ALACHUA ‒ The crack of the bat, the cheers from the crowd, and the smell of freshly cut grass filled the air as the Babe Ruth 38th Opening Day Jamboree kicked off on Saturday. Good weather and a full schedule of baseball drew crowds to the much-anticipated opening day of the season at Alachua's Hal Brady Recreation Complex World Series Field.

Babe Ruth Baseball is one of the largest and most respected youth baseball organizations in the world. Catering to players ages 4 - 18, the program offers a range of divisions suited to players of all skill levels, from T-Ball for beginners to the elite Cal Ripken Major/70 division for experienced players.

The jamboree, which brought together young athletes from various schools and communities, was designed to foster sportsmanship, teamwork, and healthy competition. All teams participated from Tball to Seniors (13-15). Afterwards, games were played throughout the remainder of the day.

Ben Boukari served as the jamboree emcee, offering enthusiastic commentary highlighting the determination and skill of the young athletes. Dignitaries present for the opening ceremony were City of Alachua Commissioners Shirley Green Brown and Ed Potts. Also attending were Alachua Police Department Sgt. Hunt, Recreation & Culture Assistant Director Stephanie McDonald and Crew Leader Jack Hansen as well as Parks & R.E.C Director Jennifer Applebee. High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard attended representing the City of High Springs.

“The Babe Ruth opening day celebration is an exciting and fun experience,” said Commissioner Brown. “It’s always a pleasure to see the children.”

Al Beckelheimer Jr., received the “Hal Brady Award” for his service to the community. Beckelheimer served as president of the league during the 2014 World Series when the local boys team came in third place. Also, before becoming president, Beckelheimer volunteered as a league advisor, player agent and vice president.

“Thank you to all the volunteers how put in countless hours for the event,” said City of Alachua Recreation & Culture Department Director Damon Messina. “Santa Fe Babe Ruth’s Will Moore and his board did a great job.”

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Chamber of Commerce welcomed members and guests to a social gathering touted as the Big Alachua Social Hour, or B.A.S.H., last Thursday evening.

Hosted by the Good Life Station Smart City Café at 14933 Main Street, guests were treated to the strains of a strolling violinist, refreshments by Susie’s Homemade and a sneak peek at the high-tech informational displays throughout the building.

Billed as an unforgettable evening of discovery, the Chamber promised delectable treats fresh from the oven to cutting-edge technology demonstrations, and the evening did not disappoint.

While currently open on a limited basis, the Good Life Station has targeted an early April official opening. The new business will feature a tourist information center, community center and coffee shop. Co-owner Michele Lee said, “Our digital assets are meant to be a community hub…to show of the history of this community and the events that are happening in our community.”

Thursday’s event was well attended and drew a diverse crowd of business leaders and owners, as well as the public. Under beautiful skies in concert with mild spring weather, tables decorated with spring flowers were set up outside the storefront business for guests to enjoy food, drink and conversation.

Inside, a veritable cornucopia of sandwiches, sides, and desserts prepared by Susie’s Homemade awaited for guests to sample. The gathering served as a platform not only to highlight a new business joining Main Street, but also to foster connections and partnerships among attendees.

Alachua Chamber of Commerce President Adam Boukari offered a warm welcome, expressing gratitude for the strong turnout and underlined the organization's commitment in supporting local businesses and driving economic growth.

“We are thrilled to see so many familiar faces and new friends joining us this evening,” said Boukari. “The Alachua Chamber is dedicated to serving as a catalyst for prosperity in our community, and events like this provide an invaluable opportunity for collaboration and innovation.”

After the event, the Good Life Station released a statement, “The networking event by Alachua Chamber of Commerce was a success! Susie's Homemade was welcomed with open arms and we are lucky to have her on Main Street.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – A family in High Springs awoke to smoke and flames when a candle that had been left burning began to spread through a bedroom in the home. According to a statement from local fire officials, the blaze erupted during the early morning hours of Saturday, March 23. Thankfully, the homeowner had a fire extinguisher and was able to bring the fire under control before the arrival of firefighters.

