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GAINESVILLE – About a month after Alachua County commissioners agreed to consider new proposals for use of funds raised from a 1-cent tourist development tax on all lodging in the county, the cities of High Springs and Hawthorne joined the likes of the cities of Gainesville and Newberry in vying for at least some of the funds.

Last week, the City of Alachua got the nod from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for $500,000 toward a $1.2 million purchase of 105 acres adjacent to the city’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

It was that request from the City of Alachua and another from the City of Newberry that prompted a reopening of project considerations.

Last year, the BOCC approved a 2-cent hike in the bed taxes, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals.  Each cent is expected to raise some $650,000 annually which can be used toward projects intended to attract more tourism to Alachua County.

The funding from one cent of the increase was committed over a period of several years to help develop Nations Baseball Park in Newberry.  The remaining one cent was being set aside to help fund a new county fairgrounds on Waldo Road in Gainesville.  But that project may have been derailed since the Newberry officials have proposed the funds instead be pledged to help purchase the Canterbury Equestrian Showplace in Newberry and move the fairgrounds there.

According to a document produced by the City of Newberry, the 60-acre Canterbury site could be purchased for $5 million.  County officials had been expecting to use an already-purchased tract of land on Waldo Road for the fairgrounds, but the first phase of that project is expected to require $22 million.

The City of High Springs submitted three proposals for use of the tourist development tax funds.  One project is focused on construction of a railroad museum and the funding of a passenger train to travel between the High Springs and Newberry.  According to the city’s proposal, the estimated cost of the museum is between $125,000 and $150,000, but the cost of repairing tracks and acquiring a train was unknown.

Another project offered by High Springs for funding is the purchase and restoration of The Priest Theater, a century old building that had been functioning as a movie theater until recently.  The property is up for sale at $250,000.  High Springs officials estimate that renovations would require about $300,000 for a total project cost of $550,000.

Also proposed for consideration is a plan that would upgrade the City of High Springs’ BMX racing facility.  Some of the upgrades the City proposes are bathroom facility improvements, covered seating, campsites, additional track expansion, concession facilities and more.  The cost of the city’s BMX track upgrades and improvements would come with a price tag of just more than $300,000.

The City of Hawthorne, meanwhile proposes that tourist development taxes be directed toward its Little Orange Creek Nature Park (LOCNP).  The city wants about $625,000 to convert an existing residence into a multiuse building consisting of a nature center, museum, event center and environmental education center.  About $100,000 of the proposed costs would be used to construct a fishing pier.  The City of Hawthorne recently acquired the 1,135 acres that are now the LOCNP.  Some 925 acres of the property are located in Alachua County with the remaining lands in neighboring Putnam County.

Although the City of Gainesville submitted a plan that would use funds to expedite the construction of the first phase of the Cade Museum proposed for Depot Park, city officials also urged the county not to defund the new fairgrounds project.

All of the projects are expected to be reviewed in a Nov. 22 county meeting.

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ARCHER – In the city of Archer, two candidates will square off on Tuesday to fill one seat on the city commission.

Laurie Costello and Fletcher Hope are vying to fill the seat vacated by former commissioner Roberta Lopez, who resigned Sept. 12. The successful candidate will serve the remainder of the term, which expires November 2012.

Archer needs “someone who knows a lot about the city,” Costello said. “If I get voted in I'll be ready to vote on any issue.”

Costello said she attended every commission meeting for about six years and served as commissioner for six years. “I have the experience,” she said.

One issue the commission is discussing is construction of a municipal sewer system in Archer. Costello said she knows the history of this particular issue and can contribute to decision making on it.

She is also concerned about road improvements. “I've been trying to get the city to plan street maintenance and put it in writing so we can start doing some infrastructure planning,” she said.

Costello owns her own real estate business, Costello Realty. She is married and has a son in the navy.

“I'm a business woman,” Costello said. “You put things in writing. You have a plan and you have goal. Without that you'll never succeed.”

Hope was not available for comment as of press time.

Voting will take place at the Santa Fe Davis Center on Highway 24. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. City Manager John Glanzer said he expects a 25 to 30 percent turnout at the polls, which is about 150 to 200 people.

