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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Jeff Foxworthy He's Not

State Sen. Rod Smith said this about his hometown of Alachua Thursday, when speaking to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club:

"It's hardly a great base to run from politically, but then again neither was Pensacola (which produced Gov. Reubin Askew) years ago or Lakeland before Lawton Chiles walked out of it. The town of Alachua is so small that I tell folks all the time that we have a weekly newspaper and it's readership is always greatest when we have a divorce notice involving the sale of a bass boat.''

Unfortunately, the Alachua he describes is somewhat a thing of the past. City officials have sold the farm, literally, to a group that wants to transform Alachua into the state's largest truck stop – home to literally thousands of semis that travel in and out every day. The town's political and business leaders have refocused the attention from Main Street to the newer retail businesses close to the interstate. The city has annexed so much land that it is the size of Gainesville, with a fraction of the population. City leaders are all too willing to rural lands for commercial and industrial development, and to spend tax revenues making development cheaper for the developer.

The city is heavily in debt, for a city its size. Taxes are above average, and utilities are expensive. The city resells electricity from GRU, at a higher price.

The city commission, financially supported in their campaigns by people who make money from real estate development, promises that these new businesses will add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the annual tax revenues, which would mean tax relief for the citizens.

The problem is, the city has never truly estimated the costs of this growth, on top of the money already spent on it. There's reason to believe that the costs will outstrip the revenue -- every city in Florida is that has a lot of growth has higher rates of taxes, crime, poverty and pollution than Alachua. You want cheap taxes? Move to Gilchrist County.

Of course there is also the promise of jobs, and that is certainly true. You can debate about the quality of those jobs, but they're better than shoveling fast food. However, the vast majority of those jobs are going to people who not only live outside of Alachua, they live in other counties. Counties where the taxes are cheaper.

Alachua residents are paying higher taxes and utilities to ensure these warehouse distribution centers are built, yet a small percentage of them work there, loading and unloading 80-pound pallets of Chinese-made goods bound for Wal-Mart or Dollar General.

The town is already dangerous. Each of these warehouses will have several hundred trucks entering and leaving daily. The I-75 interchange at US 441 is already choked at critical hours, and trucks are routinely seen using County Road 235 as a detour, right through the heart of town, right past the elementary school and high school.

Already, a group of Alachua moms has complained to the Alachua County School Board because kids who live within two miles of the schools don't get bus service.

It'll only get worse. Another warehouse is moving in. More will follow. The best situation is for the I-75 interchange to be rebuilt to accommodate the truck traffic, or for a new one to be built on County Road 235. Each project would cost millions of dollars. Factor that in and the cost to the taxpayers far exceeds the new tax revenues.

Smith has been supportive of this change, and as governor he would be in a great position to use his influence with the feds, who would have to build the interchange.

He probably shouldn't act so small town.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alachua certainly isn't Micanopy but then we don't need another Micanopy. Here in the county that doesn't want good paying Fortune 500 companies we need more progressive cities like Alachua to bail out the budget. From the growth rate of Alachua Colin seems to miss the point that real people want to live there. The city commission pays as much attention to downtown as to the only real industrial park in the county.
Colin needs to take a course in economics. The debt load of Alachua is not excessive. The city hired a consulting firm to analyze their debt and the report came back that it could go further into debt for infrastructure needs and STILL not be TOO FAR into debt. Of course Colin doesn't want to hear that.
The city has only annexed property when asked. The owners came to the city and ASKED to come in. Most of that annexing occured back when Gainesville WAS going out and taking county land (which they still are doing). Those land owners didn't want to be gobbled up. Also at that time county taxes were higher than Alachua. Speaking of that, the taxes in Alachua are NOT higher than High Springs, their neighbor OR Micanopy, Colin's utopia. At the budget workshop the commission proposed plans to lower the tax rate. The second time in three years.
Colin's "progressive" friends paid for a consultant to show that the Dollar General DC would be a losing proposition for the city. In fact Hutch and Newport, who also think like Colin, threw in $5000 of our taxes to support the view that it would be a bad decision for Alachua. Guess what! Consultant said it was a good deal! Colin and his buddies went ballistic.
Colin's biggest mistake...That any new construction to I-75 would cost taxpayers millions exceeding tax revenue. Wrong! I-75 and Rt 441 are federal and state roads. Gas tax dollars cover most improvements. It won't cost Alachua citizens anymore in taxes.
Colin was right in that many people are moving to Gilchrist and Columbia and even Levy counties to get away from the high taxes of Alachua county. Maybe if the climate was better for Fortune 500 companies to move here the taxes would go down and people would want to stay here. That would solve another problem for Colin....SPRAWL!