Once on scene, firefighters ventilated smoke out of the home and conducted “overhaul” operations, where crews sifted through the area the fire started in to ensure the fire was fully extinguished and had not spread elsewhere in the home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), during the five-year period of 2018-2022, candles were the second leading cause of bedroom fires and fifth leading cause of living room fires, as well as the eighth leading cause of all home structure fire civilian injuries.

U.S. fire departments responded to an annual estimated average 5,910 home structure fires started by candles during that same time period. These fires cause an annual average of 74 civilian deaths and 558 civilian injuries, as well as $257 million in property damage. The rate of 94 injuries per 1,000 reported candle fires was nearly three times the rate for all home structure fire causes.

Half of all candle fires started when a flammable piece of décor – such as furniture, mattresses, bedding, curtains, home decorations, paper, or clothing – was too close to the lit candle. In 21 percent of home structure candle fires, the candle was either left unattended, discarded, or otherwise misused. 

Over one-third of candle fires (36 percent) started in the bedroom. Sleep was a factor in 10 percent of home structure candle fires, 15 percent of candle fire deaths, and 18 percent of candle fire injuries.

Authorities are now urging heightened vigilance and adherence to safety protocols to mitigate the risks associated with candle usage. The High Springs Fire Department reminds the public to blow out all candles before leaving a room or go to bed, and to keep exits clear and unlocked.

Items that block doors and windows in a home could keep occupants from escaping in the event of a home fire and could mean the difference between life and death. Start by identifying two escape routes out of each room, if possible, and then make sure that each of those escape routes can be used safely by everyone.

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NEWBERRY ‒ In the aftermath of a shooting incident that left a Newberry High School senior dead, law enforcement is searching for answers. According to information provided by The Alachua County sheriff’s Office (ACSO), around 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, 2024, ACSO deputies responded to a report of a shooting near 100 N.W. 253rd Street in Newberry.

Upon arrival, deputies spotted an adult male suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. ACSO Deputies rendered medical aid until the victim could be transported by Alachua County Fire Rescue. The victim was later pronounced dead at an area hospital.

The man was later identified on Monday as 18-year-old Jermaine Godbolt, a senior at Newberry High School.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unclear, and authorities are seeking assistance from individuals who may have witnessed or heard anything relevant to the case

As ACSO officials appeal to the public for any information that may assistance in their investigation, they encourage people to contact them at 352-955-1818. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Alachua County Crime Stoppers Inc at 352-372-STOP (7867), or by downloading the Crime Stoppers P3 Tips app or visiting https://www.stopcrime.tv/

The investigation is ongoing at this time.

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NEWBERRY ‒ In recent months the City of Newberry implemented a new program to help their customers more accurately monitor water and electric utility usage. The system, which is called Advance Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, can communicate with the City’s front office for more accurate meter reading while also communicating with the customer to help them monitor their usage.

“Results have been amazing,” said City Manager Mike New. “I have 39 years in the industry and this is clearly the best, most successful endeavor that I have ever been associated with.”

New shared information provided by Utility Customer Service Manager Tammy Snyder that highlights the success of the AMI program.

“We have had 534 contacts for leaks or high-water consumption for the period of Jan. 1, 2023 – Jan 1, 2024,” said Snyder. She said she only reaches out to customers three times. After the third notification Snyder discontinues notifying the customer until they reach out to the City.

“When a leak occurs, AMI enables us to become aware within hours so that we can advise our residents. Using traditional meter reading techniques, it typically takes 45 – 75 days for a leak to become apparent,” said Snyder. “During that period of time, we can waste a substantial amount of water and the customer incurs significant charges. AMI genuinely greatly helps our customers save money on their utility bills.”

Based on her observation, Snyder said 85 percent of the leak notifications are for leaking toilets and/or leaking irrigation systems. “There is a very small percentage of the remainder that are leaking meters (less than 2 percent) while the remainder are simply people using their irrigation systems or other legitimate usage, i.e., left a hose running, filling up a pool or left a spigot on.”

For customers who have experienced a water leak, there is help. For those who have legitimate leaks, the City requests the property owners bring in documentation indicating the leak has been fixed. With that information, the City credits the wastewater usage amount.

