March 31, 2006 edition of:

Community Update
A Report on the Activities of Alachua County Government

This Issues Features:

Survey Results Are In
Gas Tax Revenue Bonds
Open Enrollment for CHOICES
Smoke Detectors
Resurfacing Project on Hold
VoIP Warning
Commission Meeting Highlights
Get Involved - Alachua County Advisory Boards


The Results Are In.....

In December 2005, an estimated 97,000 annual reports/calendars were mailed out to residential addresses in the County. Included inside the calendar was a survey regarding Alachua County government.

Citizens were urged to fill out the postage-paid survey and drop it in the mail, or complete one online. This survey offered an important and direct communication between the County Commission, County staff, and the citizenry.

Nearly 1200 surveys were received by the January 31st deadline. The responses were analyzed and included in a report given to the Commission on March 28.

You can view the presentation online at:

The presentation provides the results to several questions:

• Perception of the core services
• Experiences with County staff
• Opinion regarding a tax reduction for additions to homesteaded property built to house senior parents or grand parents
• Preferences regarding how currently unfunded transportation improvements should be funded
• Awareness of the CHOICES Health Services program
• Information sources for governmental news
• Funding priorities
• Opinion on alternatives to incarceration
• Preference for a one cent increase to the bed tax, paid by tourists, to fund the construction of a sports complex or a multi-purpose center
• Priorities of the citizen if they were a Commissioner

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‘A+’ Rating to Alachua County’s Gas Tax Revenue Bonds

Fitch Ratings, an international ratings agency headquartered in New York and London, assigns an ‘A+’ rating to Alachua County, FL’s approximately $15 million gas tax revenue bonds, series 2006. The bonds, expected to be insured by an ‘AAA’ rated bond insurer, are scheduled to price competitively on March 28. Proceeds from the 2006 bonds will be used to fund County road improvements.

The ‘A+’ rating on the gas tax revenue bonds is based on the relatively stable nature of the pledged revenue stream, ample coverage by pledged revenues, and satisfactory legal provisions. The rating also takes into consideration the County’s general credit characteristics, including a stable economy anchored by higher education and healthcare, low debt levels, and consistently sound financial performance. Credit risks include below average wealth levels and a high tax rate, the latter providing limited financial flexibility under the state’s permitted 10-mil cap.

The gas tax revenue bonds are secured by three different gas taxes: the County gas tax, the constitutional gas tax, and the ninth cent gas tax. While gas tax revenues are prone to some fluctuation relative to economic factors and the price of fuel, the essential nature of the commodity in large part mitigates this concern. In addition, strong population growth in the state and County has resulted in increased fuel consumption, adding strength to credit quality.

For the past five fiscal years, pledged revenue has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6%, including 5.5% in fiscal 2005. There is no expiration date for any of the pledged gas taxes. The County tentatively plans to issue an additional $15 million of parity bonds in fiscal year 2007.

Located halfway between the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts in north central Florida, Alachua County’s economy is focused around a fairly stable government employment base. Major employers include the University of Florida (18,000 employees and 46,000 students), Shands Healthcare (7,500 employees) and the Florida Department of Children and Families (2,100 employees). The County’s unemployment rate is historically lower than state and national levels and was a relatively low 3.4% in 2004. Income indicators are below state and national averages due in part to the large student population.

The County’s debt and financial characteristics are sound. The general fund has benefited from positive operating results since fiscal year 2003, increasing the unreserved fund balance to $13.6 million, equal to 15% of spending, a strong reserve level for a Florida County. County officials report that year-to-date results in the general fund indicate balanced operations with no draw on reserves. County debt levels are very low. Including this issue, overall debt is $526 per capita and 1.64% of taxable assessed value (TAV). The County tax rate is a high 8.9887 providing little taxing flexibility under the state’s 10-mill cap.

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Open Enrollment for CHOICES

The Alachua County Commission recently approved changes to the eligibility requirements for participating in the new health care program, CHOICES (Community Health Offering Innovative Care & Educational Services).

The new changes include:
• Increase maximum annual household income. For example: for a single adult, the income limitations have been raised from $14,355 to $19,600 and for a family of three, the income limitations have been raised from $24,135 to $33,200.
• Decrease weekly work hours from 32 hours per week to 25 hours per week.
• Allow otherwise eligible citizens to enroll even if they are offered health insurance at work, yet cannot afford the premiums.