8:06 AM

 
Blogger Colin Whitworth said...

Alachua would be far less in debt and have lower taxes had it not subsidized these warehouse projects.

Sure, farm owners knew that getting annexed into the city would mean an easier path to rezoning and development approval, so sure they were eager to move in.

When the state and feds spend money in Alachua, it is still money from the public till.

The consultant you mentioned produced a report that was since discredited for leaving out so much that it was useless.

The true costs of this development have never been analyzed -- what about the sewer system, which is overtaxed and needs several million in additions and upgrades? What about the interchange? Further expansion of the water and sewer lines? More road improvements? Heck, when I helped draft the city's first official capital imrpovement project plan, it was obvious that the city had millions in projects that needed to be done, with no money to do them.

And of course you failed to mention the safety issue, which is the crux of my argument -- Rod is talking about the sweet small town of Alachua, when in fact it is becoming a race track for large trucks.

And when did Micanopy become my utopia? I've spent so little time there I can't even remember the last time I was there.

Also, show me once where I went ballistic. For someone afraid to reveal his or herself, you sure pretend to know me.

2:19 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city borrowed money to put in infrastucture to attract Dollar General, a common practice. Ask Ocala if it doesn't wish that it had offered WalMart and Sysco a little more. Read the Ocala Star Banner. They suddenly did a 180 when they lost both of those Fortune 500 companies. The tax revenue from DG is much greater than the debt service and now that money spent on DG is reaping greater benefits since the city has the infrastructure in place for Sysco. That is what we call "progressive" economics, unlike Gainesville and the county who put road blocks up and have such high tax burdens on their citizens.

Are you against property rights? Are you against a farmer who can't make a living farming who wants to give his children something when he dies? Are you against a farmer having money to retire? Is someone holding a gun to the head of those home owners who want to live in Alachua? Alachua has a growth rate equal to the state whereas the county has one of the lowest, a dismal 2.6%.

What would you do with the money the government collects from gasoline taxes? I say spend it on road improvements and a new interchange is one of the best ways. It solves one of your problems, safety and truck traffic through Alachua. Why do you have a problem with that?

The consultants report is accurate. Every thing he said has come true. It is only "useless" in your mind because he didn't agree with you!

The sewer system isn't overtaxed. There is still capacity. There are plans already in place to expand the system when needed and most of those costs are covered by grants waiting for the day when needed.

Your arguements are weak and inaccurate. There have not been any accidents involving trucks from DG.

6:49 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Hugh. Did your wife tell you to say those things, or was it Boss Hog in TC?

9:52 PM

 
Blogger Pablo Groovy said...

The unfortunate truth about urban sprawl is that is never pays for itself in the long-run. Even when the ad valorem tax revenues from new development exceed the costs associated with putting new infrastructure in place, there are a lot of external costs, such as the reduction in the quality of life, increase in traffic congestion and crime, destruction of farmland, forests and wetlands, loss of the sense of place, air and groundwater pollution, stormwater run-off, etc., that are rarely analyzed as part of the equation.

On the other hand, as a resident of Gainesville, I can not speak for the people of the City of Alachua. It is certainly their right to determine their own destiny as they wish...

Speaking of which, on Monday, 9/22/05, the Gainesville City Commission is expected to vote on whether our beautiful Northside park at NW 34th Street and US 441 should be destroyed to make way for a new Wal-Mart supercenter. It's an incredible travesty that they would even consider such a proposal, but now is the time to stop it dead in its tracks.

There will be a rally on Monday at 5:30pm in front of the Gainesville City Hall (200 East University Avenue) to stop this insane proposal. Please show up and tell the City Commissioners that will of the people comes before corporate profits!

