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County Commission passes property taxes and budget, votes to spend 70% of sales surtax on roads, 30% on affordable housing

County Commissioner Ken Cornell explains why he wants a vote on the sales surtax split

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – At their September 27 Regular Meeting, the Alachua County Commission finalized the property tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year, postponed discussion of a zoning change for the former West End Golf Course property, and voted to formalize a promise to spend 70% of the proposed sales surtax on roads and 30% on affordable housing.

Property taxes and budget

The current millage for property taxes is 7.8662 mills; the rolled-back rate (the rate that would raise the same revenue as the previous year, given the increase in property values) would be 7.2684 mills. County staff recommended setting property taxes at 7.7662 mills for the coming fiscal year, a decrease of 0.1 mills from the current rate but a 6.85% increase over the rolled-back rate. 

The MSTU Law Enforcement rate will be set at 3.5678 mills, the same as last year and an 8.17% increase over the rolled-back rate of 3.2983 mills. 

The total County budget for FY23 will be $703,068,309, an increase of $2,054,920 compared to last year’s adopted budget of $701,013,389. 

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The millage rates and budget passed unanimously.

West End Gold Course

Because of the approach of Hurricane Ian, the board also postponed their discussion of a request for a large-scale Comprehensive Plan and Text amendment on the former West End Golf Course property to October 11 at 5:00 p.m.

Sales surtax

During commission comment, Commissioner Ken Cornell said he had given “a number of talks” about the upcoming ballot referendum that would set a sales surtax of one penny for Alachua County. The current surtax is 1/2 cent and is designated for the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) program. The new proposal, if approved by voters, would increase the sales tax in Alachua County to 7% for 10 years; if it fails, the WSPP half-cent tax will remain in place for two more years.

Half of the proposed surtax will still go to WSPP, and the rest will be divided between the County and the municipalities.

Cornell said the commissioners had discussed allocating 70% of their allocation to roads, and he wanted to “memorialize” that with a final vote. He made a motion for 70% of the County’s surtax revenue to go to roads, with 30% going to affordable housing. Based on FY22 estimates, the 70% would come to $9.8 million. The board had previously added some road funding in the FY23 budget, and Cornell said the surtax proceeds would bring the annual funding for roads to $17-18 million. A presentation last September estimated that $41.5 million per year would be required to get the County’s roads to “Fair” condition by 2040. $31.5 million per year would be required to maintain the current condition of the roads, $15 million per year would lead to a slight reduction in condition if the work was optimized, and $4 million (the amount budgeted in previous years) will lead to significant degradation. The FY23 budget allocates about $8 million for roads.

Chair Marihelen Wheeler said she had talked to Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby about issuing a bond for the roads and that he thought it was a good idea; however, she had thought they needed $45 million to fix the roads, so she thought a $30 million bond would get them there in a year. She said she later learned that they will need $45 million for the next 15 years to bring the roads up to fair condition. She said she was also told that the County is already having a hard time hiring people to work on roads, so “it’s not a matter of just getting the money. It’s then a matter of having the crews to actually do the work.”

Cornell agreed that going from $4 million to $17-18 million in a year “is a big ramp-up.” Cornell said that the surtax will grow over the 10 years, and that would allow the County to ramp up in a predictable way. He said the motion he made was important because he and others are promising the public that the surtax will lead to more road work, “and I think if this board passes this policy, now we can all say with confidence that we voted 70% of that half cent goes to roads.”

However, County Manager Michele Lieberman told them that an issue like this, with implications over 10 years for so much money, should be placed on an agenda and noticed to the public, not passed during commission comment. 

Cornell said all five commissioners had already said they supported the 70%, so “I don’t think we need to bring it back.”

Lieberman pointed out that the ballot language mentions fire stations, along with road repair and affordable housing, “but I’m assuming this board is not interested in spending the half penny on things such as public safety and the other things listed.” By statute, the half-penny, designated for infrastructure, must be used for land acquisition; land improvement; costs related to constructing or improving public facilities that have a life expectancy of 5 years or more; and land acquisition for a residential housing project in which at least 30% of the units are affordable to those with a household income not exceeding 120% of the area median income.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she, too, has been talking about the 70/30 split for roads and affordable housing. She said she was fine with voting on it because they’d already had “substantive conversation with the public” about it and they’d “sort of committed to it” in meetings with the city commissions of the municipalities. 

Lieberman said she would prefer bringing it back in a resolution, adding “we’ll be happy to stick it on [the consent agenda].” Cornell agreed to amend his motion to ask staff to create a resolution and bring it back on the consent agenda. 

The motion passed unanimously. 

  • How about no surtax and behave responsibley for a change. You are already hosing taxpayers and have ignored the roads for decades .Look at all the additional taxes your have now with the Newberry rd developments. Thank for plugging up the feeble road system you have negleted. No wonder Cornell is squirming. Everybody sees his failed leadership daily including his hotel under I 75 at SR 26.

  • How about using all of the gas tax money to pay for road repairs? Declare a moratorium on adding subdivisions for 7 – 10 years and use ALL the gas tax money on existing road repair/rehabilitation, instead of 5 cents of each 11 cents on “future capacity”? NO NEW TAX! The Chair is so far out of touch with this issue, she thought it would take $45M to fix the roads, total instead of $45M each year for 15 years!!! Of course they are all “promising” to fix the roads now, but voters/taxpayers must get rid of them November 8th! If not, November 9th there will be four cases of amnesia when they go back to spending taxpayer money on what they and their close group of “constituents” want and taxpayer be damned!

    • You are so on point!!! Between the commissions and GRU, added subdivisions, ridiculous government oversight and petty rules, “affordable housing” is a joke. Add to that the homeless farm (Grace) and lousy court responses to crime, our economic and social decline is preposterous!

  • Wake up People! You’re getting gaslighted with all this blunder and plunder.
    They have ignored the current infrastructure (roads) for over a decade. We the taxpayers pay these people way too much money at $85,000., for this type of failed leadership.
    How many of you make that much money?

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