Chamber gets seat on road tax oversight board


Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.

If Alachua County voters in November approve a sales tax to fund road projects, a citizens' board will keep watch over how the millions of dollars raised are being spent.

On Tuesday, the County Commission decided the seven-member advisory panel will be filled by members chosen by the county, the city of Gainesville, the other cities in Alachua County, and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The sales tax initiative, known as Moving Alachua County Forward, would institute an eight-year, 1-cent sales tax to finance various transportation projects.

The committee would ensure the revenue is used for approved projects, it would track expenditures and offer recommendations to the county and its municipalities regarding potential amendments to the initiative or the local governments' interlocal agreements regarding projects eligible for sales tax funding.

The committee will include seven voting members and four alternates, all of whom must be Alachua County residents.

None of the board members, who will serve staggered terms, can be elected officials or employees of Alachua County or its municipalities.

The county, city of Gainesville and the Alachua County League of Cities will each appoint two members and one alternate. The league is composed of representatives from Alachua, Archer, Gainesville, Hawthorne, High Springs, LaCrosse, Micanopy, Newberry and Waldo.

The Chamber of Commerce's board of directors will appoint one member and one alternate. The chamber, which hasn't taken an official stance on the referendum, has expressed particular interest in the oversight committee and its composition.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said he didn't support designating a seat for the chamber. He said it is not appropriate to say one group with a particular point of view gets a seat on the board, suggesting it should be a citizen-at-large seat if anything.

Commissioner Susan Baird countered that the chamber is a critical partner in this effort and said it would be a "disservice to the community" not to include it as part of this committee.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said the county does need a partner in this initiative while Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV pointed out the board is strictly advisory in nature.

"I'm not really hung up on who actually serves on the committee, whether it be the chamber or any other group," Chestnut said.

Baird also advocated for requiring at least two committee meetings per year, if not once per quarter, rather than just once per year. She stressed how much revenue would be involved in the eight-year sales tax, which would bring in around $30 million per year.

"But I just think once per year for a quarter of a billion dollars in eight years is really not enough to make sure that we stay on track," she said.

The County Commission voted 4-1, with Byerly in dissent, to approve the staff-recommended oversight committee format, including the Chamber of Commerce appointment.

The commission incorporated Baird's recommendation that the committee meet at least twice per year as well as Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson's suggestion that committee members be appointed before the November election so people will know who is on the board before they cast their votes on the initiative.

Kamal Latham, the Chamber of Commerce's vice president of public policy, said his organization was pleased with the commission's decision regarding how to structure the oversight committee.

"We are humbled and delighted to see that staff's recommendation for this resolution prevailed," he said.

Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Hays said this was one of the final decisions the County Commission needed to make regarding the Moving Alachua County Forward initiative, although the county still does need to approve the related interlocal agreements with its municipalities, which should happen later this month.

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

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