Voter-approved surtax helps transform our community FEATURE STORY

For many years, Alachua County residents have voluntarily taxed themselves to ensure the acquisition of high-quality conservation land and to support our park system. With the voter approval of the 2022 version of Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP), roads and affordable housing have been thrown into the mix.

It all began with the passage of the Alachua County Forever program in 2000, which raised almost $30 million and enabled the protection of tens of thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive land, along with the resources, water and wildlife habitats that come with them. Then came the first two issues of the WSPP half penny surtax in 2008 and 2016, which continued to fund the Alachua County Forever program and added funding for parks.

In 2022, voters approved a full penny, 10-year extension of the WSPP surtax referendum, adding a second-half penny for roads and affordable housing. This will generate roughly $500 million before the surtax sunsets in 2032. The revenues are split between the county and its cities.

“The passage of the omnibus third edition of Wild Spaces Public Places program is a testament to our residents and makes clear what their priorities are,” said County Manager Michele Lieberman. “It’s our job to be good stewards of these tax dollars by delivering what the referendum promised.”

Read the 2022 WSPP factsheet including the ballot language and a link to the ordinance.

Sandhill cranes spotted at Barr Hammock Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Renee Bodine)


The land conservation element of the surtax, still known as Alachua County Forever, has protected more than 34,000 acres of land for $127 million. While more than $84 million of that comes from the county, about $43 million has come from leveraging dollars from other partners and state and federal programs.

Roughly two-thirds of the acreage is managed by Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Department. The rest is overseen by the state parks system, water management districts, Alachua Conservation Trust, and other partners.

Among some of the most notable properties purchased include:

  • 6,023-acres at Barr Hammock Preserve
  • 6,300 acres at Lochloosa Slough Preserve
  • 12 different properties totaling 4,660 acres surrounding the Santa Fe River
  • 1,600 acres at Lake Alto Preserve
  • 376 acres at Turkey Creek Preserve

Barr Hammock Preserve’s sprawling 6,000 acres in Micanopy includes the Blue Trail. (Photo courtesy of Renee Bodine).

One of the strongest and most unique aspects of the Alachua County Forever program has come with its acquisition of conservation easements. Conservation easements allow the county to purchase rights on land to ensure it isn’t developed. This allows property owners to continue uses, such as farming for important local food production. To date, the county has partnered with 16 different local landowners to secure permanent protections through easements.

“Easements are a key tool in our conservation toolbox, expanding our ability to protect the rural character and green spaces of Alachua County while contributing to priority wildlife corridor efforts, and critical surface water and aquifer recharge protections,” said Alachua County Land Conservation Manager Andi Christman.

In accepting the 10-year Land Conservation Program, the County Commission embraced the “30x30” aspirational goal that strives to protect 30% of the county’s land by 2030. Approximately 25% of land in Alachua County is already protected. To hit the 30x30 mark, the county and its partners will need to purchase another approximately 40,000 additional acres which would cost about $138 million in today’s dollars. Currently, there are about 40,000 acres already identified on the county’s acquisition list.

Read the 10-year land conservation plan.

Sandhill cranes spotted at Barr Hammock Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Renee Bodine)


The first half penny of WSPP designates 20% for parks and open space projects - or about $37 million over the next 10 years. To manage and adequately plan for this, on Feb.7, 2023, The Alachua County Commission approved the Alachua County Parks & Open Space Master Plan.

The plan serves as a roadmap to guide how the county's system can effectively enrich recreation experiences for all county residents and visitors. To accomplish that, the plan provides an in-depth review of existing conditions, needs, and desires and serves as a blueprint for the future of the system.

Read the Alachua County Parks & Open Space Master Plan.

“The 20% designation of WSPP funds, and the approval of the new masterplan, were a huge win for the residents of Alachua County,” said Parks and Open Space Director Jason Maurer. “This funding will allow us to complete a long list of projects and park upgrades that will have dramatic quality of life impacts.”

Parks projects currently underway include:

  • Improvements to the soccer fields and parking at Jonesville Park.
  • Building a new inclusive playground and other site & accessibility improvements at Veterans Memorial Park.
  • Replacing the Springside restrooms at Poe Springs.
  • New playgrounds and site improvements at Copeland & Monteocha Parks.
  • Improvements to the boat launches at Poe Springs & Kate Barnes/M.K. Rawlings Parks.