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Halloween1Alachua’s Trick-or-Treat on Main Street was a popular Halloween destination for costumed youngsters to gather sweets from merchants located downtown.

ALACHUA – There was no shortage of superheroes, princesses and witches in Alachua Monday night as thousands of Halloween fun seekers flooded the downtown area during the city’s annual Trick-or-Treat on Main Street event from 6 – 8 p.m.

The downtown area’s Scarecrow Row, which has been decorated for weeks, set the stage with costumed scarecrows adorning lampposts along the winding street, greeting visitors along the way.

Trick-or-treaters, including young and old alike, dressed in their spookiest or most creative costumes, joined in the festivities.  Buoyed by the upbeat atmosphere permeating the downtown area, youngsters, families and friends scuttled back and forth along both sides of Main Street, from one end to the other, trick-or-treating door-to-door in search of sweet treats from local businesses.

Highlights of the evening included the announcement of Scarecrow Row winners and costume contests sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.  A long line formed outside the haunted house jointly sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua Police Explorers.  As the courageous waited to be beckoned into the darkened building by a ghoulish zombie, shrieks of horror forewarned of the frightening experience to come. A few steps away, an historic house transformed into a pirate’s lair was a popular spot to catch a glimpse of ghostly pirates and listen to a pirate’s chantey.  At the Alachua County Today building, spooky music, laser lights and blow-up monsters added to the festive atmosphere.

City of Alachua Recreation Director Hal Brady and Alachua Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr., delivered the much anticipated announcement naming the winners of Scarecrow Row.  This year’s winners were Capital City Bank in first place, D.W. Ashton Catery in second place and Andrews Paving in third place.

Costume contestants were divided into age groups, and Alachua Chamber of Commerce President Jim Brandenburg called each of the groups to the stage for viewing by the judges as camera flashes illuminated an assortment of characters.  In the Pre-K category, the winner was Vincent Tarallo, dressed as Raggedy Andy.  The winner in the K- 2nd grade division was Elliott Browne, dressed as King Tut. In the 3rd – 5th grade division the winner was Alexis Greenberg, dressed as a shower curtain.  In grades 6-8, the winner was Kacie Geelhoed, dressed as a can-can girl.  In the high school through adult category, winners were Robert Ferry, Meghan Abernathy, and Gaura Ely, dressed as Scooby Doo.

Trick-or-Treat on Main Street is a longtime annual event sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and City of Alachua offering children a safe environment to enjoy Halloween festivities.  It is one of a series of events taking place in downtown Alachua during the fall season, along with the Alachua Harvest Festival sponsored by the Alachua Business League, Shop - Dine - Stroll sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua Christmas Parade sponsored by the City of Alachua and the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.

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HIGH SPRINGS – It will soon be the end of the election trail for the four High Springs City Commission candidates. The candidates will face off on Tuesday for two High Springs City Commission seats. In addition to the election, six amendments to the City charter will also be on the ballot.

Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas are running against the incumbents, Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams, for their seats.

While it will not affect this election, the commission is putting to vote an ordinance requiring commission candidates to run for specific seats. At this time, High Springs commission candidates run for a general seat. The individual with the most votes receives the seat with the longest term.

Currently, the City Charter prohibits city commissioners from becoming employed by the City until a year after their term expires. An amendment will be on the ballot disqualifying commissioners from working as contractual employees for the same time period.

The city manager’s duties could be further clarified by an amendment to be put to vote, including giving the individual the power to sign contracts for the City.

Also on the ballot is an amendment adding a preamble to the City Charter, expressing the purpose of the municipal government to serve the governed and not the governing. An additional amendment, if passed, will require the city commission to review the City’s Charter every eight years.

This means the charter would have to be reviewed in March 2016. Travis explained at the Aug. 25 commission meeting that under the proposed amendment, the City is still permitted to review the charter at any time.

“The commission is trying to be proactive,” he said, “to do some things with our charter that are more in line with where we are today.”

Also on the ballot will be an amendment allowing citizens to initiate petitions to propose City ordinances. Under the amendment, citizens gathering 50 electors of the city can bring a petition to the commission for consideration.

