1% tax is a bad way to pay for recreation
Dwight Adams
July/August 1998

Good recreation facilities should be considered as essential for the well being of a community as other facilities such as fire and police protection. Elected officials in Alachua County and its municipalities have given recreation a low priority for decades and facilities are far below par.

Unfortunately, the referendum for an increase in the sales tax of 1 cent, to be on the September 1 ballot, is a short shrift for recreation. It will provide, at best, short-term improvements, instead of solving the problem in perpetuity as proponents claim.

The proposal has so many deficiencies that voters should vote no.

The sales tax, especially the portion proposed for a trust fund for operation and maintenance, places the tax burden on the wrong people. Current resident would pay several $100 over the eight years of the tax.

No one would pay anything afterwards, including all new residents who move here. This "reverse impact fee" is completely contrary to the notion that growth should help to pay its own way.

Because of the cut-off feature of the local option sales tax on purchases over $5000, it is even more regressive than a normal sales tax, placing a higher burden on lower-income residents. For example, a wealthy person buying a $30,000 luxury car would pay the same in taxes as a person buying a $5,000 car.

It is particularly inappropriate to pay future operation and maintenance (O&M) costs with a sales tax on current residents. General revenue funds, to which middle- and upper-income residents contribute more, should be used for O&M.

Another potential problem with the $130 million trust fund is that it may be too big a temptation for politicians who might want to use it for other purposes.

Recently, we have seen the example in which a police training fund was raided for paving the Gainesville Raceway (a private facility.) Hey, what are trust funds for if not for raiding by politicians?

It is unrealistic to expect that recreation needs can be met in perpetuity by this short-term tax. Facilities built to meet today's needs will become inadequate after the eight years of the proposed tax, when there are no additional construction funds available.

With the population of the county growing at 4,000 people per year, another park similar to Westside Park, for example, will be needed every four or five years. Acquisition and development of new sites must be ongoing to keep pace with the population.

The proposed uses of the funds are heavy on facilities for organized sports, with very little emphasis on other types of recreation. Many who do not want to play in these sports like to take hikes where they can enjoy nature.

Some proposed uses of the funds are clearly "turkeys," the stand-out example being the $2 million for purchase of the Diamond Sports facility south of Jonesville.

Recreation is far too important for this once-and-for-all, quick-fix proposal. It deserves its own share of ongoing general revenue funds. The annual increases in general revenue are sufficient to allow funding to be built-up at a suitable level over a few years. Also, funds currently being used to subsidize growth would be better spent for recreation.

Voters should defeat this proposal and let officials know that adjustments in priorities for funding are needed.

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