Passage of local measures should inspire pride

Gainesville Sun Editorial

Alachua County voters have plenty to be proud about after Tuesday’s election, despite some state results that didn’t go the way many here had hoped.
Two county measures benefiting children passed Tuesday with strong support from voters. A half-cent sales tax increase to pay for repairs and improvements to public school facilities received 68 percent of the vote, while a measure establishing a Children’s Trust that will use a half-mill property tax increase to fund programs for children received almost 62 percent.

Credit goes to county voters for recognizing that such investments benefit children as well as the whole community. Kudos also go to advocates for the initiatives, including Dorothy Benson and Dorothy Thomas for the Children’s Trust and Brian Scarborough for the school facilities measure, for their tireless work campaigning for them.

Now the work begins to implement the measures while making other needed improvements in local schools. The School Board’s approval this summer of an equity plan aimed at closing a racial achievement gap was a step in the right direction, but the plan requires community buy-in and involvement to be successful.

Voters elected a new School Board member in August, Tina Certain, who has focused on equity issues while reelecting board Chairman Gunnar Paulson on Tuesday. Hopefully board members will now work together to create a community oversight group to monitor the plan’s progress and propose improvements.

Children should also benefit from the election of Marihelen Wheeler to the County Commission, given her experience as an educator and support for increased opportunities in vocational education. Expanding access to career and technical training is also a priority of The Sun-sponsored Gainesville For All initiative, and something the Children’s Trust could help fund along with early childhood education and after-school programs.

We need to do all we can locally because it looks like the status quo is going to continue at the state level. Republican Ron DeSantis’ election as governor and the GOP retaining control of the Legislature likely means that public schools and social services will continue to suffer from inadequate state support.
The state constitutional amendments that passed Tuesday included a measure that requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to raise taxes or fees or abolish tax breaks. That will only continue to shift the burden to fund needed services from the state to county and municipal governments.
Certainly local officials must make sure our community is affordable to all residents, particularly when it comes to housing. The passage of the county initiatives Tuesday, as well as previous tax increases that funded school programs as well as land conservation and parks improvements, mean officials here need to be vigilant in ensuring other taxes and utility rates are at a reasonable level.

Fortunately the investments being made in children and schools will pay dividends by increasing job opportunities and decreasing crime and other social costs. Years down the line residents will be thankful that local voters had the foresight to pass such measures in 2018.

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