Citizens can vote on Nov. 8 at the High Springs Civic Center. The poll will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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McCall_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN010562Patrick A. McCall

HIGH SPRINGS – A skeet-shooting match at Forest Grove Baptist Church ended in life-threatening injuries for a High Springs man on the evening of Oct. 20.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), a group of church members was shooting skeet with shotguns at the church, located at 22575 NW 94th Avenue. Patrick A. McCall walked out of his house, which is located across the street from the church at 9306 NW 226th Street, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church.

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun that had a loaded magazine and grabbed another magazine that was loaded.

Standing four feet behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine.

He said he was pointing the gun in the air in the direction of a pecan tree that is in front of his house. McCall said he fired rounds because he heard other people firing rounds. It is something he has done in the past.

Later, he said he fired the rounds because he wanted the church members to stop. He admitted that it was not the best idea to shoot rounds into the air without knowing where they will land, but he said he had no intention of hurting anyone.

ACSO Deputy Heather Phillips interviewed Thomas Jackson, Sr., one of the skeet-shooters at the scene. He said the church members were shooting on the south side of the property in a southerly direction.

As they reloaded their shotguns, there was a lull in the shooting. They heard a succession of shots and saw Judah go down, saying he had been shot.

Jackson did not see the suspect. He took his two sons inside for cover. His vehicle was hit by gunfire, shattering the back windshield.

His 12-year-old son saw the suspect. He heard a pause in the shooting, followed by “a lot of fast shots” that sounded like they were coming from across the street.

He saw the man focusing on something in the direction of where everyone was skeet shooting. It sounded like the shooter ran out of bullets. He then saw the man walk back to his residence.

Another witness, Jayde Roof, went over to help Judah, seeing that he had a hole on one side of his stomach and a graze on the other side. He applied pressure to Judah’s wounds while telling the others they should shoot the suspect if he approached.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office received a call at approximately 6:41 p.m. saying that someone had been shot. Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived to find Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah, 36, suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene, and the victim was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Deputies evacuated the remaining people, including several children, from the church due to the nature of the investigation. They located several objects that had been struck by the random gunfire.

After three hours, the SWAT team took the suspect into custody without incident.

McCall was arrested and charged with attempted homicide. He is currently being held in the Alachua County Jail on $750,000 bail pending court appearances.

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Hammond_Ronnie_-_MugshotASO11HIGH SPRINGS – A High Springs man was arrested early Tuesday morning for allegedly threatening his neighbor with a shotgun and then firing a round into his own couch.

According to an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) report, Ronnie M. Hammond, 59, of High Springs was arrested after repeatedly pumping a shotgun and threatening a neighbor.

Deputies say a 24-year-old sleepwalking neighbor walked up to Hammond’s home asking for help just after midnight Tuesday morning.  Another neighbor, who allegedly witnessed the incident, said Hammond walked out of his residence carrying a shotgun.

The neighbor claims that Hammond then pumped the shotgun and pointed it at the sleepwalking neighbor and said he was going to kill him.

The 58-year-old father of the man who was sleepwalking reportedly approached Hammond stating that his son was sleepwalking and was not trying to do anything except ask for help.  According to the report, Hammond then turned the gun on the father and said he was going to kill him as well.  After making that statement, Hammond allegedly pumped the shotgun two more times.

The father and son both ran away from the area, the report states.  The neighbor witnessing the incident said Hammond continued walking up and down his property, pumping the shotgun until law enforcement officers arrived, at which point, he went back into his residence.

Deputies report that they made numerous announcements for Hammond to surrender himself.  “At one point, he exited the residence and pumped the shotgun again,” the report states.

Hammond only surrendered himself after first returning to the residence and discharging one shotgun round into his couch, according to the police report.

The shotgun was located with four rounds still in the chamber, deputies said.

After being arrested, Hammond reportedly said someone kidnapped his son and told him they were coming for him too, but deputies said Hammond doesn’t have a son in the immediate area.

Hammond was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  He was taken to the ACSO Department of the Jail.  He was released Tuesday following a first appearance and posting a $10,000 bond.

