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ALACHUA ‒ Affordable housing for seniors is on the forefront of housing options in the city of Alachua. Alachua County Housing Authority (ACHA) Executive Director Ken Armstrong reported to the City Commission on planned construction of a 40-unit affordable senior community in Alachua’s Merrillwood neighborhood.

Plans for one- and two-bedroom apartment homes include accommodations for people with disabilities and space for support services. A planned community center will include gym, shuffleboard, art classes and other recreation activities in a landscaped green space. Plans are also in the works for shuttle services to Gainesville and the Veterans Hospital.

Residential units in Merrillwood are aging and 17 deteriorating units will be taken down to make way for the senior housing footprint. Residents of the demolished homes will be relocated to other units within Merrillwood or to other neighborhoods with the help of the ACHA through the use of tenant vouchers, which can be used at any Housing Authority neighborhood in the county. The vouchers will cover moving expenses, rent and utility help. Future phases include plans to replace the roughly 40 remaining aging units at Merrillwood with new housing units.

Infrastructure improvements in both the Merrillwood and Hitchcock neighborhood areas have been a priority for the City with extensive repairs to streets and stormwater drainage systems. The City focused on neighborhood revitalization by obtaining Community Development Block Grants, supplemented by City funds, to upgrade streets, curbing and stormwater systems as well as City parks and playgrounds. The two city parks in the area were in need of extensive grounds repairs and refurbishment including lighting, pavilion restoration, erosion control, fencing, picnic tables, complete restoration of basketball courts and new playground equipment.

In other business, the City of Alachua Youth Advisory Council participated in the Florida League of Cities 2020 Youth Council Community Service Contest and was one of five of the state's youth councils to win. The Youth Advisory Council offers students the information and tools to actively participate in addressing issues impacting community youth and to ensure the leaders of tomorrow have input in the local government process today. The organization organizes community meetings with other youth to discuss issues and suggestions for improvement, and they also assist in planning and implementing events to benefit youth.

YAC members opted to help inform other students at their schools about the political and election process. The Florida League of Cities 2020 Youth Council Community Service Contest judging panel was impressed that this Council chose election education as their project, and remarked they never had a youth council choose this subject before. After listening to short discussions on their efforts by council members, Mayor Gib Coerper awarded each member a certificate and the trophy to honor their efforts to inform future voters.

In other business, the Commission gave final approval to revised water rates for the upcoming fiscal year to generate revenue sufficient to meet operating expenses. The proposed 3 percent rate increase provides for changes to the customer charge, availability charge and consumption charge. For the most part, residential rates changed by less than 25 cents, with three different consumption charge rates changing by 6 to 12 cents. Wastewater rates changed by 33 cents to a proposed rate of $11.30 per customer. Irrigation customer water rates went from $8.37 to $8.62 with a consumption increase of 12 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The Commission also voted on two open positions on the City’s Planning & Zoning Board. Board members Sandy Burgess and Anthony Wright were reappointed to serve three-year terms.

The final order of business was the Annual Performance review of City Manager Adam Boukari by the full Commission. All five commissioners commended Boukari's performance and management skills and each gave him an “excellent” rating above 9 on a scale of 1-10.

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