Debate continues over sales tax referendums

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 6:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 6:25 p.m.

A majority of the Alachua County Commission last week voted to move ahead with two sales tax referendums that, if passed, would fund road projects around the county and Gainesville transit projects.

But the vote hasn't stopped debate among commissioners about the proposed taxes or how they should be worded on the November ballot.

At the commission's special meeting Tuesday, County Commissioner Susan Baird talked about the time frame for the proposed taxes and whether the commission should try to get both taxes on the ballot this fall.

Saying that a second tax referendum benefiting transit might be confusing and premature, Baird suggested eliminating it from the ballot this year and putting it back on at a later date after a feasibility study.

Baird again raised concerns about the 15-year time frame of the proposed taxes, saying a shorter life could improve the chances that residents would approve the measures.

Noting that the current wording for the referendums had been the result of compromise, County Commissioner Winston Bradley said he hadn't been convinced by any of the concerns raised to change that wording.

"We are giving people an opportunity to say yes or no," he said.

The commission took no action on the matter.

Commission Chairwoman Paula DeLaney said that to consider that degree of change to the referendums would require a public hearing. Otherwise, she said, the county staff should move forward on track they are on for the referendums.

Staff cautioned that delays in the process could force the referendums off the ballot. The county is now trying to proceed with negotiations with the different municipalities regarding interlocal agreements and the proposed taxes.

The county needs to submit wording for the referendums to the elections office by early July.

Last month, the commission voted 3-2 to have two separate proposed referendums, one for a -cent tax for roadway projects and another for a -cent sales tax for Gainesville's transit projects, each with a life of 15 years. DeLaney and County Commissioner Mike Byerly dissented.

The idea of a sales tax for transportation initially had been proposed as one tax with area municipalities providing a priority list of projects to be funded by the generated revenue.

However, a majority of the County Commission in March decided to split the tax plan into two referendums after the city of Gainesville presented a project list that included funding for a bus rapid transit system.

Baird and County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson predicted there would be political opposition to a tax to fund that system.

The county's priority for the tax revenue would be to address mounting road repaving needs that are now expected to cost close to $380 million.

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