Meeting explores 5 cent gas tax

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2003 at 10:25 p.m.
Gainesville City Commissioner Chuck Chestnut on Monday took the Alachua County Commission to task for years of waffling on imposing an additional 5-cent gas tax while local roads crumbled.
"Are you guys going to do this or not?" Chestnut asked during a special joint meeting of the two boards to discuss how the proceeds of a nickel gas tax could be split among the county and its nine cities. "We did this two years ago and nothing came of it. I'm not sure anything is going to happen this time."
It appears this County Commission may go all the way.
County commissioners Mike Byerly, Rodney Long, Lee Pinkoson and Cynthia Chestnut, who was not in attendance at Monday's meeting, have indicated they would consider the tax to help rebuild some of the county's disintegrating roadways. Among the candidates for repair are SW 20th Avenue, NE 53rd Avenue, NW 91st Street and County Road 225 in front of the Gainesville Raceway.
Commissioners can impose an extra 5-cent gas tax by supermajority vote with support from four of the commission's five members.
That vote could come in the next three months.
In order for the tax to be collected beginning Jan. 1, the County Commission has to make a decision by the end of June, according to state statute.
One obstacle facing the county and its decision to impose the new tax may have been scaled. At Monday's special joint meeting, the County Commission and the Gainesville City Commission tentatively agreed on how to share the proceeds of an additional nickel gas tax, which would generate about $6 million a year.
About $1.2 million of the yearly collection would be earmarked solely for mass transit, possibly to build a multimodal transportation facility in the downtown area, bus pull-offs, shelters and park-and-ride lots.
"Investing in mass transit is the most cost-effective way to reduce wear and tear on our roads," Byerly said.
The rest of the money is to be split among the county and its nine cities based on a formula that takes into account population and the number of miles of roads in the jurisdiction.
That could mean the county receives about $2.5 million a year from the tax, and Gainesville about $1.6 million a year.
Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Braddy balked, saying that more money should be put into the roads rather than into buses.
"We are having this conversation because this money might be needed to deal with a backlog," Braddy said. "I have to doubt that the construction of bus bays would help alleviate that condition."
But in the end he added he would likely support the decided-on formula.
County commissioners are considering higher gas taxes as part of a four-pronged funding strategy including an extra penny sales tax, impact fees and grants, aimed whittling down a $200 million backlog of county road projects.
County Commissioner Penny Wheat is against imposing the tax by supermajority. She instead favors having the public vote on the measure.
In coming months, both the city and the county are expected to negotiate an exact formula and develop a list of road projects that could be constructed with the money. State statute prohibits using the gas tax money to cover operational or maintenance costs.
Janine Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or

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