Editorial: Agenda for progress

The University of Florida should hire a new president who can adapt to rapid change in higher education but also values the things that have long made the university great.

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Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.

Happy New Year Sun readers.

The new year is sure to bring changes and challenges to Alachua County.

New leaders are coming to the University of Florida and county government. There are possible resolutions to long-stalled efforts to establish a one-stop homeless center and move the county fairgrounds. Gainesville's new biomass power plant is coming online.

It's an annual Sun tradition to start the new year with a local agenda for progress. For a better community in 2013, we recommend the following:

■ Voters last fall rejected the “Fix Our Roads” sales tax referendum that would have funded county road repairs. City and county officials must now work with other community leaders to craft a referendum with broad support. That means funding desperately needed road improvements as well as transit projects and bike paths that ease crowding on roadways.

■ It's good to see the city and county on the same page with plans to use the former Gainesville Correctional Institution as a one-stop homeless center. Now they must work with the state legislative delegation to push the Department of Corrections to turn over parking. It's unacceptable that the department's intention to retain ownership of parking would scuttle an ideal site for the center.

■ Similarly, the county seems to have found a solution to its long-standing plans for a new fairgrounds with the Gainesville Raceway site. The site's ample parking and existing infrastructure make it a less costly alternative than an undeveloped property along Waldo Road. The county needs to bring the lengthy process of relocating the fairground to a close and turn its attention into making the new site into a proper showcase for local events.

■ Gainesville Regional Utilities must keep rates from skyrocketing as the biomass power plant comes online. GRU's transfer to the general fund will likely need to decrease, meaning the city must makes cuts to deal with decreased revenue. Consolidating city and county departments like human resources is a good place to begin, but more must be done.

■ The University of Florida should hire a new president who can adapt to rapid change in higher education but also values the things that have long made the university great. That includes diversity in its academic offerings, despite a governor that dismisses the importance of the liberal arts. The next UF president must also find new ways to finance the university in the face of dwindling state support, including online programs.

■ The community's support for the Innovation Gainesville initiative needs to stay strong. Civic leaders must work to attract companies that provide high-wage, high-skill jobs as well as support existing businesses. UF's Innovation Square provided a template for cooperation that should continue as more businesses begin moving to the area.

■ The end of 2012 showed that the state's system for evaluating teachers is a mess, to put it mildly. The state is right to demand accountability, but needs a system that is reasonable and consistent. Local leaders must pressure the state to do so as well as properly fund schools, in order to accomplish goals such as keeping class sizes in check.

These are just a few items worth attention in 2013. There are sure to be plenty of surprises, both good and bad, as the local community continues to undergo changes.

But there's reason to be optimistic that Alachua County will continue growing into a mecca for innovation while continuing to be a place that values education, culture and the environment.

Have a great year, readers.

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