County wrestles with annexation


Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:06 p.m.
Last year's annexation of 15,000 residents into the city of Gainesville left the Alachua County Commission in such a financial pickle that soured board members may contest the next one.
Residents of a 667-acre tract north of Butler Plaza could vote to become part of Gainesville as early as April. University of Florida student leaders gathered the required signatures hoping to take the issue to the voters - mostly student apartment dwellers.
The county lost $2.4 million in the first annexation that caused a ripple effect felt across all departments.
The most recent annexation prospect - home to about 5,400 residents - is expected to drain more than $1 million from the county.
On Tuesday, the County Commission is expected to approve a letter asking the city to develop a transition plan that would take into account the financial impact the annexation has on the county and lay out a strategy to slowly shift responsibilities - fire service, law enforcement, waste collection - from one jurisdiction to another.
"That will help solve a lot of this turf guarding and territoriality," County Commission Chairman Rodney Long said Friday during the first of a two-day planning retreat being held at Poe Springs.
With a projected shortfall of $23.9 million in four years, the county is already struggling to identify funds, whether it be through new taxes or departmental cuts, to balance its 2004 budget.
While the issue of annexation did come up Friday, the County Commission, for the most part, skirted discussion on the financial crisis.
That likely will come today.
County Manager Randy Reid plans to outline the depth of the problem and a possible solution. He has told the commission it likely will have to consider a property tax rate increase to the highest level allowable under state law.
Such an increase would mean residents owning a $100,000 home would have to pay out an extra $76 a year in property taxes.
Even so, that's not likely to cover the shortfall. Other taxes and fees are being considered, particularly to help the county fix deteriorating roads and build new ones, and construct new recreational facilities.
Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut, Penny Wheat, Mike Byerly and Long indicated they would support the placement of a 1-percent sales tax referendum, possibly on the fall 2004 ballot. The money could be split between roads and parks.
The commission meets again today at 9 a.m. at Poe Springs.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

COUNTY:

Transition is sought

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