“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.” —WILL ROGERS
I don’t know where or when I first heard this old line, but it’s a goodie. I’ve thought about it a lot recently after accepting the role as chair of the Steering Committee for the Gainesville Chamber’s Infrastructure Investment Initiative, or i3 for short. The goal of the initiative is to study our community’s infrastructure challenges and then draft a citizen-led ballot proposal to fund infrastructure improvements in local schools, roads, and any other priorities we uncover. Our Steering Committee has just 10 volunteer members, but we plan on conducting multiple meetings with local governments and stakeholder groups as well as holding community forums to solicit input from all citizens. We have just begun, but we hope to have a finished product by early September 2017.
We’ve obviously found ourselves in a hole as a community when it comes to infrastructure, but this initiative is not about assigning blame but rather identifying solutions. Our school facilities are aging, and there is a need for new ones. This past November, voters overwhelmingly approved the renewal of the One Mill for Schools initiative. This provides funds for technology and programming in schools including art and music teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and librarians, without which the programming in our schools would suffer greatly. It does not, however, provide any additional funding for infrastructure or maintenance. Florida remains ranked 48 out of 50 states when it comes to per-pupil funding. We’re dead last when you include the additional factor of average income. While hope springs eternal that someday our elected officials in Tallahassee might recall that the Florida Constitution requires that public education be properly funded, there’s nothing to suggest that this day is near.
With regard to roads, the hole we’re in is just as bleak if not worse. In 2014, a county ballot initiative to raise money for road resurfacing was rejected by voters. The most common argument made by those who opposed the initiative was that the county and municipalities should be smarter with their current revenue to find money for roads. To its credit, the county commission has increased funding for roads in subsequent budget cycles, removed the requirement for bike paths on rural roads, and amended the type of resurfacing material that is utilized so as to stretch our dollars farther. I believe they’ve recognized the need to stop digging the hole deeper. But friends, the backlog is too large to catch up with general fund revenue. Estimates vary in scope, but even the most conservative estimate is well over $100 million. Believe me, I get it. Paying additional tax dollars to resurface roads is like forking over the copay to the doctor for a colonoscopy, but we’ve all got to be adults sometimes.
Obviously, our community faces other pressing issues, and since starting the i3 project, I’ve been made aware of other groups that are studying and considering their own ballot initiatives for other worthy causes. In the coming months, we hope to meet with those groups, solicit public input to try to build a consensus on our most pressing needs, and come up with a unified solution that is both politically feasible and is aligned with our community’s most significant problems.
The good news is that the i3 Steering Committee is comprised of an outstanding group of individuals from diverse backgrounds who are committed to improving this community. None of us are going through the motions here, and it is our sincere hope that we can all come together to find common ground on how best to improve this community for future generations. We look forward to your input and the opportunity to earn your support.
BRIAN SCARBOROUGH is a Principal at Scarborough Insurance, an independent agency that sells all lines of insurance and has been serving the community since 1961. Visit scarins.com for more information.