10:07 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert D. Ivey, Gainesville, FL said:This is a factual, detailed article about the extreme pro-corporate actions by an Alachua City Commission that has no moral principles except those of corporations: growth in size and making the few rich people in Alachua richer. The smear comments about your article read like the continuous lies of Bush and Karl Rove. Thanks for your factual article.

8:35 AM

 
Blogger Colin Whitworth said...

I won't disagree with anon about the short-term effects on tax revenues as a positive for the city. There is no real dispute about it.

However, what anon ignores is the long-term impact, which has not been studied as anon claims and, from all available evidence, will lead to only one thing -- a larger city with higher taxes, more debt, more crime, more pollution, more poverty. He also ignores the safety issue, which is obvious if you spend any time in Alachua. I have.

And of course he ignores the original point in the post -- that Rod is using Alachua's idealistic past disingenuously, because the town is rapidly changing into a massive, busy truck stop.


But I suspect that anon is one of the propagandists out there that run the government and local weekly publication, which teamed up after Alachua West was turned down by the former majority of city commissioners. The tiny community newspaper that Rod mentions, with its wedding stories and such, suddenly turned into a Rove/Fox News-style political attack machine that treated growth management as communism, hard questions to staff by commissioners as harrassment, and any citizen complaint about growth as ludicruous. I know -- I was attacked personally and professionally, for no real reason other than to try to turn me away. Frankly, I left more because of the divisive nature of the city, and the depressing prediction that the divide will never, ever get smaller. Working there was like sitting at a family reunion dinner in which various groups of family members hate each other irreconciably -- except that I had to carefully record each detail of it every week. The two sides in Alachua really hate each other, and the group in power is there because Alachua Today (stupid name for a weekly) ran a serious campaign to discredit everything the commission did, until the majority shifted beck to a "whatever the corporations want, they get" attitude.

Rod has not shown much committment to growth management, and he's very close to the people running the Waco/DG/Wal-Mart operation. I see his election as gov as a boon to that operation. That's means Alachua moves further away from its rustic roots and closer to a long procession of semis barreling through town. I mentioned the interchange improvements that are needed -- there is no guarantee the feds will do this, and if so when. An improved US 441 interchange might not be enough, considering the number of trucks that will be passing through if "anon" and others have their way. A second interchange at CR235 is unlikely because of how close it would be, but there is really no other choice. There is as much or more chance that a lot of these trucks will use 235 to 441 right through town, along with the Florida Rock cement trucks going to and from Newberry.

One last point in my otherwise long-winded comment -- Anon keeps mentioned Fortune 500 companies, and I see that as a propaganda trick. It;s as if the cutest girl in school as agreed to go on a date. I think we'd be in the same boat if DG was, sya, only 750 on the list.

9:59 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Gnv Sun had an interesting editorial in todays paper on the Wal Mart issue. As usual nothing is black and white. We all will be watching the commission to see what they do. Dwight Adams had an interesting letter also. Talk about a rock and a hard place esp. when half the voters are in favor of a superwalmart in Gnv.

10:07 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two comments. It's laughable when the opposition can't come up with a reasonable arguement that it attacks the other side. And, CW complains about a publication with an opposing point of view, especially when he published a hack job on the opposition in his Moon magazine. I guess it feels better when you are the one doing the hack job. Does he think that all the people in Alachua are stupid? They can, and did, read both sides and decided for themselves.

Alachuapolitix rules!!

11:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS- CW must be in seventh heaven that he has gotten more then one comment on a post on his blog. Way to go Colin.

Alachuapolitix rules!

11:24 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now we get down to the real arguement. Growth vs No Growth. A city gets larger and developes what naturally follows when there are more people; more crime, more traffic, more pollution, more debt and more poverty.

In a one horse town the one drunk doesn't get much press but a thousand drunks get the press rolling. More cars means more pollution, more common sense. More people means that the city has to provide more services (which all those people demand) so it needs more money.

More debt to keep those taxes down. Of course you really need to look at the debt relative to the total budget.

