Removal of Sales Tax for Buses Highlights City-County Split

County commission focuses on roads, while city commission sees bus expansion as essential to easing congestion.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated May 23, 2012 after a vote from the Alachua County Commission.

The Alachua County Commission added a sharp curve to its road to a referendum on transportation May 22.

After several years of discussion among the commission members—and with the municipalities in the county—the county commission voted 3-2 to drop a proposed one-quarter cent referendum for expanded bus service from the November general election ballot.

The three commissioners voting to axe the bus tax—Lee Pinkoson, Susan Baird and Winston Bradley—say that a second referendum, one devoted solely to road improvements, has a better chance of approval by itself.

This twist illustrates the different visions of the county commission and the Gainesville City Commission regarding how people move around the community.

Earlier, the city commission voted 6-1, with only Todd Chase in dissent, to support the quarter-cent referendum for bus service expansion. One city commissioner after another spoke about what he or she saw as the necessity of funding a robust bus system as a way to lessen traffic congestion.

On the county commission, Pinkoson, Baird and Bradley contend that it’s premature to commit funds to expanded bus service, since plans for it are incomplete.

Gainesville Commissioner Thomas Hawkins disagrees. “We don’t have complete plans for all the road improvements, but we need make plans to fund them,” he says. “BRT is no different.”

Pinkoson, Hawkins Leading Advocates for Either Side
Pinkoson says that moving forward on the road-tax referendum is crucial. “We urgently need to fix our roads,” he says. “We have a deep hole in road maintenance, and we need to accept responsibility to address it.”

Some Alachua County roads that haven’t been resurfaced in 40 years would be resurfaced with sales tax dollars. This photo illustration prepared by County Engineer Dave Cerlanek compares a newly resurfaced road to one that hasn’t been resurfaced for 40 years.

He acknowledges that getting approval of the three-quarter cents for roads will be challenging. “Roads aren’t sexy,” he says. “Times are tough, and it’s hard to ask people to pay more.”

Pinkoson plans to appeal to voters with a basic financial argument: The cost of road repairs increases if repairs are delayed. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost,” he says.

The county is using all the other resources it has available to improve roads, including increasing the amount of property tax dollars for repairs and using bonds funded by a nickel increase in gas tax, which went into effect in 2008, to complete road improvements, Pinkoson says.

“We’ve been doing what we can to build trust that we’re committed to roads,” he says.

While Pinkoson is passionate about preserving roads, Hawkins is equally enamored of having a vibrant bus system, and he was planning to lead the campaign for the quarter-cent for bus service expansion.

He cites the following three reasons he believes voters have supported enhancing RTS service:

  • People want choices beyond depending on cars.
  • Increasing buses reduces traffic congestion by taking cars off the road.
  • A stronger bus system will aid economic development by reducing the need for parking at the
  • University of Florida campus, Innovation Square and downtown Gainesville.

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3 Comments

  1. Don Herget

    No excuses accepted. The issue is simplicity itself. Pinkoson, Baird and Bradley have voted to take the decision away from the County’s voters. This must be remembered when they are next up for election.

  2. Rob Brinkman

    Several years ago when the economy was doing much better a half cent tax for roads failed. What makes Pinkoson, Baird, and Bradley believe a 3/4 cent sales tax inl a tight economy will pass. They likely lost the support of many Gainesvillagers for this sales tax.

  3. Hugh Calderwood

    I would like to see the poll that Commissioner Hawkins did. Esp. the methodology

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