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GAINESVILLE – Costs to improve Poe Springs Park continue to rise. At the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners approved over $180,000 in funding for Poe Springs Park repairs.

The Poe Springs Park budget amendment of $32,000 for the park’s retaining wall was approved with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent. Baird was concerned by the amount of costs being directed into the project.

Baird proposed seeing if there were any other sources of funds available other than general funds for the project.

The board went on to approve $148,589 in roofing, HVAC, carpet and fencing repairs to the park.

Alachua County Parks Superintendent Robert Avery said repeair costs for the park have almost more than doubled what had been expected due to natural forces such as flooding downpours caused by Tropical Storm Debby. The high water level impacted the project already in progress to renovate the steps leading into the spring. Another set of prefabricated steps are to be installed.

Avery noted that repairs to park buildings, which were built in 1991, need to be completed before management of the park is changed. Earlier this year, plans were in the works to transfer the park’s management to the City of High Springs, but those plans were delayed as a result of various issues including budget and failure of the two public bodies to reach agreement.

The Poe Springs Park repair project is expected to be completed before by next spring.

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GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners has chosen to opt-out of the State of Florida Septic Tank Evaluation Program.

By state law, a county or municipality where a first magnitude spring is located must decide whether or not to require an evaluation program for their area by Jan. 1, 2013. All other counties may choose to adopt the state program in their area at any time. The program would require counties with first-magnitude springs to mandate septic system inspections and a pump-out every five years. The largest springs are called "first-magnitude" springs, and typically discharge around 64.6 million gallons each day. Alachua County has three first-magnitude springs: the Hornsby, Santa Fe Rise and Treehouse Springs.

The law provides the county with the option to either adopt or opt out of the program. In 2010, the Florida Legislature passed a requirement for Florida septic systems to be inspected. That requirement was eliminated and replaced by House Bill 1263, which provides codes for counties to follow once the program was adopted.

Each evaluation of the septic systems would cost homeowners from $500 to $600. Residences on a lot with one bedroom per acre would be exempt from the evaluations.

A primary concern regarding septic systems is the amount of nitrates impacting the springs. Alachua County water resource manager Gus Olmos said a study was commissioned that revealed 17 percent of nitrates entering into the springs was from septic tanks that were fully functioning.

As of Nov. 7, 2012, no Florida counties had opted in to the Septic Tank Evaluation Program, and according to the state’s website, 18 counties in addition to Alachua County had opted out.

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W_-_Mebane_Teacher_Tour_10-26-2012_2_copyJamie Krames, reading and language arts teacher/8th grade team leader; Heather Bates, school counselor; Heidi Kling, 6th/7th grade math teacher; Melissa Armstrong, reading and language arts teacher/6th grade team leader; Lisa Bailey, media specialist; Chief Joel DeCoursey; Damon Messina; Manda Bessner, Mebane

ALACHUA – Several Mebane Middle School teachers and the school’s principal and assistant principal recently took a tour of the city of Alachua to become acquainted with the community.  Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Police Chief Joel DeCoursey and City of Alachua Recreation Assistant Damon Messina escorted the group throughout the town, passing through Alachua’s residential neighborhoods, businesses district, and the Progress Corporate Park area as well as the sites of other schools located within the city limits

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Archer's Jones and Zander win

W_-_Williams_Election_DSC_0022_copyA victorious Byran Williams is congratulated Tuesday evening after winning the hotly contested Commission Seat 4 race against challenger Pat Rush.

HIGH SPRINGS – In the race for High Springs City Commission Seat 4, a steady stream of 2,674 High Springs citizens cast ballots in the contest.  In the end, the count was 1,448 ballots for Byran Williams, giving him the win over Pat Rush’s 1,176 votes.  In terms of percentages, it was Williams with 55.2 percent to Rush’s 44.8 percent.

Williams, who previously served as commissioner from 2003 to 2009 and again in 2011, was clearly elated at his re-election and said he was grateful for the support he received from citizens.  “I’m always proud of the people of High Springs,” he said with a broad smile, “but I am especially proud today at the wonderful turnout we have had and that they chose me again to serve them.”  Williams will be assuming the commission seat vacated by outgoing mayor Dean Davis, who chose not to seek re-election.

Challenger Pat Rush declined to comment earlier in the evening and took a “wait and see” approach rather than predict the outcome.  Rush was not available for comment after results were announced and attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

A controversial amendment to the city’s charter, which would limit the ability of the commission to obtain loans in excess of $1 million without a citizen referendum, received 1,794 votes to approve passage versus 880 votes against.

