County Commission calls for summit to revisit roads tax
Published: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
Voters soundly rejected the "Fix Our Roads" sales tax referendum in November, but the Alachua County Commission is ready to renew discussions at a transportation summit in early 2013.
At its quarterly retreat Friday at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, the commission directed county staff to organize a summit next year as soon as possible — preferably in January or February — to discuss ideas for a new transportation sales tax referendum for the 2014 election.
The event would provide a forum for elected representatives from the county's various municipalities, along with interested residents and organizations, to hash out how to approach a new measure the commission hopes voters will pass in two years.
Commissioners agreed that work on a new ballot measure should begin as quickly as possible.
"It would be great to have everything worked out a year before something goes out," Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said.
This year's roads initiative, which would have levied a 15-year, three-quarter-cent sales surtax to pay for road repairs and divvied the revenue up among the county and its municipalities, failed with 67.32 percent of voters opposing it in the November general election. The county has a $550 million roads maintenance backlog.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said it was "critical" that each municipality be permitted to set its own work plan for using its share of the revenue — a point the Gainesville City Commission emphasized in its opposition to the previous referendum. Gainesville was interested in using some of the money to fund plans for bus rapid transit, which the 2012 referendum wouldn't have allowed.
Byerly cautioned that if discussions become "an ideological clash between roads and transit," this effort would fail again.
Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson echoed Byerly's conviction that the new referendum needs buy-in from the county's municipalities to succeed. He cited the one-mill property tax for schools that received widespread local support and got renewed with 68.46 percent of the vote in November as proof such measures can work.
"Clearly the community can pass a tax when everybody's singing off the same song sheet," he said.
Hutchinson compared the effort to reach a consensus on the roads issue to a Thanksgiving dinner: You might not like everything on the table, but everyone has to fill their plate.
The commission also discussed the county manager hiring process at the retreat. Hutchinson suggested the county conduct the search for candidates itself to save money, but the other commissioners said they preferred to delegate that task to a consulting firm with a large network of professional contacts.
The board decided to meet with three firms at its Tuesday meeting in the County Administration Building, 12 SE First St. Commissioners will hear half-hour presentations from each and ask questions about their work methods.
Those firms are Ralph Andersen and Associates of Rocklin, Calif.; the Mercer Group of Atlanta; and Bob Murray and Associates, which has offices in Roseville, Calif., and Tallahassee.
The commission also discussed Florida Leaders Organized for Water, a group of North Florida-based officials focused on water issues. Pinkoson said he would continue to attend FLOW meetings, and Hutchinson expressed interest in them as well, but the board agreed to wait and see how the organization develops before officially joining.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.