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Experts discuss unifying city, county

Forum speakers said government unification has pros and cons.


Sun Staff Writer

fficiency, from a monetary and growth management perspective, are benefits of a unified city and county government, former Jacksonville mayor John Delaney told a group in Alachua County Saturday.

The keynote speaker at a forum on government consolidation, Delaney talked about the pros of the unified government that runs Jacksonville as well as disadvantages the area experienced.

That city and county merged in 1968 following problems including a disaccredited school system, the flight of white residents out of the area's urban center, and corruption then within the city and county governments, Delaney said.

"I make no presumptions on what's right for Alachua or Gainesville to do," said Delaney, now president of the University of North Florida. But, he said, "I don't know of any city/county government in the country that has consolidated that now regrets it."

Questioning the merits of government consolidation and whether the Gainesville and Alachua County communities need such a change when not facing problems like those in Duval County was speaker Joseph Little, a University of Florida law professor.

A key negative about unification for Little, who teaches local government and state constitutional law, was governmental accountability and access.

"I would not want to have a government in which the whole county had to come to one place in order to talk about my street light or whatever it is we have to talk about," Little said. "I strongly believe that our municipal governments are the most accountable because they are the closest to the people."

Delaney and Little were among several speakers at the town hall meeting on city/county government unification at Santa Fe Community College. About 50 people attended the event.

The Gainesville Sun co-sponsored the forum with the League of Women Voters. The Sun's editorial department has endorsed unification. The editorial department is separate from The Sun's news operations.

Little also countered observations that a consolidated system would reduce layers of administration by advocating the competition that separate governments can create.

"I applaud when the city of Gainesville and the county are squabbling over something because it's better for them to squabble over something than somehow to have a united approach to doing somebody in," Little said.

Touting the efficiency of a unified system, Delaney noted taxes in Jacksonville dropped after the consolidation.

But comparing tax numbers and millage rates in Alachua and Duval counties can be an apples and oranges argument, Little noted, because this county's tax base is diminished since much land is state-owned and tax exempt. Little questioned what he called the "potential for huge transfers of public assets" that could result in big winners and losers if taxes come under one government.

Delaney argued against Little's observation that one government decreases accountability, saying instead it focuses scrutiny both good and bad on one group of people.

Disadvantages Delaney discussed in the Jacksonville unification included concerns that some neighborhoods were overlooked, how much rural services actually improved and if issues for groups, such as blacks, would be neglected.

An Alachua County commissioner for 16 years, Leveda Brown was a panelist in favor of the consolidation.

"I think what we are looking at now is an increasing population and increasing costs and still a determination to keep tax levels appropriate," she said. "I am not one of those that believe that unification of governments will automatically save a whole bundle of money. I think over time there will be savings."

There are 34 consolidated governments in 16 states in the country. The oldest in the United States is New Orleans, established in 1805, and the largest is New York City.

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I generally favor consolidation, but from my experiences, the populations of city proper and the rest of the county are fairly different. If I was a county resident, I'd be hesitant to allow it. Since I'm not, I say go for it.

I tend to blame county governments for most of the sprawl anyway. Does consolidation help with this?

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I wonder why Gainsville is considering this and not Orlando/Orange&Seminole County, Tampa with Hillsborogh/Pinneallas, or Miami-Dade all the way (I know that the county is its own city like government down there).

If Gainsville is succesful in this endeavor, its going to make many many cities look bad, and immediately catapult Gainsville ahead of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Buffalo in population.

Any links to news articles about this. I'd be interested in reading them--or a source for the one you posted. Thanks.

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Orlando is not going to consolidate with the county because nearby cities like Maitland, Winter Park.... afraid that they will lose all their attention to Orlando. They dont want to pay for the development in Orlando. They are also the people that killed our light rail few years back.

The gainesville news is from Gainesville Sun,.

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  • 1 month later...

I was just making a joke because as I was driving down to Tampa, I saw a sign at the midpoint between Tampa and orlando. It said, "Future Site of Downtown Orlampa". I thought it was pretty funny.

This is the brainchild of Kermit Weeks, the guy who owns Fanatsy of Flight.

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  • 1 year later...

Thats the $64 Million question. Its up to the residents to decide.

This question has come before Tallahassee voters twice in the past and twice it has been defeated due to an issue we have with our law enforcement agencies and the debate over wether we should have an elected Sheriff or an appointed Police Chief.

There are several benifits to consolidation: Government efficency, non-duplication of services, uniform ordinance and tax law, uniform building code... etc.

However consolidation can have major draw backs, namely when it comes to counties with more than one incorporated City or Town. I'm not to Familiar with Alachua county because Im a Leon County resident, but I think there are several incorporations there. This may be a hard sell particularly since it has already been noted that municipal governments are more responsive to their residents than say the county would be.

