ALACHUA - The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and City of Alachua Commissioners demonstrated sharp disagreement regarding county road repairs at a joint meeting held Monday, July 11.
The discussion was one of a few agenda items covered by both commissions and was initiated when City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. brought the poor condition of two county roadways to the BOCC's attention: County Roads 2054 - also known as Peggy Road - and 235A.
“There's nobody on the County Commission who doesn't understand that there are roads in terrible condition,” BOCC Chair Robert Hutchison replied.
“We hear all the time about it, we are scraping together every spare nickel we have to put into road repaving, but it’s also true that we’ve put three referenda out there, and all three have been defeated."
The referenda Hutchison referenced were three separate attempts by the BOCC – one each in 2004, 2012 and 2014 – to approve a sales tax that would fund county road repairs. Each referendum was voted down by county voters during elections.
“There's virtually no pure government anywhere in the State of Florida [that] doesn't have the infrastructure surtax for their roads,” Hutchison added. “We're the only county our size that doesn't have that additional money.”
Hutchison stated that, without additional tax funds, the BOCC has barely been able to fund approximately one tenth of the total needed to adequately maintain county roads. He noted that the regular BOCC budget does not have sufficient funding to cover road repairs.
“We could literally gut the county budget and put it all into roads, and it still would not cover the needs,” he said.
Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper claimed that the reason the referenda were defeated was due to the inclusion of added expenditures that had nothing to do with road repairs.
“There referenda that have been on the ballot, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's always been the caveat of taking more land off the tax rolls or buying conservation land - and there's nothing wrong with conservation land - but the idea is that, when I hear people talk, they want the roads fixed, and that’s all they want,” Coerper said.
“They don't want anything else, and yet it still gets proposed...when these other things are added to it, it’s what gets people’s dander up."
Hutchison strongly disagreed, stating that each proposed road tax did not include provisions for parks, recreation, or conservation land.
Boukari stated for clarification that, as he recalled, the point of contention many voters had specifically with the most recent 2014 referendum was the addition of expenditures to be made on bike paths, sidewalks, gutters, and other items that were ancillary to road repairs.
“The maximum that was going to be spent on bikes and...sidewalks was five percent," Hutchison responded. "And so because people don't like bike paths and sidewalks, they’re willing to throw away the other 95 percent of the money.”
Coerper said the BOCC's reputation with voters regarding the spending of tax money is ruined; therefore voters don't want to trust the BOCC with more funds unless it is for the one clear purpose of road repairs.
County Commissioner Mike Byerly countered that the BOCC still has plenty of credibility with voters when it comes to issues that people deeply care about, such as land conservation.
“[The people] trust the County to take their money and spend it wisely, and even in the depths of the last recession, agreed to tax themselves in order for the County to have land conservation funds,” Byerly said.
“I think what perhaps we need to accept is that, whereas we all hear anecdotally from people how important the roads [are], until people are willing to take out their wallets, it’s hard to take that seriously.”
Byerly had the last comment on the topic when he stated that the only solution the County has for repairing roads rests on the willingness of county voters to approve an additional tax to raise revenue.
“Until the county is willing as a group to put more money into this, things will keep getting worse, and eventually it’ll reach the point where people will realize it’s real, it’s not politics, it’s not posturing, we're not spending enough money on roads,” he said.
“When that day arrives, we'll get the votes we’re looking for.”
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