GAINESVILLE – A new transportation system surtax may be added to the county’s sales tax to make road and transportation improvements countywide.  The tax would generate an estimated $30 million countywide, with about half going directly toward the County’s projects.  The remainder would be split among each municipality, using a formula accounting for a city’s population and roadway miles.

The tax is aimed at tackling an estimated $380 million backlog of road improvements throughout the county.

David Cerlanek, the assistant public works director for Alachua County, presented the possible tax to the Hawthorne and Alachua city commissions on Dec. 6 and Dec. 12 respectively.

At the direction of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the Alachua County’s Public Works Department has recommended a 1-cent countywide tax that would last at least 10 years.

This tax would be added to the current sales tax of 6.25 percent, and its uses could be put toward any projects that involve transportation, such as a countywide bus system, road and bridge construction and maintenance, capital debt service and a fixed guide way rapid transit system.

In the City of Alachua, the surtax would net an estimated $1 million annually for road projects, Cerlanek said.  Out of its own portion of the surtax, the County would fund other projects, although they may be located within a particular municipality.  Cerlanek noted that topping the County staff’s list of projects was several in and around the City of Alachua, including County Road 237, NW 156 Avenue, Peggy Road and County Road 235A.

Alachua Vice Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. said he was concerned that the surtax might be used for projects other than those presented or that the projects may only be loosely related to transportation.

In response, Cerlanek said the County staff’s proposed projects are focused on “pavement management.”  The projects might include drainage if there’s a need or roadway shoulder repair.  Sidewalk repair or construction, he said, would be limited to those specifically on or crossing a roadway where safety and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is concerned.

The initiative would allow the County and cities like Alachua and Hawthorne to make the improvements sooner rather than later by obtaining a bond and pledging a portion of the future taxes.  Such an option allows for immediate construction instead of waiting for the money to come in from the tax throughout the years.

Hawthorne City Manager Ellen Vause suggested the commission would focus on the most heavily used streets within the city limits. She said the purchase of a motor grader to flatten and maintain dirt roads may also be added to the list of projects.

“From the city manager standpoint, the revenue that this tax would generate from the city would be significant in helping us resurface our roads here,” she said. “This will be the only opportunity to do a wide-scale resurfacing of the city streets.”

Alachua County’s Public Works Department has already attended community meetings and met with city staff members around the county pitching the idea. A draft of the community-wide project list is scheduled to be completed in January 2012.  County officials hope that by the end of May, each city will have passed interlocal agreements, which would detail how the tax revenues would be split across the county.

County commissioners would need to pass a final ordinance and ballot language by the end of July for inclusion on the Nov. 6, 2012 general election ballot.

Vause said she hopes citizens will see the benefit of this surtax and will support its progress.

“This sales tax would go beyond our community,” she said. “Travelers and buyers from all over Alachua County will add to the money earned. Everyone contributes to it so it wouldn’t rest on the shoulders of the citizens.”

During his presentation, Cerlanek said he hopes community leaders will step up and provide consistent and accurate information to as many interested community groups as time allows.

This new surtax would differ from the local government infrastructure surtax in that it will only focus on transportation operations, maintenance and construction. The infrastructure surtax can be used for acquiring land, new capital facilities and their improvements and engineering costs. It is not used for operations and maintenance.