Residents who live along four dirt roads in High Springs want them paved.
They want roads that, they say, don’t endanger the health of their children or send clouds of dust billowing toward their homes after a car drives by.
“We’re tired of this,” High Spring resident Wendolyn Hayes told the Alachua County Commissioners at a June 9 meeting. “We’re tired of looking at these dust bowls like we’re living in the ’30s… We’re begging you to do it.”
It all started in October 2013.
Mabel Blake called the Alachua County Public Works department about the roads in 2013. They told her the county couldn’t afford to build a new road.
To make it happen, Blake needed to get a majority of property owners on NW 210 Avenue, NW 205 Street, NW 218 Avenue and NW 202 Street to agree to pay higher property taxes.
She went door-to-door getting signatures from property owners for a Special Assessment District (SAD). An SAD allows people to pay the county to work on a specific project, which in this case, was paving the four roads.
Mabel sent the SAD petition, which had enough signatures, to public works. The department sent it to the county.
Then came the tricky part.
Michael Fay, development program manager for the Alachua County Public Works department, said his department had never dealt with this type of project before.
“It was a learning experience for sure,” he said. “It was the first time we dealt with a road without a typical asphalt treatment… a non-paved, dirt road.”
Those In Favor
With Blake’s petition complete, the county conducted a poll to find out how many property owners were willing to pay the county for the construction.
Ben Hill was one of them.
Hill and his family have lived on NW 210 Avenue for 14 years. Hill chose to settle in High Springs after retiring from broadcasting so he could live on a larger property, and because it was in the country.
“I own two parcels and five acres of land here,” he said.
When Mabel came by a few years ago to propose the SAD, Hill said he was eager to see the improvements made.
The first estimated cost for the construction was $320-per-year for 10 years for one parcel of land. The estimate did not include administrative or financing costs, meaning it could end up more expensive than the county’s original cost.
Hill and the other property owners learned a year later that the cost would actually be $417-per-year for 10 years.
“It is a little disheartening to find out that there’s a 28 percent increase,” Hill told the county commissioners. “I’m still willing to pay it. I voted in favor.”
Hill said the benefits of a paved road outweigh the cost. If enough cars drive by, it begins to look like a forest fire, he said. The dust covers his entire property in dirt and is very unhealthy.
According to the Department of Health website, dust particles small enough to be inhaled can cause eye irritation, coughing, sneezing, hayfever and asthma attacks.
“A lot of times we’re sitting out on the porch and are chased inside by all the smoke in the air,” he said.
Some people who own property within the SAD don’t actually live there. Most of the votes against the SAD were from those property owners.
Hill said he understands why those owners are against the road’s construction — he pays taxes on both properties and still doesn’t see any benefits.
“The county doesn’t care about us way out here,” he said.
Frank Deloach Jr. voted against the SAD. He said he shouldn’t have to pay for a road twice.
“I already pay a property tax,” Deloach said. “Why should I pay more money for something the county should have already done?”
The Deloach family owns three large agricultural properties within the SAD, according to the Alachua County Property Appraiser. However, the family does not own a house affected by the dust from dirt road.
A lawyer represented Deloach at the county commissioner’s meeting in June. Deloach’s attorney, John Wagener, said there were irregularities with the county’s poll.
The Cole family was an irregularity.
“The Coles voted against the thing and then changed their vote,” Wagener said. “Without the Coles vote the (SAD) wouldn’t be happening.”
The Cole family owns separate pieces of property that are right next to one another. When the first poll was conducted, they didn’t want to be taxed twice for the individual parcels.
To fix the problem, they combined their property and changed their vote, causing another issue.
“They were allowed to change their vote,” Deloach said. “That’s illegal.”
However, Public Works Director Dave Cerlanek said the county did not use a vote. The county conducted a poll of interested property owners, which was subject to change.
As It Stands
If the Coles voted against the project, the road would not be constructed. But with one less parcel and one more yes vote, the SAD made the cut with 75 percent – the exact number needed to be approved.
Deloach said he will take his case to Tallahassee, directly to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. He said he intends to fight the county.
As it stands, the construction on the four roads is set to begin in March 2016 at the original estimated cost of $320-per-year for 10 years.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell proposed an amendment that required the county to pay the administrative and financing costs. The commissioners voted unanimously to pass the amendment and for the county to pay the additional cost.
Cornell said it is important for the county to keep its commitments to the citizens.
“All Ms. Mabel ever asked for is that the county follow the process they asked her to follow,” Cornell said. “And she’s done that. And she’s done all the work.”