In a meeting on Monday night with the City of Alachua Commission, Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Chair Ken Cornell introduced the idea of adding a half-cent sales tax to the ballot in 2022.
"Come 2024, there's going to be a movement to renew," Cornell told board members about the current half-cent sales tax that voters passed in 2016 to support Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP).
The county has used that tax revenue to acquire and improve conservation lands and to maintain local parks and recreational facilities throughout Alachua County. An oversight board that has been meeting since 2018 to review the funding receipts and expenses claimed by the sales tax recipients.
According to Alachua County Manager of Fiscal Services Tommy Crosby, the WSPP surtax raised more than $52 million between Jan. 1, 2017, and May 27, 2021.
Cornell said the proposed new half-cent tax could be timed to match the renewal date of the WSPP tax. That means the item would appear on the 2022 ballot for voters to decide.
"In 2024, WSPP is going to either expire or have to be renewed," Cornell said in a Tuesday phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. He said the extra half-cent sales tax could be earmarked for the BOCC's top priorities that include roads, affordable housing and other infrastructure such as broadband.
The timing is important, Cornell said, because the county is "anticipating significant dollars coming down the pipeline for shovel ready projects."
Cornell referred to the $52 million allocated to Alachua County from the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law in March. The federal government will send more than $360 billion in emergency funds to state, local, territorial and tribal governments.
Cornell said in order for the county and municipalities to make the most of those funds, they should establish local funding sources to streamline distribution and match existing revenue sources.
"If we have an established local funding source for affordable housing, roads and other infrastructure, we might have some opportunity with what's coming from the federal government," Cornell said.
The next step after talking and getting input from local municipalities is to poll the community on the idea of the extra tax.
"We'll begin polling the public, and when we get back from summer break in August/September we'll have some meetings about this," Cornell said. "It is my hope that this will be the primary thing we talk about at the countywide summit that I've scheduled for August. And if the community wants us to move forward with this, then we'll develop the right language and get it on the ballot next year.