By Caitlyn Finnegan
With shrinking revenue from Alachua County’s gas tax struggling to meet the public’s demands for more transit projects and upgrades to local infrastructures, the Alachua County Commission is searching for a new way to fund transportation projects.
After holding a transportation summit in April, the county logged 464 responses from community members about what they want to see come out of future transportation projects. The biggest concerns? A more reliable transit service, maintenance on deteriorating public roads and more transportation choices to choose from when traveling through the area.
Demands for more transit projects are only mounting as the county continues to experience growth, so commissioners are once again tossing around the idea of a transportation surtax — a penny tax that would be used towards road maintenance and transit projects.
But to have any hope of passing such a tax, Commissioner Mike Byerly said, the county would have to set its sights on projects addressing transit issues, multimodal alternatives and maintenance on crumbling roads.
“Based on the feedback, it would be a big mistake to focus on just one aspect of this,” Byerly said.
Tuesday night’s meeting featured input from nearly a dozen citizens. A motion to request more information on the viability of a new surtax passed unanimously, with commissioners stating that any serious actions moving towards implementing the tax would not take place until late in the year.
The commissioners requested county staff to prepare a package that includes ballot language for a surtax of one penny, a prioritized list of road projects that could be done in 5-15 years, multi-modal alternatives, previous interlocal agreements regarding transportation and the potential revenue such a tax could bring in to fund projects. Staff are expected to present their findings during the July 9 county commission meeting.
A similar tax was discussed and ultimately discarded last May due to the proposed uses for its revenue being “too vague” to drum up community support, according to county commission meeting minutes. To avoid a similar fate for a new surtax proposal, Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said the commission should work towards compiling the most “politically smart” project list possible that will lay every option on the table.
“We need to figure out what those apples are in the barrel that could ruin it for all of us and get those out of there,” Hutchinson said.