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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On Sept. 10, High Springs became one in a string of Alachua County municipalities to unanimously approve a resolution opposing Alachua County’s proposed “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area.”

Commissioners were not only unanimous in their opposition to the county’s action; they were emphatically enthusiastic in their opposition as they approved Resolution No. 2020-I.

On Aug. 24, Newberry’s City Commissioners approved Resolution No. 2020-36, leading the way to opposing the county in their attempt to take jurisdiction away from the various municipalities. In making their decision, one commissioner commented that this action would take home rule away from the cities and give it to the County instead.

On September 21, the City of Alachua filed a lawsuit challenging Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendment which states that it would establish a County Growth Management Area.

If approved by the voters, the charter amendment will restrict the ability of municipalities to determine the appropriate uses for property within their jurisdiction after annexing property from the County into their city.

If voters approve this Charter Amendment in the Nov. 3 election, it will apply to every city in the county as well as to the unincorporated Alachua County residents.

A portion of the High Springs resolution reads as follows: “Article VIII, Section 2(b) of the Florida Constitution provides for Home Rule: ‘Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.’”

When the topic was discussed in Newberry, Mayor Jordan Marlowe indicated that the Alachua County League of Cities is in opposition to this significant change and he hopes community leaders in the other municipalities will educate their voters as to the significance of the proposed change.

Educating the public is exactly what High Springs Commissioners said they wanted to do when they approved Resolution No. 2020-I.

Commissioner Linda Jones said that before she became active on the Commission, she would not have known how an amendment like this might impact her community. “How are they going to know what they are voting on and how it will impact them if no one educates them?” she said. “I’m not talking about telling people how to vote, but people need to know what they are voting for.”

Commissioners agreed that the amendment adversely affects the ability of the City to determine appropriate land use for property within its jurisdiction. They also believe that local elected officials make the best decisions about developments within their community.

In addition, this action discourages businesses from moving into the community as the City will not have control over local land use policies. It further discourages people from moving into a City where they feel compatible with local policies.

Several Commission members said they feel capable of managing their own zoning and policies and do not believe that the extra, unnecessary level of bureaucracy is in the best interest of the citizens of their community.

The approved resolution indicates that it is in the best interest of the City of High Springs to oppose the proposed Alachua County Charter Amendment.

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NEWBERRY ‒ A veteran owned small business specializing in environmental emergency response and training broke ground at their Newberry location on Sept. 17, 2020. Alpha-Omega Training and Compliance, Inc. (AOTC) specializes in environmental engineering, occupational health and safety training and compliance, emergency response, and utility support services. AOTC provides professional services to private, commercial, industrial, municipal, and federal government clients.

While the company had its beginnings in Cocoa, Florida in 2008 when Coast Guard veteran Todd McDowell and Army veteran Brian Barnett began an environmental and work safety consulting business, they have long-term ties to Newberry. They worked with AAG Environmental, and when that firm disbanded, ATOC took over their business and kept their ties to Newberry as well as with lifelong resident Clint Daugherty who also works for AOTC. Newberry was selected as a good location to maintain a north Florida division that could also cover clients in South Georgia as well as Alabama.

Growing their new company in Cocoa while working out of their homes, their client list grew, and they expanded their services to cover a wider range of company training, health and safety training, emergency spill cleanup and environmental reviews.

Today the firm has 35 employees with the main office in Cocoa and additional personnel in Tampa and Fort Meyers to be able to respond quickly to client needs in different parts of the state. Personnel includes engineers, construction managers, equipment operators, and specific industry specialists such as emergency management, compliance auditing, industrial hygienists, certified safety professionals, emergency spill response, and remediation.

They have contracts with multiple municipalities such as Cocoa and Daytona Beach as well as Orange County. Because of their home location in Cocoa, they also have contracts with the Space Center, Missile Defense program and Space X. But a large portion of their business in with individual private companies or utility services throughout the state.

