Transportation tax talks roll on as board OKs projects list


Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.

County commissioners continue to forge ahead with plans for a sales tax referendum to fund transportation projects.

On Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a draft list of projects submitted by the county and several municipalities. They also decided to set a meeting with the Gainesville City Commission early next month to discuss how the county, city and the other municipalities would divvy up funds if the tax referendum is allowed on the November ballot and voters approve it.

For months, leaders have been discussing the proposed referendum that would add 1 cent to the 6 cent sales tax for transportation projects. Tuesday’s vote advanced those talks but finalized nothing.

For example, the draft project list has more than 400 county road-resurfacing projects and the transportation capital improvement plans of the county’s municipalities.

Public Works Director Rick Hedrick said all municipalities except the town of LaCrosse had submitted draft project lists, and LaCrosse officials would do so soon.

“It appears they’re going to support this initiative,” Hedrick said of the elected officials from the nine municipalities.

Those lists would have to be significantly prioritized and pared down to arrive at project lists that could be funded by the tax, which state law allows counties with a governing charter to levy through a referendum. Current discussion is a tax that, if approved, would stay on the books at least 10 years.

Right now, the projection is that the tax would raise $30 million annually. County staff’s plan is for the county to take half that amount and the nine municipalities to split the other half — based on a formula that factors in their populations and the amount of road miles within their boundaries. Under that formula, Gainesville would receive about 36.4 percent of the annual revenue, or $10.9 million.

County officials would like to meet with Gainesville on Feb. 6. Hedrick said he expected discussion of the revenue split to be the “largest issue” at that meeting.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson noted that a sales tax referendum for roads failed in 2004. While he supports the tax, he said he expected a rough road ahead this election cycle.

“I know there’s some resistance to this,” he said. “We’re facing an uphill climb.”

While the county’s plan is to focus on a $380 million backlog of road resurfacing needs and the smaller municipalities are also focusing on road construction, Gainesville’s draft projects mix transit, new road construction and road resurfacing.

There’s been ongoing debate whether city voters would approve a tax that funds resurfacing of some rural roads and whether voters in the smaller municipalities and rural unincorporated areas would approve a referendum that funds transit needs inside Gainesville.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said that without a “substantial majority” of support from voters in Gainesville, he expects the tax to fail.

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