Agenda for progress

Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:35 p.m.
City-county relations: Gainesville is about to attempt another large annexation. We can write the script:
County deputies and fire fighters will oppose it as a threat to their job security. The County Commission will complain - with justification - that the city hasn't kept its promise to strike a model services transition agreement. And the annexation will likely fail as voters wonder what all the fuss is about.
The annexation war is a symptom of a larger problem. The city and county should have consolidated their fire-rescue departments years ago. Both the city and the county compete to serve the same metro area.
We continue to believe that the metro area would be better served by a unified city-county government. But the politicians will never go along, for to do so would dilute their own power.
Unless leading citizens this year take up the cause of unification - as happened in Athens, Ga. - Gainesville and Alachua County will continue to be a house divided, one that serves neither city nor unincorporated taxpayers very well.
Energy security: Gainesville Regional Utilities has recommended building a $445 million, 220-megawatt coal-burning plant to meet the community's future energy needs while reducing pollutants. That proposal has come under heavy criticism from community activists who object to building a coal-fired plant because of concerns over global warming.
The City Commission seems to have adopted a "study it to death" position. But in 2006 commissioners should make a decision about Gainesville's energy future. If they don't like GRU's recommendation, then commissioners must be prepared to support an alternative proposal that will meet community environmental standards, ensure reasonable rates for future GRU customers and accommodate growth.
Better schools: This year, the School Board may ask voters to approve a local option sales tax for new schools and additional classrooms. That may be a hard sell, especially for voters on the eastern side of the city who have segregated and underutilized schools in their neighborhoods. If they want to rally voters around a school tax, officials must come up with an action plan to address a large black-white achievement gap and the racial-economic segregation of many district schools.
The good news is that community groups are ready to work on those goals. In 2005 the local NAACP launched a school reform initiative, and the United Way kicked off its "Success by 6" campaign. School Superintendent In addition, Dan Boyd should also expand the district's partnership with UF and Santa Fe Community College to address those pressing issues.
Economic development: The pieces are falling into place. UF has a thriving tech-transfer operation. Gainesville is redrawing ordinances and regulations to better accommodate spin-off companies near campus. Alachua County has begun to take a more active interest in economic development.
In 2006, all of the partners - UF, the city and county, Santa Fe Community College, the school system and the private sector - should come together behind a single master plan to responsibly promote job growth and economic development. The Council for Economic Outreach is the logical entity to coordinate and implement such a unified effort, with adequate financial support from local government.
Small town growth: Development pressure is leapfrogging the Gainesville metro area out into the small towns. The small municipalities must deal with those growth pressures even as they struggle to pay for basic services like law enforcement, fire protection and recreation without heavy county subsidies.
The good news is that cities like Newberry, High Springs, Micanopy and Archer seem determined to protect their small town identities. Some of the small cities are beginning to adopt impact fees, hire additional planners and even implement restrictions on "big box" retail outlets and other incompatible development.
Their challenge in 2006 will be to implement strategies that will protect historic downtowns, encourage urban infill and maintain definable city borders surrounded by rural greenspace. To the extent that the small towns can collaborate to jointly finance public safety and recreation services, that will also help to preserve the quality of life assets that define small town living.
Civic center: Alachua County commissioners have the opportunity to raise a 4th cent "bed" tax for a project that will spur economic development and help attract new visitors. This community has a crying need for a convention-civic center. Cities like Lakeland, Tallahassee and Daytona Beach have built facilities that not only draw out of town visitors but provide space for community events as well. Such a center should be strategically located in close proximity to UF and be situated so as to support downtown redevelopment and east Gainesville development goals.
UF governance: For nearly three years, UF has refused to recognize the United Faculty of Florida as a legitimate bargaining unit. We do not disagree with President Bernie Machen's contention that America's best universities do not have unions, but rather depend on a system of collegial "shared governance." But virtually every court and Public Employee Relations Commission ruling has determined UFF to be the legitimate bargaining unit.
UF is the only state university in Florida that has yet to make common cause with its faculty union.
To be a world-class institution, UF needs a world-class faculty. But recent surveys have pointed to faculty morale problems that must be addressed. The dispute is over; it's time for Tigert Hall to forge a collegial working relationship with its faculty union.
Homelessness: After years of ignoring the problem, city and county commissioners have finally come together behind an ambitious plan to end homelessness in Alachua County within a decade. While the goal is commendable, both the price tag - as high as $8.4 million - and the implementation figure to pose major obstacles. In the past, efforts to expand homeless services have run into a brick wall of neighborhood and business opposition.
It will require courage for commissioners to launch an implementation plan in 2006.
We would point out that downtown Gainesville has for years assumed the brunt of the burden for hosting homeless services - even as city has been striving to attract high-end housing and new businesses downtown. We hope that commissioners are serious about ending homelessness, but they must insist that services not continue to be concentrated in a relatively small area.

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