On November 8, 2016, Alachua County voters approved a ballot initiative called “Wild Spaces & Public Places”. I’m sure you’ve seen the signs on parks and playgrounds all around the county that indicate where the money was spent. This was to be a one-half percent sales tax to be collected in the county from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2024. This tax was supposed to be earmarked to acquire and improve environmentally sensitive lands and to create, improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities.
A noble cause I and many voters were happy to contribute to in this way. After all, what’s a half of a percent, right?
This year, the county is asking voters to approve an expansion and increase to this tax that goes well beyond the scope of the original. If approved by most voters, the tax would replace the half-cent tax with a 1% tax and use it to fund road repairs, park renovations, affordable housing and additional fire stations for the county.
Often these “temporary” taxes serve as politically convenient short-term tools to ease the public backlash from tax hikes. As memories fade, temporary taxes rarely do. State and local governments are replete with examples of how ephemeral measures lead to permanent revenue streams for elected officials. Politicians realize it is easy to hide these levies on a daily basis from the gaze of price conscious taxpayers. (Sales taxes, for example, are easily hidden in the final total price of a product.) Since 2016, you the consumer in Alachua County paid an additional estimated $45,000,000 in sales tax for "Wild Spaces & Public Spaces"
The additional taxes would now fund projects that are already funded by the taxes we as Alachua County residents already pay. We already pay a Fire Department surcharge tax attached to our property taxes. We already pay a Road taxes as part of the 30 cents a gallon excise fuel tax we are charged at the pump.
The true issue isn’t that these taxes aren’t enough, it is that the County Commissioners are unable or unwilling to spend within their already considerable annual revenue of $240,000,000 and want to dip their hand back into our pockets as if we are some sort of never-ending piggy bank now for these normal operating costs they can’t budget for through the normal means.
Trust me, if they framed this as an additional Sales Tax for these already funded projects, it would hurt their popularity and re-election chances, but by framing this as part of the "Wild Spaces & Public Spaces" initiative, they are trying to cover the tracks of their unfettered, and unaccountable spending.
A ‘No’ vote on this ballot Initiative will not end the half-cent "Wild Spaces & Public Spaces" program (that is funded through 2024), it will just keep the County Commissioners from doubling their take from it and spending it where they want.