And the sad part of society, poverty. Of course that one horse town had just as much poverty but that one family down by the railroad tracks didn't make the news.

Why is it always the new people who move into town that are the first to shout, don't let anyone else move in. The original folks welcomed them and welcome others too.

A city that isn't growing is dying. Take that to the bank.

1:06 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the fact that the school board announced that it has 1000 less students this year then last year. I guess that they were the people moving to Gilchrist county to avoid the high taxes in Alachua county. Since the state funding is based on student population the school budget will take a big hit, e.i. more taxes and more people moving away. A city that isn't growing is dying!

1:10 PM

 
Blogger Colin Whitworth said...

What exactly does alachuapolitix rule? The internet? Blogosphere? Maybe it makes you feel better to say it.

If I had to choose between the number of comments I get now, which often make decent attempts at presenting a debate, and the avalanche of ignorance that fills PJ's comment pages, I'd choose what I have now.

FYI -- I know exactly how many people visit this blog every day. I use StatCounter. So far there have been 24 people today. I'm totally comfortable with that. Besides, I used to publish a magazine that reached more than 50,000 people a month, so I've had the experience of wide distribution of my ideas. This format is different because it requires people to find it, versus me handing our free copies of a print publication at a few hundred locations in town. I don't expect to be widely read.

And when you speak of the supposed hack job I did when writing about Alachua West, please present one example of something I got wrong. Even the main proponent of Alachua West I interviewed -- Jean Calderwood -- admitted I had quoted her accurately when she said adding 8,000-plus trucks to the city's road system would be "an enhancement". The 5,000-plus-word article was entirely based on government documents, Waco's own plans, and interviews with many people involved in the process. I will always be the bad guy to the AW proponents because my article forced The Gainesville Sun, at the admission of the reporter, to cover the story in as much depth. A close look at the proposal, and the shady way Alachua was handling it, really spoke volumes. If not for the citizens revolting against AW and electing people to defeat it, the costs bourne by the taxpayers for those projects would have been significantly more.

And, finally, let me be clear -- I am not arguing for no growth, and I challenge anyone to look through my extensive public record of articles in the past 25 years to show where I have said there should be no growth. I have always argued for three things -- managed growth that protects existing neighborhoods and rural areas; emphasis on infill development and mass transit options, to avoid sprawl; and making growth pay for itself.

Alachua County is a great example -- except for a four-year period, the County Commission has always been dominated by elected officials bent of less regulation of growth, more encouragement of growth and subsidization of growth, such as building roads and utilities for new developments. Now the county has grown enormously, yet it is more than $200 million behind in road maintenance projects.

DG would have been a whole lot better deal for Alachua if either 1) the city had required the Waco projects to be on the city's electric system, which is did not, because it would have been more expensive, or 2) had DG just plunked down across the county line, where Alachua residents could have worked there without worrying about paying for its utility infrastructure or the long-term impact on the city's budget.

The reason this deal happened is simple, really -- the farm land was rezoned years ago for an IBM campus, which while a big change would have had little of the same traffic impacts on the city, and would have provided really well paying jobs, with a future. When that deal fell through, the land owners eventually got their friends on the city commission (former business partners, some of them) to sign agreements that required the taxpayers to provide infrastructure for the land as an enticement to large warehouse distruction centers that wanted to take advantage of the interstate access in Alachua. The deal was railroaded through, almost without public notice. Alachua West announced its plans, and every government agency that reviewed it had major issues, except of course for the water mgt district, which was headed by the owner of the land and a partner in Waco.

In other words, back-room deals to use taxpayer money to enrich friends. Corruption.

For some reason, Fortune 500 companies are the only ones demanding other people pay for their expenses. Maybe that's why their so rich.

The city is corrupt. Plain and simple. Worse than anything in GVL since the Nathan Collier/Jim Painter days.

2:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments by CW. Seems a little hot under the collar to me. Lets take a look at them and see how accurate they are:
Name one article in the Alachua Today that wasn't accurate. The Moon Mag article took a lot of unrelated, out of context facts and made up a story that didn't hold water. If there was/is so much corruption in Alachua, how come no one was been exposed? Name one commissioner who has been investigated for wrong doing. Skip the two ethics violations against Lewis. I think the biggest fine he got was $500. One of them was because he voted to pave the road and bring utilities in the black neighborhood. The vote was 5/0. The blacks certainly don't hold that against him since them benefited. If he had abstained the results would have been the same.

