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Odds and ends from the November 12 County Commission meeting – Alachua Chronicle
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Odds and ends from the November 12 County Commission meeting

BY JENNIFER CABRERA / NOVEMBER 18, 2019

Hutchinson elected Chair of the Commission

The commission (with Mike Byerly absent) voted to make Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson the Chair for the next year, with Byerly as the Vice Chair. Immediately following the ceremony, Hutchinson called up Chuck Chestnut, and his parents, Charles and Cynthia Chestnut. All three have been Chair of the County Commission, and Hutchinson “retired” the gavel and presented it to the family.

County hires outside attorney to continue litigation against the Sheriff

The commission approved spending $50,000 to hire an outside attorney to appeal a ruling by the First District Court of Appeal, stating that Sheriff Darnell has the authority to move money around in her budget. The vote was 3-1, with Ken Cornell opposed and Mike Byerly absent.

ADA concerns prevent the county from putting presentations in the backup

Citizens have been complaining for several months that not all PowerPoint presentations are included in the online backup for county meetings. The county has said that it is difficult to make the presentations “accessible,” in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

County selects artist for mural in Tax Collector’s Office

The commissioners voted for this option (ranked 3rd), but they asked that it be turned into a gator.

Septic Tank Ordinance Options

According to Stacie Greco and Evan Shane Williams from the County’s Environmental Protection Department, there are 26,000 septic tanks in the county, mostly on the western side. Each tank produces about 22 pounds of nitrogen per year. The proposed ordinance could require upgrades to existing septic tanks or only require nitrogen-reducing septic tanks in new construction.

State law preempts localities from requiring upgrades when a property is sold. (Commissioner “Hutch” Hutchinson commented: “Once again, the legislature making sure that we can poop into our springs.”) Another possibility is to require upgrades when a repair permit is issued.

The county is currently installing a passive method at Poe Springs – an in-ground nitrogen-reducing biofilter under the drain field to absorb nutrients. The system is new, so its performance is assumed; there isn’t a lot of data on actual performance. 

Other upgrade options for septic tanks are active (generally using pumps) and require maintenance contracts. 

The state has an upgrade incentive program for existing systems that reimburses homeowners up to $10k for a voluntary upgrade. However, Alachua County is currently not eligible. Potential funding for septic tank upgrades could come from state funding or a septic tank assessment. The commissioners discussed using the proposed infrastructure sales tax, but they decided it was unlikely that improvements to private property would qualify.

Commissioner Ken Cornell said the county has a lot on its plate, and this would be at the cutting edge. Hutchinson said they should put requirements on new systems, at a minimum. 

Hutchinson also said the $10k subsidies from the state are a “scare tactic” because the passive system is “just a load of pine chips and some guys to shovel them.” Hutchinson continued to argue for the in-ground biofilters, but staff said there isn’t much data on them, plus they can’t be used where the water table is high. 

County staff said the biofilter requires replacing the drain field, and state reimbursements are coming in at $10k. When the county upgraded Poe Springs, they found that the tank had degraded and had to be replaced; it is unknown whether similar problems drive up the costs of biofilter installation. 

A motion to ask the staff for more information passed unanimously. 

Tara St. Augustine

The commission approved a zoning change and a Preliminary Development Plan for a 73-unit single-family attached residential subdivision on 39th Avenue near NW 63rd St.

Amendments to Update the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan

  • The Plan will add language to include high-speed internet accessibility in specific economic distressed areas and also including the goal of having high-speed internet access available throughout the county
  • “The County’s goal by 2030 is that 100% of energy purchased or produced for County facilities be from solar photovoltaic sources, with an interim target of 50% by 2025.”
  • The County will include impacts on public health when considering planning policies.
  • The Plan will add language to include “significant habitat” among the natural resources for protection as open space, as part of new development.
  • Language referring to various Federal and State housing programs and Local Organizations is updated.

The amendments were adopted unanimously.

Discussion about infrastructure sales tax

During commissioner comment, Cornell said, ’The city’s going to now have their discussion. They are kind of equal partners with us moving forward if we decide to put anything on the ballot, and now they are going to have their discussion about what’s important to them… And we’re going to come together as two boards and say if this is going to pass, we kinda all need to be on the same page. So what’s the right compromise to bring something forward for an infrastructure sales tax that’s kind of in accordance with the local green new deal?

“And so I think the path forward for us is we’ve kind of done a first pass, let them do a first pass, and let’s have a joint meeting… to kind of say are we going to do this? If we’re not, I’m a firm believer—if 11 out of 12 of us aren’t on the same page, and there’s a certain one of you all that could probably kill it in and of itself, if you decided to, then it’s not going to pass. I think we all need to kind of be on the same page.”

Hutchinson chimed in: “Absolutely. There may be some things that you don’t think are awesome, but if there’s anything on there you think is, this is our shot. This time, it’s this energy around the environmental crises and the affordable housing crises. We don’t do this now, shame on us.”

 Cornell said, “I think, we walk out of that joint meeting, if we’re all unhappy but agree we’re going to support it, that’s probably the perfect scenario. We’re not all going to be happy with everything.”

Hutchinson said, “I’m putting on my cheerleader outfit because we’ve got to be totally enthusiastic—this is a huge lift for the community. We need everybody on board with it. And when I start hearing commissioners like ‘Well, I don’t like that thing.’ So what? You are not going to like everything. you’ve got to like enough of it to be out there beating the bushes.”

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