NEWBERRY ‒ Alachua County’s proposed one percent Sales Tax Referendum took center stage in discussions between the City of Newberry and the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) during their joint meeting Monday, May 23. Having already presented the issue to three other municipalities with lukewarm receptions, county commissioners came armed with facts and figures to ask Newberry’s Commissioners to back the referendum.
Assistant County Manager Gina Peebles introduced the sales tax referendum, which ties together funding for the popular Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP) and the unpopular tax for roads.
In past years, Alachua County has asked voters to support a referendum for roads on two occasions, which was defeated both times. However, when they asked the citizens to approve the Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP) Referendum with a one-half percent sales tax in 2008 and again in 2016, it was approved.
Dec. 31, 2024, the WSPP one-half percent sales tax sunsets and many municipalities have expressed a desire to continue it. Funds from WSPP have been used throughout the County to improve recreation facilities and to support other related projects.
Voters will be asked on Nov. 8, 2022 whether they would like to extend the WSPP half-cent sales tax along with a half-cent sales tax dedicated to infrastructure through 2032.
The proceeds from the surtax will be split between the County and the municipalities, with each entity required to allocate half to WSPP projects such as parks and recreation, open space and natural resources; the other half will be allocated to other infrastructure projects including road improvements as defined in Florida’s statutes. Up to 15 percent of the non-WSPP half of the surtax may be used to fund economic development projects to improve the local economy.
Allowable projects can include but are not limited to land acquisition; land improvement; costs related to constructing or improving public facilities that have a life expectancy of five years or more; and land acquisition for a residential housing project in which at least 30 percent of the units are affordable to those with a household income not exceeding 120 percent of the area median income.
The county will get over half the funds and the rest distributed to municipalities based on population. The County will also allocate $6 million (half for WSPP projects and half for other infrastructure projects) of its share of the tax to the City of Gainesville “for uses… that Alachua County finds, in its sole discretion, have countywide significance.” Gainesville will have to submit a detailed request for each project.
Another $6 million will be allocated to all the municipalities, including the City of Gainesville. Each municipality can submit detailed requests for funds, but the ordinance does not address how the requests will be prioritized. This will be a one-time allocation of a total of $12 million, not an annual allocation.
The county estimates that the surtax will raise about $49 million in the first year, with almost $28 million going to the county, $17 million to the City of Gainesville, $1.35 million to the City of Alachua, $895,000 to Newberry, $861,000 to High Springs, $189,000 to Hawthorne, $156,000 to Archer, $124,000 to Waldo, $87,000 to Micanopy and $51,000 to La Crosse.
Alachua county residents have long complained about the condition of the county-maintained roads. Alachua County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said that citizens have told the county to improve the roads with the existing money they are receiving each year. He said they have done so as much as they could, but that more funds are required to maintain the roads properly.
Peebles said the county can only have one surtax at a time, which is why the county commission is proposing a one-half percent sales tax for WSPP and another one-half percent sales tax for roads and infrastructure maintenance.
Alachua County Public Works Director and Engineer Ramon Gavarrette said that the cost for road work has increased by 30 – 40 percent and that many of the roads are failing. If this referendum passes, he said the county commission is targeting $50 million per year for roads, which will come from several sources.
Newberry City Commissioner Rick Coleman said his constituents were concerned about the county taking land off of the tax rolls and using the citizens money to do it.
Mayor Jordan Marlowe expressed concern that if voters buy into the system proposed by Gavarrette and he moves on to another city, someone else who comes into the job may throw out the old plan for a new one. Marlowe doesn’t want to keep developing plans—he wants the county to have a plan and stick to it. Coleman said buying land is not right, but something has to be done about the roads.
Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden said the county’s priorities haven’t been right, but Marlowe pointed out that this is not the same county commission Newberry has dealt with in the past and pointed to several successful joint projects this county commission and the city have been able to accomplish recently.
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