Alachua County’s returning commissioners said the work can begin again now that elections are over, and the board of five already has a working knowledge of the issues and each other after serving together since 2020.
“It’s a wonderful team to be a part of,” Board Chair Marihelen Wheeler said. “So, I’m really glad that we have this team back together again, with all the professionalism that’s here, all the knowledge that’s collected up here. It’s remarkable.”
At a special meeting on Tuesday, Wheeler, along with Mary Alford and Ken Cornell, took the oath of office to rejoin the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). The board will vote on a new chair and vice chair at its next meeting.
Wheeler said the BOCC cares about the county as a whole and not just the urban core in Gainesville. She said the board needs to communicate that message to combat notions that small cities have fallen off the county radar.
“I want to represent everybody in this county,” Wheeler said. “And I’m hoping that we can get that message back out there. That we are a whole community and not divided up like pieces of a pie. We are the total pie.”
Alford said the last year has been a blur of changes and challenges. She called the past year one of the toughest in her life and said it brought housing issues to the forefront.
“If someone as privileged as I am had to struggle to find a place that I could afford when I lost my housing in my district, I can’t imagine what it must be like for other people,” Alford said.
Returning to the board, housing will be a top concern, Alford said. She also listed other items that will stay near the top like infrastructure, mostly roads, and the environment.
Cornell also hit on roads, pointing to the approved one-cent surtax that will finance roads, affordable housing and conservation. He also highlighted a new strategy with fire rescue along with raises for the sheriff’s office to increase recruitment.
“I think we’ve got to make sure we keep and attract the best and the brightest to Alachua County,” Cornell said. “So, for me, I feel like there’s so much more to do.”
He said moving forward on a parks master plan and entering talks about the Hickory Sink property will be important as the county prepares for an increased population.