Controversy about the amendment has revolved around allegations of failure to comply with state required public notice laws. Although the original amendment was advertised with a $1 million limit on borrowing authority, the commission initially approved a $2 million limitation during a public hearing.  The issue resurfaced later in the same meeting after the $2 million limitation was approved and the public hearing had closed.  The commission voted again and changed the approved $2 million limit to $1 million. It is alleged that the commission’s revote on the measure was made without the required legal public notice.

High Springs resident Ross Ambrose filed suit seeking emergency injunctive relief to stop the amendment from appearing on the ballot.  Last week Judge Stanley Griffis ruled that the measure should remain on the ballot, but the amendment would not go into effect immediately, if approved.  Meanwhile, the issue is expected to go to trial and will be ruled on at a later date.  A link to the complete 15-page ruling on this issue can be found at www.alachuatoday.com.

Supporters for both candidates, as well as those in support of or against the proposed amendment, created a lively atmosphere along US Highway 441 as they ushered voters into Precinct 20 at the High Springs Civic Center.  While at Precinct 60, located at Fellowship Church of High Springs, also on US Highway 441, most of the supporters created the same upbeat atmosphere.

Supporters and media waiting for election results sought the county election website on their electronic devices to try to get the complete picture as they waited for local precinct numbers.

Although many people were focused on the local election results, some were disappointed they could not also obtain High Springs’ voter choices for the national election as well.

Election Clerk Yvonne Andrews announced the local election numbers after closing the polls and working with her staff, but referred people to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office or local news media for national election results from the High Springs precincts.

Andrews said that many general election turnouts she’s seen in more than 20 years of clerking were about the size of this election, “but the 2008 election was a little larger than this,” she explained.

Precinct changes caused confusion and some frustration for voters.  Andrews said if a voter’s name was not listed in their books, it caused delays and took time to determine where they should vote.  “We were having to bombard the county to find out just what each person’s status was and where they were supposed to vote,” she said.  “People were very polite and patient during that process, which was nice.”

Because this local election coincides with the national election, the Supervisor of Elections Office in Gainesville must certify the election results prior to declaring any candidate a winner.

In past years, the winning candidate would have been sworn in at the next regular commission meeting after the election.  This year the swearing in and organizational meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

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Alachua woman pens book of dreams and visions

W_-_Linda_Walker_Face2

ALACHUA – For Linda Walker, it all started with a dream.

In 1995, the Alachua resident decided to keep a dream journal to record dreams and visions she believes are from God.

“I didn’t write every dream down, but as many as I could remember I did write down,” she said.

Fifteen years later, she’s recorded hundreds of dreams, visions in prayers in a book entitled “My Journey.” She said she received a revelation from God about a year ago to write the book.

“I just started typing it, and it took me about a year,” she said. “I never in a million years dreamed I would write a book. He’s the one who has given it to me.”

She said the book includes a lot of details about her life, but she said she thinks anyone who reads it will be able to relate.

“Even though it’s about my life, I wrote it in a way...that I feel will be a help for people,” she said.

Walker said she knows people may be skeptical of supernatural encounters, but she said she knows her experiences are legitimate.

“I knew when it was the Lord,” she said. “I also knew if I didn’t get up and write it down, I usually would forget it.”

Walker said she hopes her book helps readers in their spiritual walks.

“I don’t know what people are going to say. I don’t know what people are going to think,” she said. “It’s not for me. It’s really for other people to be encouraged.”

She said she wants every reader to realize God cares about every aspect of their lives.

“Maybe people wonder, ‘Can God speak to me through dreams and visions?’” she said. “God is speaking. Are you listening?”

Walker will be hosting book signings throughout November and December. And she welcomes anyone who is curious about her book to come to a signing.  On Nov. 10, from 1 – 4 p.m., she will be at Books-A-Million in Ocala.  A bit closer to home, on Nov. 16, she will be at Garden Gallery in downtown Alachua from 6 – 9 p.m., which coincides with the Alachua Chamber of Commerce Shop, Dine and Stroll activities along Main Street.  She will be having another book signing at the Garden Gallery on Dec. 7, and on Dec. 15 from 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. she will be at Hitchcock’s Market in Alachua.