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GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has voted to fund an expansion to City of Alachua Hal Brady Recreation Complex.  The move came Tuesday afternoon despite a vote last week from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC) against the measure.

The City of Alachua has been eyeing a 105-acre tract of land lying adjacent to its recreation complex along County Road 2054 for more than a year.  City officials have reportedly negotiated a $1.2 million purchase price on the land, which is already zoned for a 215-home development with a taxable value of $1.9 million.

Dubbed ‘Project Legacy,” the additional land would more than quintuple the 25-acre recreation complex area the city currently owns.  For several years, the owner and developer of the property has allowed the city to use the land as a parking area during its annual Fourth of July celebration.

Of the $1.2 million needed to purchase the land, some $700,000 has already been raised, Adam Boukari, Assistant to the City Manager said Tuesday.  The funding gap of $500,000 has kept the City from closing on the deal which must be completed by Dec. 31 according to a contract with the owner.

The City of Alachua has committed to building three multi-purpose arenas with seating and lighting that could be used for lacrosse, a growing sport, among other activities.  Those arenas would come at an estimated cost of $300,000, City officials say.  But before the City can construct those facilities, it needs the half-million dollars to buy the land.

In a 6-2 vote last week, the TDC recommended against funding Alachua’s request for the $500,000, which would be taken from the bed tax, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals.

In turning down Alachua’s request, several members of the TDC cited concerns that Alachua’s project did not have enough details and circumvented the process for divvying up the funds raised from a two-cent hike in the bed tax last year.  A portion of that tax has been designated for Nations Baseball Park, under construction in Newberry, while another portion was to be set aside for a new fairgrounds.

In the meeting Tuesday, County Commissioner Rodney Long said he was opposed to funding Alachua’s request by essentially raiding the funds set aside for the fairgrounds.

“I’m not going to take one dollar out of the fairgrounds project until this board makes a determination of what it’s going to do with the fairgrounds and how it relates to the commitment you’ve made to the people in Plan East Gainesville,” Long said.

In challenging claims about the commitment to the fairgrounds project, Commissioner Lee Pinkoson commented that the board, including Long, already transferred $1.2 million from the fairgrounds project to county jail construction projects.

Commissioner Mike Byerly remained opposed to Alachua’s request for the funding citing similar concerns as TDC members that it fell outside of a prescribed process.  Byerly said he was in favor of re-opening the process and reviewing all of the proposed uses of the bed taxes, but not Alachua’s alone.

Pinkoson noted, however, that Alachua’s project did not meet the criteria to be considered in the review process undertaken last year.

Standing squarely behind the project, Commissioner Susan Baird detailed numerous reasons she believed the expansion was important and worthy of funding.  Baird pointed to Alachua’s track record with recreation, bringing numerous major tournaments over the years.

She also said that Alachua has a strategy to improve the quality of life by attracting major companies, which are some of the county’s largest taxpayers, including Dollar General, Walmart and Sysco distribution centers.  The $500,000 would be an investment in something tangible, said Baird.  “We’d provide a quality of life…for those groups that have decided to invest in our area.”

Although concerned about how the City would fund construction of the three multi-purpose fields, Commissioner Paula DeLaney also supported the funding.  DeLaney described it as a “transformational” project that would have long lasting impacts on the area.

In hopes of allaying concerns expressed by DeLaney and others, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper told county commissioners the City was committed to the project.

“We have been committed to the recreation and the kids in this county for 30 plus years and we’re not going to let them down or let anyone else down who makes a decision for us to move forward with this commitment,” Coerper said.

Pinkoson noted that using the 105 acres as recreation was a more desirable alternative to homes.  “If it’s allowed to be developed, you lose that opportunity forever,” he said.

Details of the agreement haven’t been hammered out, but commissioners gave the green light to start drafting the deal.  In a 4-1 vote, the commission agreed to support the project.  Byerly cast the dissenting vote.  Commissioners referred the matter back to the TDC for a determination of how the request is to be funded.  At issue is whether or not it should be funded through the TDC’s reserve funds, the fairgrounds funds or a mixture of both.

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