Here is a bit of irony. Those friends of CW who opposed DG demanded that the property undergo a DRI. Then they voted against it. Go figure. The big question is whether a DRI would have been better for the property then piece mealing it out without any say in what happens there. The DRI would have required the developers to follow predetermined plans. I think that is much better then what we have now. But the no growthers thought that the developers would just go away. That their threats to piece meal it were bogus. Wrong again. I would much rather see that property developed like the one coming to High Springs with commercial mixed with residencial. The no growthers succeeded in killing the mixed use zoning (that was just approved in the new comp plan). So the debatable question is which is better, a DRI or what we have now?

The no growth people say they are for managed growth but it always boils down to the arguement about "safety and quality of life."
Point to one successful city that has your managed growth. Please pick Portland. What a disaster!

Lets look at some of the other points you made.
IBM- You hoped for a nice campus business but that was never promished. It could have been a manufacturing plant with just as much truck traffic. Besides, it never happened. Quit wishing on pipe dreams.

We have already discussed the incentives to bring DG. I don't have a problem with that. Alachua didn't do anything that a thousand other cities, including GNV, haven't done and will do in the future. I don't buy into your corporate welfare game.

The city couldn't require DG to buy utilities from the city. You are misinformed. The city has a franchise agreements with Clay Ele. and PRogress Energy as to who will supply what areas in the city limits.

The whole arguement about DG going up the road is bogus too. DG went where there was industrial zoned land NEAR I-75. Why is that concept so hard for you to understand? Companies know what they are looking for. If they can't find it they go elsewhere, i.e. Wal Mart and Sysco left Ocala and came to Alachua. Clear?

Your arguement that the DG deal went through without much public notice is ludicrous. By your own statements those opposed to it made as much noise as possible. It was on TV 20 almost daily. You wrote article against it. Large town hall meeting were held. City commission meeting were held in the gym to hold the crowds.

Lets talk about the people elected to defeat the DRI. I believe that the way the voters turned against the ALA shows that they were temporarily fooled by a slick campaign that wasn't truthful in what they stood for and how they would act.

Is DG an enhancement for Alachua? The C of C thinks so. They made them Business of the Year.

2:59 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just reread CW's comments and have to point out another piece of misinformation. CW implies that the water management district did something unethical during the DRI process. That is a blatent error. David Pope was not the head of SRWMD. He was a board member that reviewed the districts actions and abstained from any votes regarding AW. He had no input into the findings of the district in regards to the DRI. More important, he was NOT a land owner NOR a partner in WACO. If you are an ethical journalist you will print a retraction to your remarks.

3:29 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, CW has had plenty of time to print a retraction for the false information he gave out. That leads me to believe one of two things occurred, he lied or he was ignorant. I don't want to say that CW lied. I don't know if he consciously gave false information or not. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that leaves the conclusion that he is ignorant. Now being ignorant isn't really bad unless you are a professional journalist. A professional journalist is supposed to check his facts. Preferable with atleast two sources. CW obviously didn't do that! So we are left with the fact that CW isn't a professional journalist but we already knew that.
This brings to mind the definition of a blogger by Doonesbury-An angry, semi-employed loser who is too untalented or too lazy to get a real job in journalism.

6:22 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, CW has had plenty of time to print a retraction for the false information he gave out. That leads me to believe one of two things occurred, he lied or he was ignorant. I don't want to say that CW lied. I don't know if he conciously told false information or not. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that leaves the the point that he is ignorant. Now being ignorant isn't really bad unless you are a professional journalist. A professional journalist is supposed to check his facts. Preferable with atleast two sources. CW obviously didn't do that! So we are left with the fact that CW isn't a professional journalist but we already knew that.
This brings to mind the definition of a blogger by Doonesbury-An angry, semi-employed loser who is too untalented or too lazy to get a real job in journalism.

8:37 PM

 

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