In the past, the City used a three-month average to “guess” the credit and it would take up to two months to get the customer a correction. “AMI provides us with more accurate information which we use to compare usage patterns and provide corrective bills in a timelier manner.”

As an example, Snyder mentioned a customer whose usage went from 5 kgal to 14 kgal, resulting in a bill increase of $167.51 for the month. Unfortunately, the leak was gradual, so it did not reach the threshold for the City to catch it.

“When the customer came to pay her bill she questioned why her bill had increased so much,” Snyder said. “Upon investigation, we determined she had a leak and provided her with the blue dye tablets to check her toilets,” said Snyder. “The customer called and reported she checked her toilets, and they were not leaking. We did some other trouble shooting and ended up sending crews to check the meter. It was determined the meter was not leaking.”

Snyder said the customer had a plumber come out who found the leak and made a repair. “The customer provided the plumber’s receipt on Feb. 5 and a corrective bill was created within an hour,” said Snyder. “The customer now has a credit of $42.46, which is huge because this customer is on disability and only gets paid once a month.”

“Ultimately, we did it [implemented AMI] to benefit our residents, so that they could make decisions that would save them money and serve them better,” said New. “It’s been amazingly successful so far, and we plan to build on our system for bigger and better services for our customers.”

The AMI installation began in May 2022 and was completed in September 2022.

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Front L – R: Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Finance and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti, Accounts Payable Specialist Katelynn Bayles, Accounting Manager Heather Carter, Accounting Manager Tyler Williams, City Manager Mike Daroza. Back L-R: Commissioner Ed Potts, Commissioner Shirley Green Brown, Vice Mayor Dayna Miller, Commissioner Jennifer Blalock. Not Pictured: Senior Accountant Regina Reed

ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has been honored for the 13th consecutive year with an award for excellence in financial reporting. The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to the City of Alachua for its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2022.

In order to be awarded a Certificate of Achievement, a government must publish an accurate, easily readable, and efficiently organized annual comprehensive financial report. This award is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting.

The audit report must satisfy generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), applicable law, and GFOA requirements. Members of the GFOA Special Review Committee must unanimously recommend the awarding of this certificate.

Alachua City Manager Mike DaRoza credits the City’s dedicated team of financial professionals for their unwavering commitment to accuracy and accountability. Alachua Finance and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti garnered praise from both City staff and City Commissioners for his team leadership, tireless efforts and dedication to excellence.

“This is not the first, second, tenth or twelfth time this award has been given to the City of Alachua,” said DaRoza. “This is the thirteenth consecutive year the City has achieved this prestigious award.”

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ALACHUA ‒ Amidst what seems to be a burgeoning list of new businesses in Alachua, another new addition has officially opened its doors, marking the grand entrance of a well-known fast-food brand.

While the restaurant has been operational for several months, on Feb. 22, 2024, the day began with an air of anticipation as local dignitaries, community leaders, and the enthusiastic DQ Grill & Chill team gathered for the official ceremonial ribbon cutting and grand opening. With giant scissors in hand, owner Toks Achebe officially declared the restaurant open.

Located at 15993 N.W. 163rd Lane just off U.S. Highway 441, the new restaurant is owned by Achebe and Wanda Davis. “We’re thrilled to be expanding our restaurant ownership portfolio, especially with an iconic American brand like Dairy Queen,” said Davis. “The support we’ve received from Dairy Queen so far has been outstanding, and we’re excited to open our doors to serve the Alachua community.

“We hope to make a lasting impact not only through connecting with the community members themselves, but creating new jobs that will benefit families across Alachua,” said Davis.

Davis and Achebe own and operate Crossroads Portfolio Inc., a restaurant operational group local to Georgia. Serving as the group’s CFO and CEO respectively, Davis and Achebe have previously opened a popular Captain D’s Seafood restaurant, with an additional location in development.

Situated behind the recently opened Whistle Express Car Wash and adjacent to the Hampton Inn Hotel, the Grill & Chill DQ concept modernizes guests’ dining experience by offering made-to-order lunch and dinner options including Signature Stackburgers®, Chicken Strip Baskets and soft-serve favorites such as cones, sundaes and the iconic Blizzard® Treat.

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