The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) ratified its millage rates and budget for the next fiscal year at a meeting on Tuesday that included emergency action on Hurricane Ian.
The BOCC authorized up to $5 million in emergency funds to prepare for and deal with the aftermath of the hurricane. Because Florida earned approval, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will cover funds used to prepare for the storm.
However, county staff noted that Hurricane Irma in September 2017 cost more than $4 million that has yet to be refunded by FEMA.
The commission also ordered an evacuation order for citizens living in mobile homes, manufactured homes, RVs and homes which may not survive the storm and those living in low-lying areas or close to bodies of water.
The county attorney clarified that the order is not mandatory, lacking any enforcement mechanism, but staff pointed out that law enforcement and county vehicles will leave the roadways once the full strength of Hurricane Ian hits the area. Residents who need to evacuate will have to do so before it becomes unsafe to travel.
Jen Grice, director of Alachua County emergency management, updated the commission just after noon on the storm.
“I know a lot of people probably breathed a sigh of relief with the forecast shifting east, but our local probability of experiencing significant winds has actually gone up since we started to see the shift eastward,” Grice said.
The city of Gainesville held a one-hour town hall on Hurricane Ian at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
During the evening portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the BOCC unanimously approved a general millage rate of 7.7662 mills, the same as last year. However, identical to Gainesville, the county will earn more at the same rate because of higher property values. The county will earn just over $15 million more than last year at the lower rate.
The county rollback rate, at which the county would earn the same amount as last year, sat at 7.2684 mills—7.02% above the adopted rate. The county will now operate with a total budget of $701,834,040.
The BOCC also accepted the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) millage rate of 3.5678 mills—8.17% above the rollback rate of 3.2983. The fire assessment dropped for next year, from $94.50 to $90.69 for Tier 1 and from $8.55 to $8.31 for Tier 2.
County Manager Michele Lieberman cautioned a conservative budget in June during uncertain national and international financial footing.
During commission comment, Commissioner Ken Cornell asked that the BOCC codify its commitment to using 70% of the infrastructure half of the proposed one-cent surtax toward roads and the other 30% toward affordable housing. The other half of the surtax will remain solely for the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) program.
The BOCC voted to add the proposed full cent surtax to November’s ballot in the spring, and a campaign in support of the ballot initiative launched last week.
The commission has discussed a 70/30 split before but has yet to bind themselves to it. Cornell said the step will help during discussions with the public, and Commissioner Anna Prizzia agreed, saying the board had already used the figures during talks with the surrounding municipalities.
Lieberman requested the board motion for an ordinance to return at the next meeting. She said the BOCC tries to avoid making substantial decisions without prior notice and placing items on the agenda.
Lieberman added that voting on the split would help. County staff has searched for a written record or vote that codified the 90% conservation lands and 10% active recreation split of WSPP but has not found it set in stone from the last time the surtax passed, according to Lieberman.
However, the county manager said staff has stuck to the 90/10 split.
An ordinance requiring the 70/30 split will return at the next regular meeting.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the commission also approved $1,109,792 to purchase 202 acres along the Santa Fe River. The funds include a 10% contingency and pay for due diligence costs of $79,500. If the purchase goes through, the county plans to open the property to the public with trails, according to Andi Christman, director of the county’s Land Conservation and Management Office.