From the County Manager 2020

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I am honored to present the 2018 State of the County Report. The report highlights this past year’s numerous successes, looks ahead at our objectives for next year, and charts the challenge to be faced along the way. Since embarking on this journey as County Manager, one theme continuously surfaced – rebuilding. This theme has been the hallmark of my tenure in this position and has included; rebuilding relationships with municipalities, constitutional officers, community stakeholders, rebuilding critical County infrastructure such as roads and public buildings, rebuilding policies to serve our citizens better, and rebuilding employee morale.

Nothing rebuilds relationships like a shared challenge and a clear and pressing mission. Hurricane Irma demonstrated that when it comes to relations between the county, municipalities, constitutional officers, the school board, and other agencies, we are all at our best when we work together for the good of our citizens. During the critical seven-day period before, during, and after Irma, more than 400 County employees worked a combined 12,000 hours to keep our citizens safe and informed.

With barely a breather, our ability to work effectively in partnership with other agencies was tested again. Right on the heels of Irma, white supremacists descended on Alachua County. Our highly coordinated response was witnessed nationally and internationally. This group’s message of hate was eclipsed by the responses of both Alachua County’s agencies and our citizens. Our community’s response became a model for other areas faced with this type of assault.

The challenge is to bring this type of cooperation to the day to day challenges of working with other entities. This doesn’t imply that we should always agree or that the inherent conflicts built into our different interests and jurisdictions will disappear. But approaching disputes with civility, openness, and trust that each party will negotiate in good faith and honor their commitments is fundamental to solving problems.

Rebuilding and maintaining our roads has long been a priority. For many years the Commission has demonstrated this by augmenting Gas Tax dollars with annual General Fund dollar increases to road projects. In Fiscal Year 2018, the County has committed over $21 million in Gas Tax, General Fund, Stormwater Assessment, and other funds, to road maintenance and improvements.

Several generational projects are now in progress and include:

  • Tower Road. The signs are up letting taxpayers know that this project has begun. This project includes milling and resurfacing Tower Road from Archer Road to Southwest 8th Avenue. The $3.2 million project includes adding bus turnouts, turn lanes, a multi-use path on the east side of the road from Southwest 26th Place to Southwest 8th Avenue and rehabilitating the pavement. Work began on May 6th and is expected to be completed in November 2018.

  • Northwest 43rd Street. This project will include milling and resurfacing Northwest 43rd Street from Newberry Road to U.S. Highway 441 and will include making American with Disabilities Act modifications, adding a left turn lane at Northwest 82nd Avenue and extending the right turn lane at Northwest 39th Avenue. The project has a budget of $7.5 million and is expected to begin in July 2018 and be completed in June 2019.

  • SW 8th Ave Connector. This $18.5 million project restores multi-modal access between Tower Rd and SW 20th Ave via SW 8th Ave and SW 61st St by providing vehicle lanes, on-street bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the roadway. The project also includes construction of 2 drainage basins, undergrounding of utilities, street trees, filling in of sidewalk gaps on SW 20th Ave from I-75 to Tower Rd, and the widening & signalization of the intersection on SW 61st St at SW 20th Avenue. Construction began in March 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in Summer 2021.

Other road projects begun or completed in the last year include:

  • Opening of the SW 8th Avenue Extension East

  • Completion of the SW 63rd Blvd/ SW 62nd Ave Rehabilitation project

  • Installation of the CR 231 guardrail

  • Addition of NW 16th Ave traffic calming elements

While maintaining the County’s horizontal infrastructure is an essential core function, maintaining our vertical infrastructure is equally as critical. The County is responsible for over 1.3 million square feet of space in 78 buildings throughout the county. These buildings house staff and operations for Commission departments, constitutional officers, the judiciary, and others. In addition to the challenge of maintaining an expansive and growing footprint, the County faces the particular challenge of preserving our aging buildings. Meeting this challenge, the Board approved over $2.1 million as part of the mid-year adjustment that has been placed in a special expense fund to address urgent facility needs immediately.

These and other needs of the County and its citizens cannot be met without County government’s most valuable resource – our dedicated employees. We are in a critical period when it comes to rebuilding and repairing staff morale and trust. Retaining a quality workforce is an excellent indicator of a healthy organization. Nothing is more critical in fulfilling our mission than the County staff who wake up every morning eager and ready to serve our citizens. It is vital that we build a strong foundation of trust and appreciation for our employees. In recent years, the Board has placed a strong emphasis on cost of living increases to make up for the extended period without increases that staff endured. The Alachua County Commission continues to take the lead among local agencies in paying a Living Wage. Our Local Government Minimum Wage was increased to $12.00 in FY16, $12.50 in FY17, $13.00 in FY18, and we are budgeting for $13.50 in FY19.

These salary increases and the progress on a Living Wage are essential, but equally important is building a culture of fairness and appreciation. We recognize the need for a comprehensive review of employee policies and need to take an in-depth look at compression issues. It is essential to understand how these and other issues are related to the retention of a quality workforce. The Manager’s new Linchpin Award was instituted to recognize employees whose efforts are creative, inspirational, and exemplary. The County employee internal newsletter has been resurrected and is a valuable tool in shining a spotlight on the fascinating, diverse stories of our coworkers.

It is the task of management and staff to take the Commission’s vision and translate it into actions that benefit our citizens and our community. While we have many successes to be celebrated, as always there remain many objectives to tackle, and many challenges to face, in furtherance of our goals. This organization is up to the task.