AOTC covers all aspects of environmental health and safety from company employee training and education on compliance rules to using heavy equipment for 24-hour emergency response for waste and spill cleanup operations services to a variety of hazardous material and bio-hazardous incidents, including fuel spills, commercial truck accidents, truck wreck services, industrial incidents, and medical-based spill cleanup. They work with public and private sector clients to minimize the effects of hazardous materials, chemicals, and bio hazardous materials on human health and the environment.

AOTC also offers industrial waste management services designed to minimize long-term liability and control costs, both of which are highly beneficial to the client. They will characterize, profile, and dispose of remediation, assessment, and generator waste streams in an effort to eliminate the risks of violating industrial risk regulations, which can be costly. Other services are noise and air sampling for the protection of client's employees.

McDowell said that safety and environmental issues are the primary focus of AOTC and that communication is key, and success is dependent on the planning, development, and implementation of the quality solutions and services to each client no matter how big or small.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission unanimously approved Resolution 2020-40 during the Sept. 14 Commission meeting to adjust the City’s Compensation Plan for the 2020-21 fiscal year. This item was presented to Commissioners by Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee.

As part of his presentation Lee reminded Commissioners that the City adjusted the pay classification and compensation schedules last year to correspond with the market at that time.

“The Commission adopted a resolution establishing the pay ranges for each job classification. To keep our pay scales in range with the market, staff proposes to increase the pay ranges by one percent,” said Lee.

He pointed out that the proposed adjustment is less than the 3.22 percent rate established by the state as the percentage increase in Florida’s household income for the current year. He also commented that the one percent adjustment does not relate to anyone at the City receiving a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) per Commission direction. But, he said, “It may affect the starting pay of a future employee, or the top out pay of an employee when merit raises are assessed.” Existing employees will be evaluated for merit increases this year based upon performance.

“During this year, staff identified several areas in our pay grid that were below market and are proposed for changes,” Lee said. “Several positions were identified as under market when compared to our peer cities. Staff identified the most significant under market [positions] and adjusted them to market rates.”

Commissioners approved the resolution without comment.

All changes will become effective Nov. 1, 2020.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission on Sept. 21 set its upcoming 2020-21 Fiscal Year budget at $12,694,030. Although Commissioners previously met several times in budget workshops over the summer, the budget did not fly through the approval process easily on first reading, which was Sept. 10.

During the first meeting Finance Director Jennifer Stull listed some items she termed “housekeeping items” that she thought should be clarified prior to final consideration of the budget.

A main concern brought up by Commissioner Scott Jamison during the first meeting had to do with one water meter reader whose salary fell under the Water Department, but who was actually supervised by the Utility Billing Department. “It doesn’t seem logical to me that a person whose work is in one department should be supervised by someone in another department,” said Jamison.

City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. and Stull both explained the reasoning in allocating funds and supervision. As Commissioners discussed the matter and attempted to take a vote on approval of the budget, it became apparent that the budget might not pass during first reading of the related ordinance. However, it did pass unanimously with the caveat that Stull would contact the City’s auditors to verify that a change could be made to satisfy the issue.

On Sept. 21, Stull reported that the auditors recommended that the meter reader be moved to License and Billing.

Commissioner Nancy Lavin made the motion to approve the final budget, which was seconded by Commissioner Gloria James and passed unanimously

In related business, the Commission finalized the rate of taxation on real and personal property for the 2020-21 fiscal year. In both cases, the millage rate was fixed at 5.8800 mills, which is a 3.84 percent increase from the current rolled-back rate of 5.6628 mills.

Commissioner Scott Jamison made it a point to mention that this is the same rate that the City set last year.

Previously, the City conducted budget workshops to discuss the budget and the tentative millage rate. Approval of Resolution 2020-H on Sept. 10 and Resolution 2020-J on Sept. 21 finalized discussions held during those workshops.

This rate will be levied by the City of High Springs for the upcoming fiscal year on all non-exempt taxable property within the City limits.

In other business, the City Commission backtracked on moving funds to Florida Trust by rescinding Resolution 2018-BB. The action was a follow up to comments by Commissioner Nancy Lavin at an Aug. 20 workshop in which she pointed out that funds which Commissioners voted to move to Florida Trust were not moved.

