Gainesville makes another bid for northwest annexation

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 3:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 3:07 p.m.

Three years after an eastside annexation referendum was soundly defeated with 93 percent opposition, the city of Gainesville has turned its attention west and seeks to annex an 868-acre swath around North Florida Regional Medical Center in a November referendum.

The city has targeted the portion of voting Precinct 40 in unincorporated Alachua County. It stretches from the west side of Northwest 55th Street west to Interstate 75 and from Newberry Road north to Northwest 23rd Avenue.

It includes commercial and office development along the north side of Newberry Road — the hospital is already in the city limits — and the residential neighborhoods north of there and south of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

The area has a population of 1,172 and includes about 108 businesses.

Back in April 2006, this area was included in a larger annexation referendum that failed with more than 71 percent opposition.

This effort has its opponents. The county’s firefighter union, the Police Benevolent Association and Sheriff Sadie Darnell have come out against it, citing issues such as the loss of tax base for the county’s public safety departments.

Brett Sandlin, the president of the Fire Rescue Professionals of Alachua County, noted that the city and county already have an agreement where the closest available unit responds to a fire call, whether it is in the city limits or unincorporated county.

“Citizens in that area aren’t going to gain or lose anything in terms of fire protection because of annexation and they will have to pay a fire assessment,” he said.

With Sheriff’s Office patrol deputies and Gainesville police officers both among its members, the Fraternal Order of Police voted not to take a stance on annexation, president Jeff McAdams said.

Annexation would mean an increase of a little more than one mill -- or $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value — in property taxes along with the addition of the fire assessment and a stormwater fee.

It would mean the elimination of the surcharges tacked onto Gainesville Regional Utilities bills — 10 percent on electric bills, not including fuel charges, and 25 percent on water and wastewater.

A city analysis of the West Hills and University Acres subdivisions, which are in the area eyed for annexation, concluded that the average financial impact would be a $10 per month increase in costs and most property owners would pay more to be in the city.

While they have not formed a political action committee, some residents in those areas have organized to oppose the ballot initiative — sending out mailer and fliers, forming canvassing committees and posting signs reading “Vote No Annexation.”

City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins has formed a political committee to support the annexation. It had raised $550 through Sept 28, including $250 from Commissioner Susan Bottcher and $100 from former Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa.

Hawkins said the committee will send out mailers focused on city services such as the mosquito-spraying program, the plan to hire three additional police officers for that area and its larger staff of code enforcement officers.

Bottcher has said annexation is a way to increase the city’s tax base without raising taxes.

The city has a policy to pursue annexations via referendum every year alternating between east and east. But there has been no push since the 2009 referendum failed.

As part of this year’s annexation effort, the city had also sought a referendum for voting Precinct 22 in the northwest area. When voting precincts were redrawn, the two areas of Precinct 22 in unincorporated county were divided by an area of the precinct already in the city.

Since the Supervisor of Elections Office did not want multiple ballots in one voting precinct, the city’s plan now is to hold separate referendums for the portions of Precinct 22 in unincorporated county in spring 2013.

The large portion of Precinct 22 the city is eyeing generally stretches from Northwest 43rd Street to Northwest 63rd Street and from Northwest 23rd Avenue to Northwest 39th Avenue.

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