Transportation tax now on November ballot


These images from online video show Alachua County commissioners, clockwise from upper left, Charles "Chuck" Chestnutt IV, Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson, Mike Byerly and Susan Baird during discussion of the transportation surtax issue at a meeting on Tuesday.

Alachua County government
Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 10:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 10:38 p.m.

After months of discussion and deliberation, the Alachua County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to officially place its transportation sales tax referendum on the November ballot so the voters can determine its fate.

The commission even gave this new initiative a name: Moving Alachua County Forward.

The referendum, if approved by voters, would institute an eight-year, 1-cent sales tax to fund various transportation projects ranging from road repairs to transit improvements.

The county plans to split the revenue with its nine municipalities. The cities will have project lists in place identifying which projects they intend to fund with their share of the money.

During its evening meeting when it approved the ordinance for the sales tax initiative, the commission debated what requirements to set for itself if the board members wished to change the order of the priorities in the county's project list for roads.

Reordering the priorities could be useful if, for example, the county could save money by pairing two projects together.

Eventually Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV said he thought they were making it more complicated than necessary by continuing to debate minor issues. The big question is whether people will go and vote for this referendum, he said.

"I think we're going too deep in the weeds here," he said.

Deleting proposals from or reordering the priorities for the county's list of road projects would require a supermajority vote by the County Commission, Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Hays told The Sun. Projects being removed must either be funded by another revenue source or be deemed unfeasible due to practical constraints. Changing the order of the prioritized road projects must be based on specific factors such as cost-efficiency, Hays said.

While the County Commission officially decided to put the referendum on the November ballot Tuesday, it didn't end up determining how to comprise the membership of the related citizens oversight committee after debating the matter for a couple of hours earlier Tuesday.

The proposed oversight committee is supposed to be responsible for ensuring that the county and municipalities are spending the sales tax revenue appropriately if the referendum gets approved. The county is also requiring an annual independent audit.

County staff suggested modeling the oversight committee after the one implemented for the 2008 Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax initiative, which included two County Commission appointees, two Gainesville City Commission appointees and one Alachua County League of Cities appointee.

Kamal Latham, vice president of public policy for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, offered a recommendation on behalf of his organization as well. He suggested a nine-member oversight committee with three members appointed by the county, three by the city of Gainesville and three by the League of Cities.

The chamber also recommended a residency requirement — city of Gainesville appointees must live in the city and so on — and proposed all members be registered voters, Latham said. The committee shouldn't include any elected officials or county or municipal staff members.

Transparency and accountability will be key to the ability to gain voter support at the ballot box, he said. This is an opportunity for the County Commission to demonstrate its willingness to be accountable to the citizens on an ongoing basis.

"The issue of trust is something that's been discussed a lot in the public domain," Latham said.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said getting community buy-in from the county's outlying areas is extremely important and having three committee members from the smaller municipalities could help with that.

"One eight-year term is not going to take care of the problem, and so whatever we can do to ensure the trust factor as we go forward, I think that's imperative," Pinkoson said.

Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson said he'd like the University of Florida to make an appointment to the board as well because he'd like UF to be invested in the process.

The commission eventually got a motion on the floor Tuesday afternoon for a nine-member oversight committee with three members appointed by the county, three by the city of Gainesville, two by the League of Cities and one by UF.

Commissioners also discussed other possible combinations of appointees.

Chestnut suggested having a larger committee in which the county and each of the nine municipalities appoint a certain number of members based on their percentage shares of the sales tax revenue. He said he wanted to make sure everyone feels like they're part of this so the initiative will pass.

Commissioners also debated requiring a certain number of meetings per year, but Byerly pointed out the county already has rules in place for its advisory boards.

"This committee's important, but it's no more important than our other advisory committees," he said. "I don't want to create a brand new beast for this particular citizens advisory committee."

Byerly also said he naively thought they were going to come in and approve using the Wild Spaces & Public Places model because it's an excellent one. He said he didn't expect the discussion to go the way it did.

The issue of trust — or, more significantly, the supposed lack of it — came up several times during the debate.

Byerly said he was confused as to how the citizens don't trust their elected commissioners yet they will trust someone the board appoints.

"If they're suspicious of us, why would they trust the people that we appoint to an advisory committee?" he asked.

The more commissioners talk about there being a trust problem, Byerly said, the more they're creating that impression, when the county hasn't actually broken any promises.

The commission ultimately decided not to designate a specific composition for the oversight committee yet, instead referring the matter to the League of Cities for its input along with the question of whether they should impose geographic residency requirements on the appointees.

The commission did make a few determinations about the oversight committee, unanimously voting to: designate four-year terms for members, exclude current elected officials and county and municipal staff from being appointed, have a simple-majority quorum, and allow the committee to decide how frequently to meet.

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

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top