The Lake Forest Elementary School Park was funded with WSPP dollars. The park is open to the public during non-school hours.

One of the crown jewels of the county the park system is Cuscowilla Nature and Retreat Center. Since the acquisition of the former YMCA Camp McConnell property with funding from the 2016 WSPP initiative, improvements have included remodeling the lodge, resurfacing the Olympic-sized pool, demolishing old buildings, and constructing multiple playgrounds and restrooms. The 2022 WSPP funding will allow for the continued improvement of this addition to the county parks inventory.

Learn more about Camp Cuscowilla.


Maintaining transportation infrastructure is a problem nationwide. In the 1980s, the state turned over 200 miles of roads to Alachua County without providing adequate funding to maintain them. That was the start of the county’s backlog issues. In counties across Florida, general fund dollars are strained to cover mandated services such as law enforcement, jails, fire/rescue, and social services, to name a few. The tool that the state gives counties to pay for the massive costs of road projects is the infrastructure sales tax that voters must approve. There were three roads-only ballot initiatives in Alachua County. All three times the they failed.

In 2022, the current Alachua County Commission had the courage to expand the very successful WSPP program into an omnibus ballot initiative that included funding for road improvements. Voters agreed that the time had come to use this funding source.

The WSPP funding added to general fund contributions, gas tax, and grants that allows Alachua County to put together a quarter of a billion dollars over the 10 years of the surtax. This funding makes possible hundreds of projects and makes significant progress on the county's almost 700-mile road system. These projects include repaving, bridge rehabilitations, bike lanes and other major improvements.

Workers repave Southwest 46th Boulevard near Veterans Memorial Park.

After the passage of the infrastructure surtax, the county quickly completed its first road project in June of 2023 - the $1.56 million resurfacing of Northeast 27th Avenue.

The long-awaited Northwest 23rd Avenue project is expected to start in June of 2024. The plan calls for repaving almost 2 miles of road, adding turn lanes, repairing sidewalks and building a multi-use path. The road sees an estimated 16,000 trips per day.

Here are some of the over a dozen other projects that are currently in design, procurement or construction:

  • Mill and resurfacing of Northwest/Southwest 122nd Street - $5 million.
  • Preservation and repaving along three segments of Southwest 20th Avenue / Southwest 24th Avenue - $5.4 million.
  • Repaving of Southwest 46th Boulevard - $1.2 million.
  • Two segments of North C.R. 225 by Gainesville Raceway will have crack seal work for pavement preservation - $140,000.
  • Added turn lanes and resurfacing along parts of Northeast/Northwest 53rd Avenue (Animal Services entry) - $8.3 million.
  • Crack seal, rejuvenation, and resurfacing projects along Main Street (NW 16th Ave. to NE 39th Ave.) - $3.1 million.
  • Resurfacing of Northwest 170th Lane - $590,000.
  • The resurfacing of County Road 234 near Paynes Prairie - $5.9 million.

“The 10-year, $250 million Transportation Capital Improvement Plan was approved by the County Commission in May 2023,” Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete said. “Now, we’re one year into the program. It took us some time to get all our ducks in a row but now we’re pressing the accelerator. The public is going to start seeing a lot of projects. It’s really exciting.”

As part of the plan, Alachua County became the first county in the state of Florida – and only fifth in the nation – to consider equity and sustainability factors in its master plan by using Census data. The County Commission voted to use $750,000 annually toward residential disadvantaged area roads overdue for repairs.

View the county’s interactive transportation capital improvement map.

View the spreadsheet project list.

Affordable housing

Thirty percent of the second half penny will cover affordable housing. The program will be administered by the Alachua County Department of Community Support Services.

Over the next 10 years, the county expects to generate approximately $53 million through WSPP. These dollars will be used to purchase land that can be developed by a third party for workforce housing.

The county is hiring a housing strategic development coordinator to assist with the goal of providing more affordable housing options. In the coming months, an affordable housing plan will come before the County Commission. This plan will set the framework of the program.

“We look forward to building the framework of the county program and addressing the challenge of affordable housing,” said Community Support Services Director Claudia Tuck.

Story by Andrew Caplan, Alachua County public information officer. Caplan is a former investigative reporter and editor with 10 years of experience covering state and local governments.