Alachua County Half Cent Sales Tax Expires
As the new year rolls around, residents of Alachua County will be paying less sales tax than they have paid for the last two years. The "Wild Spaces, Public Places" extra half cent sales tax was approved by county vote in 2008. So two years and $32 million later, what the county has to show for the referendum?
The sales tax revenues go towards extending the Alachua County Forever land conservation program that began in 2001 and for recreational improvements by each city.
To date, Alachua County has purchased $90 million worth of "wild spaces" for conservation. And large portion of the $32 million in revenues has been allocated for "public places."
Melanie Vansteenburgh said, "I actually wondered what the extra sales tax we have in Gainesville was for. I'm glad to know it was something we can actually use and that's beneficial for our family."
Vansteenburgh brings her kids to the Possum Creek Park in Northwest Gainesville a few times a month. She said she didn't realize the playground and open fields her kids love and the bathrooms she appreciates, were made possible in part by the extra county sales tax.
Director of the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department Steve Phillips said, "We've had close to $12 million allocated for both land acquisition and for park improvements and development." Phillips said the money has gone toward 20 projects so far, providing something for everyone in town. He said, "So now with things such as the Rosa Williams Center is having roof repairs, uh the T.B. McPherson Center. A lot of our facilities are having major renovations that we have not been able to do up to this point, which is just a major, major boost in the use of those facilities."
The cost for each family in Alachua County on average was about $90 over the last two years. And Alachua County Forever Project Manager Ramesh Buch said the benefit to everyone in the county is huge, economically and environmentally. He said, "If you like to go outdoors and hike, hunt, recreate, camp, birdwatch....Clean air, carbon sequestration, aesthetics...Then we haven't even talked about the wildlife, genetic transfers, safe harbors & refuge for animals."
The county was able to work with state, federal and private funding sources to leverage the local pot of money generated by the extra sales tax. Buch said, "You get millions of dollars worth of land conservation and recreational improvements, which even if you don't use them, you benefit from having those amenities in your town."
Steve Wininger voted for the referendum in 2008. He said it's nice to see the benefits in action while bringing his daughter Raine to Possum Creek Park. Wininger said, "I think it's a huge benefit to everyone in the community." He also said he wishes there had been a skate park like the one at Possum Creek Park for him to use as a kid. And what's does Raine Wininger like best? She said, "Slide!"
Although the extra half cent sales tax ends this month, Alachua County and it's municipalities still have money left to spend on the projects they'd planned from the start. So the final tally of what the county has to show for the program is still not fully known. For more information visit http://www.alachuacounty.us/Depts/EPD/LandConservation/wspp/Pages/WildSpacesPublicPlaces.aspx
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