Agenda for progress


Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 10:53 p.m.

Given community unification and cooperation, we can make Gainesville an even more pleasant place to live in 2005.

Making Gainesville an even more pleasant place to live in 2005 calls for community unification and cooperation.

Happy New Year, Gainesville. Now let's get to work.

As is our tradition, The Sun begins the new year with a suggested agenda that we believe will help make Gainesville and Alachua County a better, more prosperous and more equitable community.

  • Town-gown relations: The good news from 2004 is that city-UF relations are better than they have been in years. Under the leadership of President Bernie Machen, UF has become a much more cooperative partner in spurring economic and community development.

    The city, UF and business leaders who attended last year's trips to New Haven and Yale returned with lots of ideas for encouraging tech transfers from UF labs to the marketplace for streamlining the development-permitting process and planning the community's future growth. In 2005, those ideas should be turned into policies.

    A recent national report titled "Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda," shows how community-university alliances across the country are creating new jobs and bringing about urban renewal. Gainesville and UF are poised to follow the examples set by the likes of the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, Illinois and Chicago, Old Dominion and Norfolk, Georgia Tech and Atlanta and Ohio State and Columbus.

  • Transportation: It is unfortunate that voters rejected a penny sales tax to pay for road maintenance last fall. But the county's transportation infrastructure represents a multibillion-dollar investment that must be protected. To keep its roads from crumbling, the County Commission will have to find millions of additional dollars this year, either by raising new taxes or cutting other services or both. Allowing our roads to continue to deteriorate is not an option.

  • Better schools: The hiring of Dan Boyd as the new superintendent last year seemed to begin a healing process in a school district that had been riven by low employee morale, poor union-management relations and bad leadership. But a districting plan that essentially resegregates schools along racial and economic lines poses an even bigger challenge in 2005.

    Finding ways to improve test scores and enrich the learning experience at eastside schools whose students are disproportionately from minority and low-income families should be the district's top priority this year. The board will need to allocate the resources necessary to improve schools on the "wrong" side of town.

  • Unification: A blue-ribbon citizens task force on finances will soon likely be delivering the bad news that county government is going to find it increasingly difficult to deliver vital public services in the years ahead. With the county already nearing its legal millage cap, significant additional revenues will be generated only by new growth and development, which in turn will create still more demand for public services.

    We continue to believe that the real problem with local government finances is that we have too much government, that Gainesville and Alachua County have too many overlapping lines of jurisdiction and that the community would be better off with a consolidated government in the fashion of Jacksonville-Duval. In 2005, we hope to see the beginning of a citizens reform movement to unify Gainesville and Alachua County.

    In the meantime, the city and county would do well to look at service consolidation ideas - merging their two fire-rescue operations, for instance - in the interest of efficiency. And in the absence of consolidation, Gainesville should continue to annex into the metro area, thereby relieving the pressure on county government to deliver urban services.

  • Recreation: Notwithstanding the failure of the "rec tax" in November, good parks and recreation programs are essential to this community's quality of life. Gainesville should invest more money in recreation as an essential urban service in 2005.

  • Support plan east Gainesville: In 2005 we call on the city, county, UF, Santa Fe Community College, the School Board and the business community to form an alliance to promote job growth and community improvement in east Gainesville. The addition of new carriers at the airport, UF's decision to build new facilities along Waldo Road and other developments in 2004 bode well for further progress on the east side. The challenge this year is to find ways to convert failed public housing projects, such as the abandoned Kennedy Homes, into vehicles for urban revitalization, to encourage private investment and to provide new incentives for start-up businesses and job creation on the east side.

    Last year, the prospect of building a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the headwaters of Hogtown Creek created community turmoil. This year, Wal-Mart's proposal to build one of its supercenters in east Gainesville may help spur additional economic growth where it is badly needed.

  • Health care: The good news is that voters did approve the sales tax to fund the county's new CHOICES health care program for low-income residents. Implementing CHOICES in 2005 will be a giant step toward making this a healthier community. In the meantime, local officials and community leaders should support Shands' efforts to have its trauma center adequately funded by the Florida Legislature.

  • Energy: Gainesville Regional Utilities has put the city commission on notice that it soon must make decisions to provide for the long-term energy needs of the community. GRU's plan to build a new 220-megawatt mixed-fuel generating station will only be acceptable if it is adopted in conjunction with meaningful energy conservation and pollution-reduction programs. The goal should be to provide energy security while protecting the community's air quality.

    As the year begins, there is an encouraging sense that Gainesville is continuing its evolution from a sleepy college town to a great university city. With a little vision, a lot of planning and a considerable amount of cooperation between the major players in business, government, education and the neighborhoods, this community can become a better place to live in 2005.

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