County plans summit on backlog of roadwork


Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 10:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 10:54 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission is working out the details of its upcoming transportation summit, which it plans to host in April as a community forum that addresses potential ways to pay for its countywide $550 million backlog in road repairs.

The county tentatively plans to hold the summit at the city of Gainesville/Alachua County Senior Recreation Center on the evening of April 10. The county welcomes local residents, community organizations and area municipalities to attend.

At its Tuesday policy discussion, the commissioners hashed out ways the county could run the event. Acting County Manager Richard Drummond suggested a facilitator manage the summit by organizing its structure and controlling the flow of discussion, which commissioners agreed would be beneficial.

“This is the beginning of a discussion that's going to take another year or so,” he said, emphasizing that the summit's purpose is not just to identify problems but to put possible solutions on the table.

Commissioner Susan Baird mentioned the importance of carefully structuring the summit to ensure it runs efficiently and successfully. “These meetings can either be stupendous or stupid,” she said.

She suggested establishing a time frame for community presentations and handing out comment cards with which people who don't wish to speak publicly can submit their comments.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said the time limit will depend on the number of people who sign up to give presentations. The county will likely set a cut-off date before the summit for people to request time to talk so staff can prepare for the event in advance.

Byerly also supported sending summit invitations to municipalities and various groups to raise attendance and bring diverse voices to the table. He said a new transportation initiative needs to be broader than the “Fix Our Roads” sales tax referendum, which was rejected by voters last November.

Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson suggested the commission not make any decisions at the summit, but do so at a later meeting. Other commissioners agreed.

The event likely will be noticed as a County Commission meeting so the commissioners can participate, as well as being noticed as a meeting for county advisory boards and other local governments whose members wish to attend.

Hutchinson said the commission's first decision is whether it wants to spearhead the development of a transportation sales tax initiative or hand the reigns to local residents who could develop a citizens' initiative.

Drummond plans to bring a more formal summit proposal before the commission at its Feb. 26 meeting for approval.

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Earlier at Tuesday's meeting, the commission approved a letter of commitment for the county's participation in Phase Two of Broward County's Go SOLAR Broward Rooftop Solar Challenge, a Department of Energy-funded grant program, although its commitment is contingent on the approval of the grant funding.

Alachua County would make an in-kind contribution of staff time, amounting to an estimated $310,000 budgetary value, by taking part in the 2-year program, according to the meeting agenda.

The program would help the county streamline the permitting process for rooftop photovoltaic solar systems. This would include establishing a standardized online permitting application.

Alachua County would participate in the $2 million grant program with Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange and Sarasota counties.

A solar installation includes soft costs related to permitting and various fees, which can total $2,500 per project, according to the agenda. Standardizing and streamlining the permitting process can lower the design costs and sign-off times for such projects.

The county is interested in getting its area municipalities, like Gainesville, involved in the grant program, Drummond said. That would allow them to establish a relatively uniform permitting process.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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