County candidates debate road tax, environment, sheriff's budget

Published: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:14 p.m.

The road tax, environmental protection and money for law enforcement were among the topics for discussion among Alachua County Commission candidates at a forum Saturday held by the League of Women Voters.

The full schedule of debates, including the contest for Alachua County sheriff and a School Board seat, was curtailed because some candidates could not make the event.

District 3 contenders at the forum were Republican Jean Calderwood, a former Alachua city commissioner, and Democrat Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson, a former county commissioner.

Also participating were the incumbent from District 1, Democrat Mike Byerly, and Republican challenger John Martin, a former Hawthorne city commissioner.

Hutchinson said he does not support the -cent sales tax referendum to fix roads that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. The referendum has drawn criticism from some — including Gainesville city commissioners — because none of the money will go toward transit projects.

Hutchinson said that if elected, he will work toward a referendum that would draw wider support and include projects for bikes and transit, along with road repairs.

"What I would work on, and hope to be a leader, is a 2014 citizens referendum. We do it by getting the largest possible group of people in the room together to hash out what to do to create the transportation system of the future," Hutchinson said.

Calderwood did not answer the question on whether she supports the current referendum, saying that since it is on the ballot it makes no difference where the candidates stand on it.

"The question is, where do we go from here?" Calderwood said. "We need to put together a plan that makes sense for entire Alachua County and not let just the city of Gainesville and Alachua County get into this dysfunctional attitude."

In the District 1 debate, candidates were asked about budgeting and funding for different areas of county government.

Byerly said the budget for the Sheriff's Office has continued to grow despite a decline in the number of calls for service as more unincorporated area has been annexed into the city.

"I think we need to make some incremental deductions in that budget, or at least keep it the same as the rest of the budget rather than increasing it," Byerly said. "I don't think we spend enough on environmental protection."

Martin said the budget has to reflect the community's needs and its ability to pay for services.

"With the sheriff's department budget, you can't just look at the sheriff itself because the sheriff also … runs the jail and essentially runs the combined communication center," Martin said, adding that some items in the county budget "need to be eliminated altogether."

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