COMMISSION APPROVES INITIATIVES

Indigent care tax to appear on Nov. ballot


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 1:17 a.m.
Alachua County voters will have an opportunity to approve new taxes for roads, recreation and indigent health care, and enact campaign reforms under initiatives that county commissioners agreed Tuesday to put on fall ballots.
The measures call for a quarter-cent sales tax for indigent health care and a half-cent each for roads and recreation.
Also, voters will be asked if campaign contributions should be limited to $250 and whether campaign finance reports should be filed with the elections supervisor earlier than the current law allows in order to give the public better access to the information.
The campaign finance changes would only apply to the five county commissioners and the five charter officers - the clerk of courts, sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector and elections supervisor.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut is the driving force behind the health care initiative. It would provide assistance to indigent residents. Services would include primary care, specialty care, medicine, hospital and dental care, and case management.
A focus would be on improving access to health insurance, targeting employers with no more than 50 workers and with a median wage of $12 an hour or less. Insurance costs would be split with one-third paid by the employer, one-third by the employee and one-third by the county.
While commissioners had little quibble with the measure itself, they were split on Chestnut's request to put it on the August ballot rather than the November ballot, which generally draws the most voters.
Chestnut said the August ballot will be packed with races that should draw voters.
"This doesn't solve all of the problems, but it certainly begins to address the issue of the 22,000 people without insurance in Alachua County," Chestnut said. "The Aug. 31 ballot will have all of the races - County Commission, (state) representatives."
The commission voted 3-2 to put the issue on the August ballot with Mike Byerly and Penny Wheat opposed.
Byerly said putting the item on the Aug. 31 ballot was an attempt to put it before only the most committed voters, who might be more inclined to vote for it.
"I understand why the people advocating for this want to put it on the August ballot - when fewer people vote, it's easier for an organized constituency to get approval," Byerly said.
Another ballot initiative will be an additional sales tax for roads and recreation. It was not decided Tuesday whether the two items will appear as one initiative or two.
Also undecided is whether the extent of the projects to be funded through the recreation tax will have to be scaled back.
As it stands, the money could be used only for new facilities. The commission will seek approval of the state Legislature to allow municipalities that would get a share of the money to also use it for operations and maintenance.
Before the election, voters will be given a list of specific road and recreation projects for which the money must be spent.
Finally, the commission agreed to put campaign reforms to voters.
Under the proposal, contributions would be limited to $250 - the maximum is now $500 - per election cycle, including the primary, runoff and general election.
An advisory committee initially recommended a limit of $200. During Tuesday night's public hearing Doug Hornbeck, a candidate for elections supervisor, suggested changing it to $250. Hornbeck said that amount is easier to explain - that it is half of the state limit. The vote to change the limit to $250 was 3-2 with Byerly and Wheat dissenting.
Campaign reports would have to filed earlier than the Friday before last election - the current practice. That would give the public more time to review the reports before voting, according to supporters of the proposal.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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