Voters shoot down roads tax, renew school mil

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.

Voters crushed Alachua County's controversial "Fix Our Roads" referendum Tuesday with an unofficial but final total of 67.36 percent against and just 32.64 percent in favor of the initiative.

The ballot initiative would have levied a 15-year, -cent sales surtax to raise at least $300 million for road repairs, taking a sizable chunk out of the county's $550 million roads backlog.

Voters, however, renewed the one-mil property tax for schools with 68.42 percent, or 76,606 votes, in favor to keep the tax on the books until July 2017, and 31.58 percent, or 35,358 votes, against.

The Gainesville City Commission, as well as the Alachua County Republican and Democratic parties, opposed the roads referendum. A key objection was that Gainesville makes up just more than half of the county's population but would have received only 24.31 percent, or $5.5 million, of the proposal's anticipated annual haul of $22.5 million. The City Commission also disliked that its revenue couldn't be used for bus rapid transit.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe said the community has a chance to develop a better plan worthy of broad support.

"Well, I think it's encouraging that it gives us an opportunity to work collaboratively with a wide range of people in our community to develop a holistic and comprehensive transportation plan and the means to fund it," he said.

County Commissioner Susan Baird, who supported the referendum, said the roads will only get worse with no funding for repairs. She doubted a more holistic initiative that includes transit and road repair will fare much better in a future election.

"People do not trust the commission with any more of taxpayers' money," she said.

The schools measure was approved by 63.45 percent of voters in 2008. According to the Alachua County School Board, the one mill has brought in $35 million to pay for 150 teachers, classroom technology, guidance counselors and arts and music programs.

One mil equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.

April Griffin, chair of the School Board, said Tuesday night she felt relieved to see such support for the one-mil tax.

"I am very happy that the citizens of our county have supported our schools this way," she said.

Although the School Board cannot legally encourage residents to vote yes or no, it has kept a steady flow of information flowing about where the one-mil money has been spent by sending letters home to parents during the summer and producing informational videos during election season.

UF student Michelle Couret, 19, said she voted for the one mil because she felt educational programs should be a priority.

"If there's one thing we should use our taxpayer money for, it's to fund more areas in education," she said.

Morgan Watkins and Joey Flechas are Gainesville Sun staff writers.

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