Finance Director Jennifer Stull said that it is the bond reserve payment money. She said that management at the time decided not to move the money because the local bank said they would match the rate the City could get from Florida Trust. It was decided during the workshop that the issue should be brought up at a Commission meeting.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, Lavin said she was concerned that the Commission had voted to move the funds, passed a resolution and the funds had not been moved. Some commissioners were dismayed that the directive had not been acted upon as well. Commissioner Scott Jamison said there was nothing that could be done about what had happened, but he wanted to know what action they should take now.

The city attorney advised that Commissioners could rescind the original resolution and ask staff to research the issue at this time, since interest rates may have changed since the earlier decision.

Commissioners unanimously voted to rescind the earlier resolution and asked that the issue be placed on the next City Commission meeting so a decision could be made at that time.

Commissioners asked that the City Manager and Finance Director work to obtain information for the next meeting.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission has approved amending the agreement with Alachua County for fire suppression and fire response EMS/rescue services. This is the first amendment to an agreement that began Oct. 1, 2019.

Payment for service will be based quarterly and based on the previous quarter responses. The City Fire Chief and Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) Chief will meet between Jan. 1 and March 1 to establish the compensation rate and CPI for the following calendar year, allowing both to budget for the following fiscal year.

Payment to the City will be made in four payments made on a quarterly basis in accordance with the provisions of Florida Statutes.

The City shall reciprocate payment per response, at the same rate that the County pays, to the County when County fire apparatus (excluding rescue and command) are dispatched as the "Primary responder" within the municipal boundaries of the City. "Primary responder" is defined as the only unit dispatched to an incident or when dispatched as the closest unit due to the unavailability of appropriate apparatus from the City Fire Department.

The County agrees not to invoice the City for response in the City if the City is simultaneously responding to a call in the County. Payment to the County will be made on a quarterly basis in accordance with the provisions of Florida Statutes.

High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham said working on a quarterly basis with the County allows both to have real time numbers to work with.

As no Commissioner or citizen comments were forthcoming, Commissioners easily approved the amendment to the agreement.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry is set to approve a $25,793,291 annual budget. A second public hearing was conducted at the Sept. 14 City Commission meeting. Following adoption of a preliminary millage rate, Commissioners approved a tentative budget for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year, which begins Oct. 1, 2020 and ends Sept. 30, 2021.

Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee provided a summary of the resolution adopting a tentative budget. “Budgeted funds are to pay for personal services, expenses, operating and maintenance expenses and other expenses, for capital outlay and for debt service requirements,” said Lee.

During the five budget workshops held by the Commission, direction was given to staff with regard to the preparation of the budget.

All revenue and other financing sources available to the City of Newberry total $15,485,206. With reserves of $10,308,085 and the $15,485,206 revenue and other financing, the City is setting a $25,793,291 budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

A second public hearing to determine the final budget amount will take place Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. Citizens are encouraged to participate as time will be set aside for comments and questions.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Commissioners easily approved an interlocal agreement between High Springs and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for enhanced police services within the CRA district. The agreement is specifically for CRA-sponsored events and begins Oct. 1, 2020 and ends Sept. 30, 2021. Renewal of the agreement is for successive one-year terms upon written consent of both parties.

The agreement stipulates that the CRA will pay the City monthly for services at a rate of $37 per hour. In exchange the City agrees to assign police officers to cover the CRA area for specified times, excluding Pioneer Days and the tree lighting event, both of which are Chamber of Commerce events.

In the agreement it is anticipated that 208 hours of additional services within the CRA District will be required, which includes 130 hours of additional holiday patrol for a total anticipated payment of $7,713. At least 27 of those hours are reserved for Folk in the Springs, which is currently scheduled for September 2021.

The agreement stipulates how payments will be made to the City and the City will provide semi-annual and annual law enforcement activity reports in the District.

This item had been previously discussed in the CRA meeting, and approval of the agreement was unanimous.

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