Frequently Asked Questions

Q.  What will it mean if Wild Spaces & Public Places is passed?

A. The “Wild Spaces” part of the program will restore the ability to protect water and land resources that have been identified as high priority projects through the Alachua County Forever (ACF) Program.   First approved in 2000, ACF uses an objective ranking system based on criteria related to water resource protection, plant and wildlife habitat quality, social and human criteria such as provision of recreation values, and ease of management and acquisition.  Properties to be protected can be nominated using a one-page form.  Properties can only be purchased from willing landowners who wish to sell.   For more information, please visit the Alachua County Forever website at: http://www.alachuacounty.us/depts/epd/landconservation/pages/landconservationboard.aspx

The “Public Places” part of the program will implement park and facility improvements as well as new public recreation locations in each of the county’s cities as well as at existing county parks.

 

Q.   How were the project lists for Public Places developed?

 A.  Each of the eight smaller cities, Gainesville and Alachua County adopted their recreational facilities project lists through open, public meetings.   Some, such as Gainesville, had larger community processes to adopt their Recreation Master Plan and 352 Arts Roadmap.  Each took public input and was passed on a majority vote.   Some have not set a time order for their lists, so if you would like to advocate for a particular project, please contact your elected officials.

 

Q.  Are the lists fair?   How can we find out where the projects are near us?

 A.  Each of the project lists is included at www.wildspacespublicplaces.org.  Funding is split according to a formula in state law, though in addition, Alachua County has indicated it will encourage each of the cities to apply to receive additional funding, and has designated $3 million for partnership projects, and allocated $3 million toward joint projects with Gainesville.

 

Q.  Isn’t there enough land and water already protected?

 A.  Much of the land you see as natural land across our county is privately owned and can legally be developed.     In order to protect the water, wildlife and beautiful vistas that we enjoy today, and increase public access and recreational opportunities, Alachua County Forever is the only way to save it FOREVER.   We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them clean, fresh water to drink and swim in, and rivers, lakes and streams that are safe to fish.

Currently, about 20% of Alachua County land is in permanent protected status.   Out of the state’s 67 counties, we are #35 in terms of percentage of land preserved and #44 out of 67 in terms of acres preserved per capita.

 

Q.  Ok, so maybe the amount of land protected isn’t too much compared to other counties and given our population, but doesn’t taking the land off the tax rolls cost too much?

A.  As it turns out, most of the land protected through Alachua County Forever was already subject to agricultural exemption and therefore paid very little in property tax.  In fact, the taxes that would have been paid annually by the 23,944 acres purchased via Alachua County Forever between 2001 and 2014 amounts to $104,849.    In that same time frame, Alachua County’s tax base has gone from $6.05 Billion in 2001 to $11.25 Billion in 2013.   In other words, over the course of those years the value of our tax base went up $1.19 million PER DAY.   And so, the taxable value of all of the Alachua County Forever lands purchased during the entire program is made up in about four days.

 

Q.   Didn’t we already tax ourselves at the state level to save land?

A.  No, the 2014 Constitutional Amendment #1, Water and Land Conservation, did not raise or lower taxes, it simply directed the Legislature to spend 1/3 of the Documentary Stamp Tax (paid on real estate transfers and other large purchases) on water and land protection.    Historically, for almost than 20 years between 1990 and 2009, a higher percentage than 1/3 of the doc stamp was going into these programs, but new land acquisition was almost zero funded between 2010 and 2015.   

 There is an ongoing dispute as to whether the Legislature is properly appropriating these funds, there are two lawsuits pending.   Regardless, allocation of the state’s Florida Forever funds to protect water and land with local governments has always required local matching funds. 

 

Q.   I’ve heard this money is going to be used to buy up Weyerhauser’s land, is that right?

A.  Weyerhauser (formerly Plum Creek) has indicated that they are not interested in selling their land to Alachua County for conservation at this time.     These funds cannot ever be used to buy land against the will of the seller.   Also, there are over 27,000 acres of land that have willing sellers and have already been evaluated as very important to water quality and wildlife habitat protection, “A Listed” properties, using objective and scientific.    If at some point there is an interest in selling any land, it must be evaluated against these criteria and compete well against other projects in a public review process to become eligible for purchase.

 

Q.  Why isn’t there just a list of exactly which lands would be purchased?   

A.  Land buying programs don’t typically list the exact properties they wish to purchase in advance, as that drives the price of the real estate up and makes it more difficult to buy.  Instead, there is a one page nomination form followed by a detailed site analysis and a ranking against other projects.  Once a project is listed then the owner can negotiate to sell at a fair price, but they know that there are many other eligible properties also available, so they are motivated to price their land below the appraisal to move it up in the acquisition process.

 

Q.  How much is going to land and how much to recreation and parks?   

A. It will be be close to a 50/50 split.   With only a few project-specific exceptions, the nine municipalities are proposing that almost all of their funds toward active recreation, parks and cultural facilities; together they get almost half the funds.   The county has listed numerous recreation projects as well.

 

Q.  Why a sales tax?

 A. A lot of our sales tax  (more than 50% it’s estimated) is paid for by people who don’t live or pay taxes in Alachua County.  Between our status as a regional shopping hub, UF sports and events, Gatornationals, people driving through on the interstate and so on, a large portion of our sales tax is paid by out of county shoppers.  Sales tax does not apply to medicine, groceries, services and many other necessities.

 The base 6% sales tax is allocated not on actual spending, but on population of the local government.  So our community doesn’t get the benefit of all of this out of county shopping from a tax perspective UNLESS we levy a local option sales tax.  If we have a local option sales tax, then ALL that revenue comes back to Alachua County and its cities.

 

Q.   How many other counties have a local option sales tax?

A.  Of the state’s 67 counties, 58 have a local option sales tax. Alachua is one of nine counties in the entire state that does not have a local option sales tax.  

 

Q.  Shouldn’t this money be going to roads instead? 

A.  Alachua County voters rejected local option sales taxes for roads in 2004, 2012 and 2014.        Meanwhile, however, Alachua County has recently repaved 16th Avenue, and in 2017 will repave Tower Road, NW 43rd Street and County Road 236 near High Springs.  

 

Q.  How can I find out what the cities are planning to do with their recreation funding?  

Each city AND Alachua County has adopted a list of park, recreation and cultural amenities that are eligible for funding if the Wild Spaces & Public Places program is reauthorized by voters.   The summary lists are shown at www.wildspacespublicplaces.org, for a more detailed list contact wildspacespublicplaces@gmail.com.   

 

Q.  Why isn’t this funding going to schools?

A.  The Alachua County School Board, not the Alachua County Commission, is not responsible for school funding.   The November 8 ballot also has an important vote on the One Mill for Schools, which funds critical operating programs.  The City of Gainesville also lists a number of school-based recreational improvements, and  Citizens’ Field, is also on its project list.   

 

Q. What will it mean if Wild Spaces & Public Places is passed?

A:

A. The “Wild Spaces” part of the program will restore the ability to protect water and land resources that have been identified as high priority projects through the Alachua County Forever (ACF) Program.   First approved in 2000, ACF uses an objective ranking system based on criteria related to water resource protection, plant and wildlife habitat quality, social and human criteria such as provision of recreation values, and ease of management and acquisition.  Properties to be protected can be nominated using a one-page form.  Properties can only be purchased from willing landowners who wish to sell.   For more information, please visit the Alachua County Forever website at: http://www.alachuacounty.us/depts/epd/landconservation/pages/landconservationboard.aspx

 

The “Public Places” part of the program will implement park and facility improvements as well as new public recreation locations in each of the county’s cities as well as at existing county parks.