By Christopher Curry | The Gainesville Sun
Gainesville city commissioners are eyeing two areas west of the city for potential annexation through referendums in November.
The areas include Santa Fe College, Buchholz High, residential areas around North Florida Regional Medical Center and a roughly three-mile stretch of Northwest 39th Avenue.
Combined, the areas have an estimated population of 7,156 and a taxable property value of $337.2 million.
Two adjacent voting precincts — 22 and 62 — are under consideration along with Pinewood Apartments at the 4400 block of Northwest 39th Avenue, which would otherwise be an enclave of unincorporated county if precinct 22 votes to annex.
During a Monday evening City Commission annexation workshop, Administrative Services Director Becky Roundtree said the Supervisor of Elections Office has requested that any referendum include a whole voting precinct.
Precinct 22 is generally bounded by Northwest 23rd Avenue to the south, Northwest 43rd Street to the east, Northwest 75th Street to the west and Northwest 39th Avenue to the north. It includes Buchholz and the residential areas surrounding it.
Precinct 62 is more sprawling and more oddly shaped. It's bounded to the south by Newberry Road, the west by Interstate 75, and to the east the neighborhoods east of North Florida Regional Medical Center. East of Northwest 75th Street, the northern boundary is Northwest 23rd Avenue. West of 75th, the northern boundary is Northwest 39th.
Voters in each precinct would decide separately if they choose to annex.
City commissioners will move ahead with annexation talks but have committed to nothing at this point. During Monday's meeting, several commissioners were more optimistic about the prospects for precinct 22.
A staff projection estimated that 37 percent of the single-family homes in that precinct would see lower costs for local government under annexation and another 45 percent would see cost increases of no more than $10 a month. For precinct 62, the projection was that 31 percent would see lower costs and another 42 percent would have an increase of $10 a month or less.
Those projections were based on property tax rates, the city's fire and stormwater assessments and the fact that, if annexed, the properties would no longer be subject to the surcharge tacked onto Gainesville Regional Utilities bills for customers outside the city.
Commissioner Randy Wells questioned if the annexation effort might face resistance over another roughly $10 a month projected increase in costs when they are already facing an electric bill increase of $10.56 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours when the biomass plant comes on line in 2013.
Staff projected that the annexation of precinct 22 and Pinewood Apartments would have a better financial outlook for city government — with revenues exceeding expenses by $131,382 in fiscal year 2013-14 and by almost $357,000 in fiscal year 2017-18.
By comparison, expenses would outpace revenues in precinct 62 by $201,584 in fiscal year 2013-14, with that declining to $114,461 in fiscal year 2017-18.
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said if commissioners move ahead with the annexation attempt, a political action committee may be needed. Under state law, city government may spend money to provide the public with factual information associated with a ballot issue but may not expend funds to advocate for or against an election issue.
Several commissioners questioned if the annexation referendum stood a chance if the city was the driving force behind it.
"Absent a constituency that is actually seeking annexation, the chances aren't good for it, frankly," Mayor Craig Lowe said.
Gainesville alternates its efforts at annexation by referendum between property to the east of the city and the west.
In 2009, the last effort focused on east-side property and failed in the face of organized opposition that included a political action committee formed by employees of the Sheriff's Office, which would have faced the loss of property tax revenues and coverage area under an annexation.