Alachua County voted by narrow margins to approve a one-cent sales tax and single-member districts for the county commission.
With all 64 precincts reporting, the one cent sales tax passed by a four-point margin, 52% to 48%. The amendment to the county charter providing for single-member districts passed by a slightly smaller margin, 51.5% to 48.5%.
For many elected leaders in the area, the result represents a split: Democrats tended to favor the surtax, while Republicans favored the move to single-member districts.
“I’m really happy about the surtax,” Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell said in a phone interview Tuesday night.
In 2016 Alachua County voters approved a half-cent sales tax for the Wild Spaces Public Places program, which supports parks and recreation facilities while allowing the county to acquire conservation lands. The one-cent surtax passed Tuesday will continue the Wild Spaces Public Places program and add a half-cent for infrastructure and affordable housing.
“We’ve done so much good work with Wild Spaces over the last five years, so the public said do more over the next 10 years,” Cornell said. “The amazing work that we’ve been able to do will continue.”
The effort to move the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners from at-large representation to single-member districts represented one of the most contentious issues on the ballot, with both sides accusing the other of campaign improprieties.
State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, put forward the proposal last December, after which it passed through the county delegation and the Legislature to get on the ballot.
“I’m ecstatic,” Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said in an interview. “I believe we can use single-member districts to speak to all of Alachua County [with] candidates who will represent the whole county.”
Clemons said he proposed the bill after hearing from constituents, particularly in the western part of the county, who believe they are inadequately represented by the current commission.
“Representative Clemons really deserves the biggest share of the credit here. He, despite all odds, believed in the people, and now they have spoken,” Marlowe said. “We could possibly be looking at an entirely different county government 10 years from now because of tonight.”
Cornell led the opposition to the single-member district effort, saying it would reduce representation for Alachua County residents from five to one member of the county commission. But he said he would work to implement the new system.
“I’ve always been a commissioner that takes what the people say and runs with it,” Cornell said. “If the folks of Alachua County want to be represented through single-member districts, then that’s how we’ll do it.”