City adds bus line for seniors to transit tax wish list
Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 4:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 4:37 p.m.
In a late-game change, the City Commission has added a bus program for seniors to the list of projects already proposed for funding if the transportation sales tax referendum is put on the November ballot.
ElderCare of Alachua County, which operates the Senior Recreation Center, lobbied the Alachua County Commission for the program on Tuesday and took its case to the city on Thursday. The City Commission unanimously voted to add the program after more than an hour of deliberations.
The request comes more than a month after the city approved its project list for the proposed eight-year, 1-cent sales tax.
"We recognize that we are coming to this dance very late," ElderCare Executive Director Anthony Clarizio said Thursday.
Clarizio proposed a system that would use smaller buses than the city's current fleet to get senior citizens back and forth from bus stops to the senior center at 5701 NW 34th Blvd. at first. He said it could later expand to bring seniors shopping, on visits to family and friends and to church.
He said it was modeled after systems in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
Clarizio said the center is not able to serve people who are isolated in their homes because of a lack of transportation.
ElderCare and the Community Coalition for Older Adults requested 2 percent of the county's share of sales tax revenues and 2 percent of the city's share.
The board moved ahead with a lower amount, $200,000 a year with $100,000 coming from the list of transit project and $100,000 from the city's pot of money for roads. That would fund one bus for a year, Clarizio said.
While eventually voting with the rest of the board, City Commissioner Todd Chase expressed objections to adding the initiative "out of the blue" late in the process when the commission finally has an approved project list after a sometimes-divisive process.
Commissioner Lauren Poe, meanwhile, felt an initiative aimed at seniors could help get the referendum approved.
"This being included on the list I think greatly increases the chance that this surtax passes," Poe said. "You are talking about the highest turnout population in a federal election cycle."
The City Commission still has to decide if the Regional Transit System would operate the proposed senior transportation system or if that would be contracted out.
Earlier in the week, the County Commission raised similar concerns about the late timing of the request and said the proposal needed more details.
"I would hate to throw this in at the last minute and it kills the initiative because we're changing this late in the game," County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said.
The County Commission, which plans to put 95 percent of its sales tax revenues toward roads and 5 percent to bike/pedestrian projects, did not vote on the request from ElderCare.
There were some testy exchanges at that meeting, with Clarizio at one point saying that if "more time is needed then I think the message back to the community should be to vote it down and let's come back to the table" and make sure our needs are met.
Cynthia Chestnut, a former city and county commissioner who is working with Clarizio on the initiative, said they plan to continue talks with the county and approach every municipality seeking a share of their money from the tax.
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