Agenda for progress
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 9:49 p.m.
For a better community in 2003, The Gainesville Sun recommends the following:
The Sun's Quality of Life survey this fall showed a shocking lack of public confidence in local governments. That sentiment was also reflected in the 2002 election results and the defeat of several county and municipal commissioners.
Restoring public confidence won't be easy. The key to doing so is for officials to stop their ill-tempered quarreling, a la the Gainesville City Commission; work more cooperatively with one another across jurisdictional lines; reach out in a more effective manner to the business community, neighborhood groups and non-profit agencies; and, above all, to treat the citizens who come before them with the respect and consideration they deserve.
Residents are sick of traffic jams, unsafe intersections, substandard roads and so be it. County commissioners must muster the courage this year to increase the gasoline tax and implement transportation impact fees. Failure to do so will be an admission that our elected commissioners have no intention of addressing the county's backlog of unmet transportation needs.
The voters spoke loud and clear on this in the general election. In a straw poll, 70 percent of the voters said they want it done. Both the city and county firefighters unions support the measure. The only holdouts are turf-protecting city commissioners. The time for turf protection is over.
The city's annexation of a populous area of southwest Gainesville this year caused big financial problems for the county. We think it is Gainesville's destiny to continue to incorporate out into its metropolitan area, but city officials should do so in a planned, measured fashion that will make county government partners in, not victims of, Gainesville's expansion plans. An annexation transition strategy is sorely needed.
Half of the elementary schools in Alachua County are operating at 75 percent or less of capacity, while six schools are over 100 percent. The School Board must undertake a comprehensive rezoning this year that will better utilize existing classrooms before this district can hope to get state assistance for new schools.
UF's Board of Trustees will begin a new presidential search soon. The next president of the University of Florida should be someone who is strongly committed to using the university's intellectual and fiscal resources to helping its host community revitalize its neighborhoods, improve its core commercial areas, create new economic opportunities and otherwise enhance the quality of life in Alachua County.
The initiative begun by the Alachua County Commission to engage in a visioning process with all of the county's municipalities - to arrive at a common vision for future growth - may be one of the most important priorities of 2003. A partnership of local governments is essential to implementing any sort of workable comprehensive planning.
It's time for Gainesville and Alachua County to ditch their reputation for being "anti-business." That will require commissioners to work more closely with groups like the Alliance for Economic Outreach and make a serious effort to rewrite regulations and ordinances that unnecessarily discourage job growth. Permitting processes can be streamlined and simplified without sacrificing the public interests or harming the environment.
It would be a disservice to all concerned if environmentalists, farmers, landowners and builders continue to fight out their differences over the comprehensive plan in court. Alachua County commissioners are positioned to make a few key compromises that should result in a plan that all concerned can live with. After years of work, it's time to stop fighting over the plan and begin to implement it.
The city failed to act on an emergency homeless shelter in 2002. The county's poverty rate of 22 percent is still far above the state average. Addressing problems like homelessness, affordable housing, poverty abatement and so on will require the cooperation of the city, county, school district, business community, churches, non-profit groups and other stakeholders. County Commissioner Rodney Long has called for another poverty summit as a starting point. That's a good idea.
For all the impressive health-care facilities in our community, we are one of the few metropolitan areas in Florida that has no Level I Regional Trauma Center for the treatment of accident victims with severe injuries. The nearest one is in Jacksonville, 80 miles away.
This year, officials of Marion and Alachua County should work together to establish a trauma center at one of the major hospitals in the two counties.
The continued failure of this community to invest in adequate parks and recreational programs is shameful. Compared to peer cities like Tallahassee, Gainesville's parks and recreation program is anemic. Our collective parsimony on parks and recreation cheats our children and devalues the quality of life in this community.
A number of important initiatives already under way - Plan East Gainesville, the effort to attract new carriers to the airport, redevelopment of the county fairgrounds and so on - promise to make dramatic improvements in what has traditionally been the most economically depressed area of the county.
The taxpayers have continued to invest in infrastructure and improvements on the east side; it's time for the business community to step up and match those public improvements with private capital ventures.
Funding local transportation needs, rezoning schools and establishing a trauma center are among the goals for 2003.
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