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W_-_Lee_VincentHIGH SPRINGS – At a time when the City of High Springs desperately needed a city manager with exceptional experience, excellent leadership skills and knowledge of water and wastewater issues, Lee Vincent stopped by to introduce himself and offer his services on an interim basis to the City.  Paul Sharon of Florida City/County Managers Association in Jacksonville called Vincent after being contacted by the City for assistance.

Vincent, who lives 20 minutes away in northwest Gainesville, was asked to consider the position and subsequently contracted with the City to assist for a 30-day period.

Many thought Vincent was the ideal individual to step in for High Springs given his 13 years of experience as a city manager, which would prove valuable in the city’s day-to-day operations and in assisting the commission identify potential permanent city manager candidates.  He served as city manager in Waldo, Starke and Port St. Joe, Florida, where he retired in 2008.  He is licensed as a Class C Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator and Class C Drinking Water Plant Operator, has 26 years of service in the Navy where he retired at the rank of Captain in 1994, and has post-graduate studies in public administration.

In a recent interview about the wastewater system, he said, “Once the city determines what they believe will be the cost, and follow up with discussions with our engineers and the citizens, a decision can be made whether to go with a gravity feed sewer system, where possible, or look at using low pressure grinder pumps or look at the latest available technology.”

Since becoming Interim City Manager about a month ago, Vincent said he has attempted to take on some of the administrative load from City Clerk Jenny Parham, who has been serving in a dual capacity as interim city manager and clerk.  “By taking some of the load off of her,” he said, “she can get back to her primary function as a city clerk.”

“I review anything that as a city manager I can make a decision on,” said Vincent, who slogged through paperwork the first few days of employment to determine what items needed to be tackled and by whom.

Right now, staff is currently working on the sewer system with respect to the “tweeners,” those approximately 70 residents whose homes were built after the sewer installation cutoff date for federal grant funding.

Rather than having the city clerk do all the investigation on easements and required documents for USDA Rural Development, Vincent said, “I have been working with staff and Jenny to provide the required information for submission by Mittauer & Associates,” the city’s engineering firm for this project.  “Easements for the grinder pump stations are examples of information that needs to be provided by the City,” Vincent said.

Vincent is also working to address housekeeping issues with the water and wastewater plants.  “I’ve also tried to make myself available to the citizens to answer any questions they might have, he said.  As a city manager, I think part of my job is to keep the commission as up-to-date as I can on items they should be aware of and to address citizen concerns at the city staff level rather than elevating it to the commission level.”

Vincent also gets out of the office and talks with City workers about their jobs.  “Frankly, I hear a lot of pride expressed by our employees about the jobs they are doing, and what they are able to accomplish with reduced manpower.”  Meeting business owners is another important function for Vincent.  “I am trying to walk around the city and meet various business people so they can associate a face with a job title,” he explained.

“I’m getting a kick out of this job,” he said.  “The reason I became a city manager in the first place was because I enjoy the job.”

Vincent’s 30-day contract with the city was set to expire on Tuesday, Nov. 13.  Whether the commission will retain him longer will likely depend on the status of negotiations with their choice of Edwin Booth for a permanent city manager.

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ALACHUA – Alachua will celebrate its 10th annual Harvest Festival on Sunday, Nov. 11, as Main Street comes alive with a multitude of things to see, do and eat.  From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., vendors, children's activities and entertainment will top the ticket.

The annual event is sponsored by the Alachua Business League with support from the City of Alachua and local businesses.  With sunny skies and the high forecast to reach nearly 80 degrees, the weather is cooperating fully with festival planners, participants and visitors.

If this year’s event is anything like in years past, a large crowd can be expected to mingle up and down Main Street, stopping to peruse vendors’ wares of jewelry, art, doggie treats, ornaments and all variety of arts and crafts.

And when festival goers look for food or drink, they won’t have to go far as there will be a good supply of beverages, treats and food.

A number of local not-for-profit groups will be offering specialized services and raising funds for their organizations.  The Alachua Business League has been working with area groups to honor U.S. military veterans at the festival, which falls on Veteran’s Day this year.

Alachua’s Cub Scout Pack 88, which is sponsored by the Alachua Lions Club, will be hosting veterans at the "Veteran's Tent" located near the south stage on Main Street.  And in support of the Alachua County Military Support Group’s mission to send care packages to soldiers serving overseas, items such as toiletries, magazines, candy, hair ties, Wet Wipes, beef jerky, Kleenex, Band Aids, and old cell phones as well as monetary donations will be collected.

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