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County commission places 1% sales surtax on November ballot

Commissioner Anna Prizzia at March 22 County Commission meeting

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their March 22 meeting, the Alachua County Commission voted unanimously to put a referendum for a ten-year one percent sales surtax on the November 8 ballot.

The ordinance calls for a 1% sales surtax that will replace the current 0.5% Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) surtax that was passed in 2016. WSPP does not expire until December 31, 2024, and it will continue until that date if the referendum does not pass.

During the board’s discussion, Commissioner Anna Prizzia said, “The point of expanding from a half cent to a full cent was to address a lot of the critical infrastructure problems that we have with many of our roads… and in addition to that, to fund affordable housing… We’re doing a sales tax because it’s the least regressive way to do it. The taxes are not on food or rent, and we have sales tax holidays on clothing, school supplies, things that are needed the most, and 30% of that sales tax comes from out of our county, from people who come here to shop and play, go to Celebration Pointe. We’re able to leverage visitors to our county to support important things. They drive on our roads and use our parks and should be paying for them.”

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 as defined in Florida’s statutes. Those 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 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. Up to 15% of the non-WSPP half of the surtax may be used to fund economic development projects to improve the local economy.

The funds will be divided between the County and the municipalities based on a formula found in Florida statutes that is roughly proportional to population, with the county getting over half the funds and the rest distributed to the municipalities by population. Because that doesn’t leave much for the smaller municipalities, the ordinance states that the County will 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.” The City will have to submit a detailed request for each project. Another $6 million will be provided to all the municipalities (including 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.

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The surtax is estimated to 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, $895k to Newberry, $861k to High Springs, $189k to Hawthorne, $156k to Archer, $124k to Waldo, $87k to Micanopy, and $51k to La Crosse. 

If approved by a majority of voters, the surtax will begin on January 1, 2023, and end on December 31, 2032. 

Although the wording in the title of the referendum calls it the “WILD SPACES PUBLIC PLACES, ROAD REPAIR, FIRE STATIONS, AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING ONE PERCENT SALES TAX,” funds from the 0.5% surtax for Other Infrastructure Uses can be used for any of the projects allowed by statute. The ordinance does not specify any minimum amount of money to be spent on roads, fire stations, or affordable housing, and the County and municipalities will each develop their own priority lists for spending the money allocated to them.

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