County may raise tax on gas


Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 12:46 a.m.
Once again the Alachua County Commission is giving serious consideration to passing an extra gas tax - up to 5 cents - to fill-in potholes and repave the county's crumbling roads.
For the county to begin receiving the tax on Jan. 1, 2004, a move would have to come before the state's June 30 deadline.
The state requires a "yes" vote from at least four out of five commissioners to impose an additional gas tax. Without a supermajority, the tax could go the same way it did in 1999. The County Commission initially passed a nickel gas tax, but it never went into effect because former Commissioner Chuck Clemons, who was the fourth vote, withdrew his support.
So far, three of five commissioners - Rodney Long, Cynthia Chestnut and Mike Byerly - said Saturday during a planning retreat they could support a gas tax to help pay for the maintenance of the county's existing roadways.
"I think we should bite the bullet," said Chestnut, who urged her colleagues to commit.
Newly elected Commissioner Lee Pinkoson was undecided, and Commissioner Penny Wheat had several objections to the proposed tax.
Unless the gas tax is imposed, the county is expected to continue to have a difficult time fulfilling its daily road duties because it is facing a significant cash shortfall - some $23.9 million spread over four years.
"We have maintenance needs. We have potholes," County Manager Randy Reid said. "We have to fix those."
Reid suggested that some of the money could also be used to improve or build new bike paths and fund beefed-up bus service, possibly for Gainesville's eastside.
All of the cities in the county would also receive a share of the taxes, although Gainesville, home to the majority of residents, would have to agree on how the money would be allocated.
Should the county impose the additional 5-cents-a-gallon tax without reaching agreement with the city about how to split the new money, the city's share would be even higher under the state's default funding formula.
Pinkoson, who likely will be the swing vote, was noncommittal about a gas tax. He said he didn't have enough information, particularly regarding how current gas taxes are being spent.
"If we want to show credibility, then we need to show what we are doing with the gas tax now," Pinkoson said.
County staff did not have a list of how the money is expended on Saturday, although they plan to prepare one for the board in coming weeks.
"If we need to justify we are being frugal with what we have, then we will," Reid said.
People filling up with gas at the pumps in Alachua County now pay 7 cents in locally imposed taxes and another 4 cents in state imposed taxes.
The state gives the county the ability to levy up to 5 cents more, which could impact gas prices that already rank among the highest in the state.
It's unclear why gas is so expensive in Alachua County. Sixteen of Florida's 67 counties actually have higher gas taxes than Alachua County, according to a January 2003 report by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Wheat could be the lone dissenting vote on the nickel-gas-tax measure. She indicated she would not support a gas tax passed by the commission.
"I believe very strongly in a referendum," Wheat said. "I believe the people should decide."
Besides, Wheat added that the county has contributed to its financial shortage by failing to impose impact fees in years past.
Residents can expect the County Commission to consider impact fees as part of a long-term transportation-improvement strategy.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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