Voters decisively reject annexation


Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.

Some five months after the last annexation referendum failed with more than 90 percent opposition, two areas of Alachua County Precinct 22 soundly defeated Gainesville's latest effort to expand its city limits and tax base on Tuesday.

The two areas, which are divided by a swath of the precinct already in the city limits, both voted against annexation with more than 80 percent opposition.

The larger, southern piece is generally bounded by Northwest 43rd Street to the east, Northwest 63rd Street to the west, Northwest 39th Avenue to the north and Northwest 23rd Avenue to the south. Referred to as Annexation 2, voters in this area opposed annexation 502 to 111, or 82 percent against.

The larger area includes the commercial stretch on the south side of Northwest 39th and more than a dozen neighborhoods. Heatherwood, Timberlane, Richmond, Autumn Woods and Misty Hollow are among them. That area also includes a slice of land north of 39th Avenue, the portion of Pinewood Apartments currently in the unincorporated county.

The smaller, separate piece of the precinct in which voters decided on annexation is a short distance north along Northwest 43rd Street.

Referred to as Annexation 3, voters in this area opposed annexation 45 to 9, or 83 percent against.

This residential area includes the Rustlewood subdivision.

Turnout was relatively robust for an annexation at nearly 30 percent.

Shortly before 11 a.m., a small but steady stream of residents from the area's neighborhoods flowed into the polling place at First Church Of The Nazarene In the 5000 block of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

Near the head of the walkway that led to the precinct, Sheriff Sadie Darnell's sister, Norma Darnell, was among those who held signs announcing "Vote No Annexation" in black lettering.

Like the Police Benevolent Association and the county firefighters union, Sheriff Darnell traditionally opposes the city's annexation referendums.

All the voters interviewed late Tuesday morning spoke against the annexation.

"This whole thing is about the city wanting our money and us not wanting to pay more taxes," said James DeFord.

Had annexation passed in either area, the financial impact of annexation on residents and business owners would largely have been determined by the value of their property and the size of their utility bill.

Annexation would have meant the elimination of the surcharges tacked onto monthly GRU bills. Those are equal to 10 percent of a monthly electric bill -- not including fuel charges - and 25 percent of water and wastewater bills.

Annexation also would have increased property tax rates by about $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value. Property owners would still have paid into the county general fund and would have paid into the city's general fund instead of the county's three Municipal Services Taxing Units for fire, law enforcement and unincorporated services. The city also has stormwater and fire assessments, which the county does not.

Outside the polling place on Tuesday, resident Victor Ortega said he saw no compelling reason or benefit to being annexed.

"I feel comfortable the way we have been for more than 20 years," he said. "We don't want more taxes."

City Commissioner Susan Bottcher, who worked with staff on the annexation effort, said moving ahead the city may look for voluntary annexations of smaller areas, a property owner-driven process that does not require a referendum.

As for the the next potential referendum, Bottcher said the City Commission would have to consider whether to take a different approach. After last November's referendum failed, there was discussion about meeting with residents and homeowners associations to gauge interest before putting a referendum on the ballot.

"We need to sit down and have a debriefing over this one and decide where to go from there," Bottcher said.

Dating back to an eastside referendum in 2009, Tuesday's two votes marked four consecutive defeats of annexation referendums, with at least 80 percent opposition each time.

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