But those choice is left to the voters. I'd be interested in following this development... because I know if it happens for Gainesville, it will happen in Tallahassee for the sake of not wanting to be "outdone".

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For citizens of Gainesville it seems like this would not be much of a change, but it would mean abolishing the town governments of Waldo, Alachua, Hawthorne, Newberry, Micanopy, High Springs, and others. Residents of these and other smaller towns will be forced to have all of their local business handled through the enlarged city of Gainesville. And I'm not sure it would be a net benefit to them.

Jacksonville has allowed a few places to avoid consolidation, like the Beaches communities and Baldwin. Perhaps such a provision should or could be made for communities in a consolidated Gainesville as well.

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Wow... thats alot of incorporations to worry about. Tallahassee is fortunate not to have any other incorporated cities or towns in Leon which would make our consolidation a little smoother than say a county with several.

What is the major motivation for consolidating Gainesville and Alachua County?

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If Gainesville and Alachua County do consolidate, I think some cities will request to be excluded from consolidation, primarily the city of Alachua. It is growing at a very quick pace, and it's high growth is most likely not in line with Gainesville's long term plans for the area. I personally think that consolidation would be very beneficial in regards to Gainesville controlling sprawl throughout the county (which is not bad at all thus far, compared to many FL counties). But, another side of me thinks that little towns like Alachua, Hawthorne, Newberry, Micanopy, and High Springs are charming reminders of Florida's past. Only time will tell which direction they take, I guess.

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I follow along fairly closely with Gainesville city politics, and I haven't heard this issue come up much since the above article was published. I'm not saying they aren't talking about it behind closed doors, but there is definitely no buzz around town about it now.

TaureanJ, I would say the primary benefit to Gainesvile would be controlled sprawl in the county, and also importantly, it would simplify the planning of and increase county access to Gainesville's Regional Transit System (RTS) bus system. As of now, RTS is the state's fourth largest bus transit system (by ridership - preceded by Miami, Jax, and I believe, Tampa's bus systems - I'd confirm this last city, but my browser is being rediculous). Not a bad statistic considering those cities dwarf Gainesville in size.

All in all, I would say the key reason for consolidating is better control of what development, etc. goes on in the county. It forces the city and county to share common goals (whether the county and other small cities want it or not).

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Gainesville's Transit system had long been sighted as a success story by our local Civic leader's because of its ridership. We've actually sent a crew of commissioners there to get an inside on your success. Since, they have come back to impliment some changes starting with hiring a new director of our TalTran. If all goes well... we'll be able to say we found our success down in Gainesville.

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^ and a mass transit fee is added to each student's tuition and fees every semester, so it probably reduces the equivalent cost per ride for the student... Plus it gives "choice" students the incentive to use the bus or not use it and still pay for it anyways.

And for curiosity's sake, the top 3 ranking transit systems based on ridership are Miami-Dade, Broward, and Lynx (Orlando). I haven't found ridership figures for RTS, so I can't confirm if Gainesville is 4th or not.

For some perspective:

  • Miami-Dade ~207,000+ daily (bus only)

  • Broward ~106,000

  • Lynx ~80,000 (service area covers three counties)

  • Tampa/Hillsborough ~35,000 (dismal for a metro its size)

  • Jacksonville (JTA) ~31,000

  • Palm Beach County ~29,000 (more transit users probably use Tri-Rail)

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I could only find figures for 2003. And two different sources had two different figures, but anyway. One source claims 38,000 daily. The other claims 40,000 daily (probably just rounded up from 38,000). I know that 2004 was a record year for RTS. So, ridership is probably around 40-45K daily. Which is fourth on your list. Pretty good for such a small service area.

I'd like to determine which city has the highest ridership per square mile (or other form of measurement) of service area . And, which city has the highest ridership per population of service area (metro populations really don't apply here - because Gainesville's metro is around 260K - but I'd guess that only 140K are in the RTS service area. This is because much of Alachua County is not served by RTS, though all of Alachua County is usually considered part of the Gainesville metro.) I really don't feel like crunching numbers at the moment. I bet Gainesville would be near the top in both categories.

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When I was in UF, I remembered that Palm Beach bus system hired the director of RTS. I lived on SW 34 St so I can just ride my bike to school.

Does the number in Orlando include I-trolley on I-drive? I am not sure if that's Lynx too.

I am sure Disney bus system would carry the most passengers in the state if someone can find the figures.

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  • 3 weeks later...

There's much discussion right now between Alachua County and its incorporated cities about future annexation areas. Long story short, it doesn't appear that Gainesville will annex all of Allachua County anytime soon, if ever. But, it does appear that Gainesville can annex a good majority of the land that is not incorporated by other cities/towns in the county. Though I don't see a mass annexation on the horizon.

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