With the new changes in effect, the CHOICES Program will be hosting several open enrollent sessions. Open Enrollments are being held on:

• Mondays from 7 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.
• Tuesdays from 5p.m. – 6p.m.
• Wednesdays from 11a.m. – 1p.m.
• Thursdays from 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

All open enrollment sessions are held at the Department of Community Support Services/Health Department Building, 218 SE 24th St., Gainesville.

You may also call 264-6772 to make an appointment.

CHOICES is the County’s first foray into providing health care services for thousands of low-income, working residents. CHOICES, funded by a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voter referendum, began operations in October 2005. The program will continue to provide a broad range of health services for eligible residents through numerous health providers located throughout the County. Services include:
• Doctor and nurse visits
• Dental care
• Prescription assistance
• Disease management
• Health education

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Fire Rescue Reminds You It’s Time to Change Your Batteries

The weather is getting warmer and spring plants are beginning to flower, but one sure sign that spring is here to stay is Daylight Saving Time which begins in the U.S. at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April – April 2, 2006. On that day, Alachua County Fire Rescue reminds everyone to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when they move their clocks forward one hour.

While it has been estimated that 96% of all American homes have smoke alarms, more than 20% of those do not work because of dead or missing batteries. This means that some 31.6 million homes are at risk for a devastating fire due to either non-working smoke detectors or a lack of smoke detectors in the home. Despite the fact that a working, properly installed smoke detector greatly enhances your chances of survival in a home fire, millions of home still go without and 80% of fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms.

In addition to changing your smoke alarm battery when you move your clocks forward, there are some other things homeowners can do to ensure the smoke detectors throughout their homes are properly located and maintained.

Even if you have working smoke alarms, make sure you have a home escape plan and practice it often. The best escape plan will fail if even one member of the family isn’t familiar with it. In the event there is a fire in your home, remember to get out and stay out. Call 9-1-1 once you are safely out of your home and away from the fire.

Fires can and do start in any type of home. Whether you live in a single family house, a condominium or a manufactured home, working smoke alarms can exponentially increase your chances of surviving a fire. Use Daylight Saving Time on April 2nd as a reminder to prepare your family for the worst – change the batteries in your smoke alarms and, if you don’t have smoke alarms, install some. Let’s make 2006 a safe year for everyone.

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Resurfacing Project Currently on Hold

The SW 20/24th Avenue Mill and Resurface Project, is currently on hold, at 50% completion.

In December 2005, Alachua County was awarded a grant by the Office of Tourism Trade and Economic Development (OTTED) for the construction of a left turn lane into the Infinite Energy office located east of the Woodland Care Center. The mill and resurfacing of SW 20/24th Avenue has been put on hold while the necessary drainage structures (inlets, manholes and pipes) are fabricated and delivered for construction of the turn lane. It is estimated the delay will be approximately two to three weeks. Visible construction will resume at that time.

To avoid any additional costs not covered by the grant, the County has requested that the Contractor delay the installation of the final friction course layers until the turn lane has been completed. The Contractor will then pull the final friction course through the area, completing the paving portion of the job.

For questions or more information contact Sam Middleton of the Alachua County Public Works Department at (352) 374-5245 extension 217.

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Springtime is a Great Time for Backyard Composting

Composting can be easy and fun! You will need a partly sunny location with easy access (for you). You can compost in a garbage can, a wire bin, a commercial composting unit, or in an open heap.

For quick composting, you will want a mixture of greens (food scraps, fresh grass clippings) and browns (leaves, pine needles, dried grass clippings).

Remember: No meats, bones, fats, or dairy. These attract rodents, raccoons, and the like.

Compost needs oxygen and moisture to work. If your compost starts to smell, you could have too many greens (add some browns and stir), not enough oxygen (stir it up a bit), or too much moisture (add browns and stir).

If your compost gets too dry, the process will slow down to a crawl. You will want to keep it about as moist as a wrung out sponge.

