WINDERMERE — Among 68 recipients of the Florida League of Cities’ 2015 Home Rule Hero Award was Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn, whom the Florida League of Cities recognized with this award for the third time and second in two years.
“These men and women are some of the Florida League of Cities’ biggest advocates for municipal issues, always willing and ready to contact legislators and travel to Tallahassee to be sure a local voice is heard on issues that are important to cities,” said Florida League of Cities Legislative Director Scott Dudley. “It is clear that these public servants have devoted themselves to Florida’s citizens and will remain loyal to their cities and state far into the future.”
For his part, Bruhn has traveled to Tallahassee several times this year to work on legislative issues and has shared his views in publications around the state, he said.
“In particular, there was one bill that was going to force local governments to pay for utility relocations, which the league and I opposed very strongly,” Bruhn said. “We were able to kill this bill, for at least this year.”
On his trips to the state Capitol, Bruhn considers himself not just a representative of Windermere and the Florida League of Cities but also of other groups he represents, such as the Florida League of Mayors Board of Directors.
“I was in Tallahassee multiple times, before and during the session,” Bruhn said. “Having been in this office for 12 years, I know many, many of the legislators, so I end up meeting with probably 10 to 15 over the course of a two-day visit. Obviously, I only have one representative and two senators in our district, but I don’t just confine my visits to them.”
One issue Bruhn and the Florida League of Cities addressed was maintaining local governments’ right to impose a communication service tax, a principle of Home Rule, he said.
“For Windermere, the communication service tax is committed to the loan for the town’s roundabouts, so you can see the importance of that to the town,” Bruhn said. “We were able to get a hold-harmless amendment for local government.”
Another issue Bruhn has addressed as a member of the Florida League of Cities Urban Administration Committee is more stringent standards for sober homes, which the committee had worked on for years until it recently succeeded in helping to pass it, he said.
The utility relocations bill was perhaps the biggest item Bruhn addressed, and as chairman of the Orange County Council of Mayors, he led an effort to send editorials to the 15 largest newspapers about how it could have been the biggest tax increase on Floridians in years, he said.
“I also sent it to subcommittee members that would hear the bill,” he said. “I felt the strength of every mayor in Orange County in opposition to this bill sent a very strong message state-wide.”
In an April 16 letter, Bruhn expounded on how 100 years of law requiring utility companies to relocate utility equipment at their expense to finish public works projects would end if that bill had become law.
“At a time when our residents need more transportation projects, infrastructure improvement, water and sewer expansion, bike paths and lanes, this bill will increase the costs to our local government and hamper their ability to provide these improvements,” Bruhn wrote. “And who benefits by this bill? The utility companies, who are private profit-making entities that will not only save millions by transferring that cost to the taxpayers, but will now have another source of revenue in billing you, the taxpayer, for moving the equipment that they service and that resides on your city’s right-of-way.”
As a key issue, Bruhn said he intends to keep watching for legislation similar to the utility relocation bill, which he believes will arise again.
“We have session starting three months earlier this presidential election year, so we have six months before we start all over again,” he said. “The league and I will be keeping an eye on the bills being filed. We know that medical marijuana will be coming back, so we need to protect our local governments as to the distribution and smoking of it, should it pass this time.”