayers, if they so choose.
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