Citizens share ideas on transportation tax at Chamber forum


Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 5:39 p.m.

The first listening session on Alachua County's proposed transportation sales tax opened with officials hearing ideas on how best to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars that could be raised.

Of particular interest to the 25 or so people at the meeting hosted by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce was a proposal for a fixed-route transportation program that would use small buses to take riders to and from the Senior Recreation Center, where Thursday's session was held.

The initiative, known as Moving Alachua County Forward, would institute an eight-year, 1-cent sales tax to finance a variety of transportation projects if it gets the OK from voters in November.

Although the Chamber hasn't taken an official stance on the ballot proposal, it's getting input from the community through these listening sessions.

“Right now we don't have a public position, and so we're listening,” Kamal Latham, vice president of public policy for the chamber, told The Sun.

Latham opened the gathering by clarifying that it was an opportunity for the chamber as well as county and city of Gainesville staff to offer details on the proposal and hear from the community.

“This is not a campaign for the sales tax,” he said. “This is just to provide information on it.”

Latham emphasized the scope of the sales tax in terms of funding, saying it would raise about $30 million per year in revenue and about $240 million total over the life of the tax.

Local resident Jim Konish said the sales tax is misunderstood.

“You know, this is not a 1-percent tax,” he said. “This is a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar tax.”

Konish warned the sales tax would negatively impact commercial businesses at a time when brick-and-mortar stores are competing with Internet companies that do not pay sales tax.

But many in the hall wanted more information about the proposed transportation program for seniors. The city of Gainesville has added this to its list of projects slated for funding if the sales tax passes.

Anthony Clarizio, executive director of ElderCare of Alachua County, which operates the Senior Recreation Center, said they've identified three routes within Gainesville's city limits that could be established as part of the senior transportation program. Each route could cost roughly $200,000 per year.

This is just the beginning of what, in his mind, will be a larger program for seniors, he said.

“This will just scratch the surface of what will need to be a very robust transportation program,” he said.

One resident said people who live near him are excited about a bus route for seniors, calling the program “ambitious.”

He wanted to know who would decide which projects get done first. “Is it going to come back and benefit our section of the community?” he asked.

A city of Gainesville staffer said the City Commission would decide on scheduling the projects.

Jeff Hays, the county's transportation planning manager, mentioned a few marquee projects the county plans to fund through the sales tax revenue, including improvements to Tower Road, Northwest 43rd Street and the Southwest 20th Avenue bridge.

The issue of trust in the County Commission and Gainesville City Commission -- or the lack of it -- came up when someone mentioned often hearing people say they distrust those boards.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson pointed out the local government isn't allowed to use the sales tax revenue from this initiative for just anything. The money must go toward transportation projects.

Two more Moving Alachua County Forward listening sessions, both of which start at 5:30 p.m., are coming up: One on Aug. 7 at Alachua City Hall, 15100 NW 142nd Terrace, and the other on Aug. 14 at the Archer Community Center, 16671 SW 137th Ave.

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

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