Mass transit component to surtax concerns county commissioners

Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.

Ahead of a joint meeting Thursday with Gainesville city commissioners, some Alachua County commissioners expressed concerns over the funding of city transit projects and a 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

On Monday, a majority of the Gainesville City Commission approved a joint project list mixing county road resurfacing needs with city road work and transit projects. The list was put together by Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe and Alachua County Commission Chairwoman Paula DeLaney.

When county commissioners were presented Tuesday with that list and other project lists from different cities in the county, some raised red flags.

The commission agreed 4-1 to the staff’s recommendation to receive the community-wide project lists, with Commissioner Susan Baird dissenting. The matter will again come before the commission on April 10.

Focusing on an effort to get the penny sales tax passed, Baird and Lee Pinkoson questioned if a majority of voters would support the proposed tax if money from it goes toward city of Gainesville transit projects, including a bus rapid transit system. Both said they have heard there will be opposition to the tax if it supports mass transit.

“What I’m looking for is how do we get this thing passed,” Pinkoson said. “I would like to come up with something that everybody can agree to where there won’t be any active resistance.”

The county’s main plan for money generated from the tax is funding for road resurfacing, where the county has a backlog of needs of close to $380 million. Without a new funding source, that amount is projected to rise to about $450 million over the next 15 to 20 years, staff has told commissioners.

So far, the county has approached planning for the proposed tax as a united effort with area municipalities. The hope is that a community-wide approach will improve the tax’s chances with voters in November.

The tax is expected to generate about $30 million a year.

Under one scenario for distributing the money, smaller cities in the county would divide up about $4 million of the yearly tax revenue while the city of Gainesville and the county would equally divide the remaining portion. This distribution would mean it would take the county longer to address its road maintenance needs than if the county received half of the 1-cent tax. The county has full authority over how money from this type of tax is distributed among municipalities.

The City Commission, at its Monday meeting, pushed for the county to approve the tax for 15 years instead of a shorter 10-year option. Other municipalities also support this option, staff told commissioners.

Representatives from other municipalities in the county also are expected to be at Thursday’s joint meeting of Gainesville and Alachua County commissioners.

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