City OKs agreement with county over sales-tax money


Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 7:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 7:15 p.m.

The Gainesville City Commission approved an interlocal agreement with Alachua County on Thursday for the transportation sales tax referendum that voters will decide on in November, although there was some debate among commissioners involving RTS routes.

The proposed eight-year, 1-cent sales tax, if approved by voters this fall, would raise revenue to fund various transportation projects, including road repairs.

The participating local governments must enter into interlocal agreements with Alachua County as part of this initiative and must also submit a list of projects they plan to fund with their respective portions of the revenue.

The city of Gainesville would receive 43.24 percent of the revenue, amounting to almost $13 million per year. The City Commission has decided to split its share predominantly between roadway and transit projects, although it plans to set some money aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects as well.

The City Commission decided in June to add an initiative for a bus program for seniors to the city's project list. During Thursday's meeting, staff recommended the board add that proposal but not attach specific funding amounts to the listed projects.

Instead, the city can address the projects on the list as funding becomes available if the sales tax is approved.

"Senior transportation is a priority, and we will be working to finalize how we are going to do that," City Manager Russ Blackburn said.

ElderCare of Alachua County, which runs the Senior Recreation Center in Gainesville, recently asked for the incorporation of this initiative.

The proposal is to set up a system using smaller buses rather than the current RTS fleet to take seniors to and from the senior center, which is located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd. Eventually, the program could expand to take seniors elsewhere as well, such as to church.

The commission approved the interlocal agreement with the county for the transportation sales tax initiative but made a few modifications to its project list, including adding the senior transportation initiative.

There was discussion Thursday of adding Route 41, which is used by people seeking assistance from the Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, to the list as well, although Commissioner Todd Chase questioned that course of action.

Theresa Beachy, executive director of Peaceful Paths, recently emailed the city with concerns about RTS having stopped service for the summer on that route, which people use to get to and from the group's outreach offices on Northwest 53rd Avenue.

Chase raised concerns about adding Route 41 at the last minute during what has been a lengthy process in developing the sales tax referendum.

They were adding a route to the list because riders use it to get to Peaceful Paths, he said.

"How many? I have no clue," he said. "Is it a justifiable expense? I have no clue."

But the city gets these requests regarding bus service all the time, he pointed out.

Commissioner Helen Warren said they should be identifying which routes are needed currently.

Commissioner Lauren Poe, who said he thought the city had put together a great package for the transportation initiative, also said Route 41 is a priority route.

"I think that if it's in this list, we have the choice to use this money for this purpose. If it's not, we don't. Doesn't mean we have to," he said.

The women who are served by Peaceful Paths often don't have transportation, Poe said, adding that this is the kind of service the city should be providing.

"They leave their homes in the middle of the night," he said. "They leave with whatever they can put in their bag, with their kids, and then they're out of there."

Chase ended up voting for the motion approving the interlocal agreement and adding the senior transportation initiative, which was approved unanimously with Commissioner Craig Carter absent.

The University of Florida pays for Route 41 and doesn't have it run in the summer, Public Works Director Teresa Scott told The Sun.

Rather than add Route 41 specifically to the city's project list for the transportation sales tax initiative, the commission decided to specify an allowance for filling in the gaps in transit service that UF doesn't wish to fund for whatever reason, Scott said. That could include Route 41 as well as other bus routes.

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

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