County punishes Newberry for lack of sheriff's funding


Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

A program that would allow Newberry to earmark tax money for redevelopment was shot down by the Alachua County Commission on Tuesday because the city has not started its own police department or joined a county tax for sheriff's service.

The program would have dedicated future city and county property tax money for revitalization of downtown and an adjacent blighted area.

"The whole idea behind this is to prevent sprawl," said Newberry city planner Lowell Garrett. "We want to centralize the growth pattern. It is absolutely imperative that the old city be redeveloped under this process."

Commissioners have for several years been trying to get municipalities without their own police departments to enter into the municipal services tax for sheriff's patrols paid by unincorporated residents, or start their own departments.

The commission has pledged to withhold favors, such as recreation money, to the cities that don't participate. That was at the core of Tuesday's commission decision.

"I want a clear, clean course of action," County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. "I want to deny this today and have them bring it back when they have the law enforcement issue worked out. This gives you an incentive to work out the law enforcement."

Newberry wants to create a community redevelopment area, commonly called a CRA. Such areas have defined boundaries, and the current value of property within the boundary is established.

Revenue from future property value increases within the area is then set aside for revitalization projects.

Under Newberry's proposal the CRA would divert $73,056 in county taxes and $36,572 in city taxes from 2008 through 2012 calculated on a 2 percent increase in property values. Amounts would be higher if values are higher. Projections were not made beyond 2012.

Gainesville has a number of CRAs. Alachua, Hawthorne and High Springs also have them. From 1995 to 2005 the CRAs have diverted about $9.2 million from the county's property tax coffers.

Newberry officials said the city is studying three options for law enforcement — starting its own department, joining the county's municipal service tax and contracting directly with the Sheriff's Office.

City Commissioner Alena Lawson said part of the countywide property tax money collected in the city is spent on law enforcement, arguing that Newberry is paying its share.

"The city of Newberry has always operated in good faith," Lawson said. "I ask that we operate in fairness. Newberry is a part of Alachua County. We are growing. I ask that you not deny this."

The vote to deny the plan was 3-2; Commissioners Lee Pinkoson and Rodney Long dissented.

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