Raemi Eagle-Glenn: Change the culture of local government to prioritize essential services

I took my seat at the County Commission and entered a culture of local governance that has remained in power for decades. The local political establishment chose to prioritize funding for social services and land conservation.

Budget priorities are paramount in a university county where the state owns half the real estate, rendering half the county land non-taxable. The essential services of government, our public safety and infrastructure, have been sacrificed for a local progressive agenda.

Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies earn a lower starting salary than surrounding municipalities and state troopers. We are down to a dangerous level of nine deputies on a single patrol shift. Fourteen deputies per shift is the minimum required to safely serve the community, but deputies are removed from patrol and assigned to our courts to serve as security.

Raemi Eagle-Glenn
Raemi Eagle-Glenn

We can’t recruit new deputies or retain seasoned deputies because of the uncompetitive salary and accompanying low morale. The loss of seasoned deputies to recruit and train personnel, coupled with an increase in violent crime, is a failure of local government.

As county commissioner, I asked my colleagues to increase the starting salary of deputies to $50,000 for fiscal year 2023 and we reached a compromise to get closer to that level. We cannot afford another year of low recruits and loss of personnel to higher paying municipalities.

The No. 1 complaint I receive from the community is the dereliction of duty in maintaining county roads. Our Public Works department is one of the most thinly stretched.

These men and women serve as the first line of defense when natural disaster strikes. They repave our roads, ensure that pump stations prevent flooding, remove fallen trees and mitigate sink holes. A local government culture of neglecting road improvements to instead expand social service programs will be placed on the shoulders of the citizens.

This November voters will decide if a half-cent sales tax for infrastructure will become local law. Citizens are concerned this half-cent tax won’t go to fixing roads, but will instead go toward more social engineering programs like “affordable housing.”

The entrenched culture of priorities brought us to this point of needing to ask citizens for a tax increase. Why should the public believe that roads will be maintained with this tax when roads have not been a priority for decades?

Prior to my term, the county commissioners proposed an affordable housing “rental ordinance.” This plan to create a new code enforcement office that goes door-to-door to check on tenants, when Alachua County already suffers the slowest permitting times in North Central Florida, is a prime example of the local culture of governance.

It goes beyond reason at this time of budget constraints and staffing shortages to implement this ordinance. Property owners will have to pay a fee every year, that will assuredly increase every year, to rent to tenants. Landlords will be forced to purchase brand new energy-efficient appliances before offering rentals.

Instead of utilizing in-place government programs like the law library at our civil courthouse that provides court filing forms and education to tenants, those in power want to add an entire new local government office. I voted “no.”

I am one voice on the commission, appointed into a decades-long progressive culture of governance. It will take a decade to change this culture to a pragmatic local government that prioritizes law enforcement, roads and elimination of wasteful spending on progressive policies.

Progressivism in Alachua County has become regressive. The proof is in the rise of violent crime, diminishment of our Sheriff’s Office, potholes resembling craters and a ruling-class obsession with affordable housing policies forced upon the community against our will.

Raemi Eagle-Glenn is running for Alachua County Commission, District 1. This piece is part of a series of opinion columns written by candidates for office that are being published before November's election.

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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Raemi Eagle-Glenn: Change the culture of Alachua County government