Remember, you can make a compost pile of just leaves and grass clippings! It works more slowly, but it still works. Compost is another means of reducing the garbage you send to the landfill. It can also be gold for your garden!!

Your Waste Watcher Team at Alachua County Waste Alternatives has wire compost bins and lots of friendly advice about composting … both for free! For those that want a different composting unit, we have Earth Machines for sale at a reduced rate! And we have lots of free mulch available at the Leveda Brown Environmental Park on Waldo road. So stop by the Public Works compound in Hague or call us at (352) 374-5213.


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Warnings for VoIP Phone Services

These days, everyone knows that the cost of just about everything is going up, making cost cutting a part of most families’ daily lives. One of the ways many of these consumers are choosing to save money is by switching their traditional phone services to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services.

Also known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP, these Internet-based telephone services route voice calls over broadband Internet connections rather than using traditional wire line phone networks. While this results in significant consumer savings because VoIP providers are not subject to the same government fees and regulations as traditional carriers, it may also cause significant delays in emergency response following a 9-1-1 call. In many cases, 9-1-1 calls made using this technology are unreliable due to misdirection, prerecorded messages or the fact that VoIP technology often fails to provide dispatch centers with the information traditional phone services provide such as the caller’s address and phone number.

However, according to Susan Nelson, Alachua County Fire Rescue Office of Enhanced 9-1-1 Coordinator, not all VoIP services are the same. “There are two types of VoIP services, facilities based and internet based. Facilities based VoIP services, such as those provided by many cable companies, have an easier time integrating with the existing 9-1-1 network. Be sure to ask your provider which type of service they offer, and how or if they are integrated with 9-1-1,” Nelson said.

What happens when a 9-1-1 call is placed over a VoIP connection? Sometimes the call goes nowhere or rings endlessly. More often, however, the call is routed to the 9-1-1 dispatching office’s ten digit number, which presents considerable problems. First, calls received on the ten digit number do not receive the same priority as calls coming in via 9-1-1; and second, calls to the ten digit number do not provide dispatchers with location information, making emergency response next to impossible in some situations.

In one case, a mother in Deltona, Fla., reportedly tried to call 911 using a VoIP phone after her daughter stopped breathing. According to reports, she was connected to a non-emergency number at the local sheriff’s office where she received a prerecorded message. The distraught woman then used a neighbor’s phone to dial 9-1-1, but help arrived too late to save her 2-year-old daughter’s life.

More recently, a Minnesota homeowner was put on hold after calling 9-1-1 to report that his house was on fire. Although the homeowner and his family escaped safely, the delayed response caused by this technology resulted in the total loss of his home. While there may be repercussions from this most recent incident due to a 2005 FCC ultimatum to VoIP providers requiring the same kind of 9-1-1 access provided to people using landlines or cell phones, the fact remains that this technology may still prove unreliable in emergencies.

Ultimately, VoIP telephone services may provide considerable consumer savings. However, Alachua County strongly encourages consumers considering the switch to determine how their emergency calls will be handled before purchasing these services.

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Commission Meeting Highlights

Proclamations, Presentations and Recognitions

• Proclamation declaring the month of April as “Jazz Appreciation Month” in Alachua County.
• Proclamation declaring March 31, 2006 as “Clark Butler Day” in Alachua County.

Advisory Board Appointments

Historical Commission:
Patricia Hilliard-Nunn was appointed as an alternate to a term ending in April 2007.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program Advisory Council:
Jennifer Glymph was appointed as a citizen-at-large to a partial term ending in September 2006, followed by a full term ending in September 2008.

County Manager

• The Board heard a CHOICES Health Services program performance update.
• The Board requested that Community Agency Partnership Funding for FY ’07 be raised to 1% of the budget.
• The Board heard a report on the results of the survey that went out to the citizenry with the annual report/calendar.

Support Services Group

Community Planning Group

Community Services Group

Public Hearings

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Get Involved - Alachua County Advisory Boards

The Alachua County Commission is committed to citizen involvement on its 33 advisory boards
and is soliciting applications for the following vacancies:

Applications are available in the County Manager's Office on the second floor of the County Administration Building, 12 SE First St., Gainesville, or on the Web at:


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Thank you for your continued interest in County Government!

Community Update is produced by the County Manager's Communications Office.