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GAINESVILLE – A new transportation system surtax may be added to the county’s sales tax to make road and transportation improvements countywide.  The tax would generate an estimated $30 million countywide, with about half going directly toward the County’s projects.  The remainder would be split among each municipality, using a formula accounting for a city’s population and roadway miles.

The tax is aimed at tackling an estimated $380 million backlog of road improvements throughout the county.

David Cerlanek, the assistant public works director for Alachua County, presented the possible tax to the Hawthorne and Alachua city commissions on Dec. 6 and Dec. 12 respectively.

At the direction of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), the Alachua County’s Public Works Department has recommended a 1-cent countywide tax that would last at least 10 years.

This tax would be added to the current sales tax of 6.25 percent, and its uses could be put toward any projects that involve transportation, such as a countywide bus system, road and bridge construction and maintenance, capital debt service and a fixed guide way rapid transit system.

In the City of Alachua, the surtax would net an estimated $1 million annually for road projects, Cerlanek said.  Out of its own portion of the surtax, the County would fund other projects, although they may be located within a particular municipality.  Cerlanek noted that topping the County staff’s list of projects was several in and around the City of Alachua, including County Road 237, NW 156 Avenue, Peggy Road and County Road 235A.

Alachua Vice Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. said he was concerned that the surtax might be used for projects other than those presented or that the projects may only be loosely related to transportation.

In response, Cerlanek said the County staff’s proposed projects are focused on “pavement management.”  The projects might include drainage if there’s a need or roadway shoulder repair.  Sidewalk repair or construction, he said, would be limited to those specifically on or crossing a roadway where safety and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is concerned.

The initiative would allow the County and cities like Alachua and Hawthorne to make the improvements sooner rather than later by obtaining a bond and pledging a portion of the future taxes.  Such an option allows for immediate construction instead of waiting for the money to come in from the tax throughout the years.

Hawthorne City Manager Ellen Vause suggested the commission would focus on the most heavily used streets within the city limits. She said the purchase of a motor grader to flatten and maintain dirt roads may also be added to the list of projects.

“From the city manager standpoint, the revenue that this tax would generate from the city would be significant in helping us resurface our roads here,” she said. “This will be the only opportunity to do a wide-scale resurfacing of the city streets.”

Alachua County’s Public Works Department has already attended community meetings and met with city staff members around the county pitching the idea. A draft of the community-wide project list is scheduled to be completed in January 2012.  County officials hope that by the end of May, each city will have passed interlocal agreements, which would detail how the tax revenues would be split across the county.

County commissioners would need to pass a final ordinance and ballot language by the end of July for inclusion on the Nov. 6, 2012 general election ballot.

Vause said she hopes citizens will see the benefit of this surtax and will support its progress.

“This sales tax would go beyond our community,” she said. “Travelers and buyers from all over Alachua County will add to the money earned. Everyone contributes to it so it wouldn’t rest on the shoulders of the citizens.”

During his presentation, Cerlanek said he hopes community leaders will step up and provide consistent and accurate information to as many interested community groups as time allows.

This new surtax would differ from the local government infrastructure surtax in that it will only focus on transportation operations, maintenance and construction. The infrastructure surtax can be used for acquiring land, new capital facilities and their improvements and engineering costs. It is not used for operations and maintenance.

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GAINESVILLE – After a five month investigation, in a statement released Tuesday, State Attorney Bill Cervone said Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) had not violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.

The investigation was the result of allegations by Ward Scott, an Alachua resident and former candidate for county commission.  Among Scott’s allegations were that the BOCC uses informal meetings to discuss matters, reach conclusions and make decisions on which they will later take a formal vote.  Cervone, however, says no laws were broken.

“Each of the meetings in question was held in a completely open and public setting, with citizens and media able to attend.

“Each was recorded and resulted in minutes being taken.

“Each complied with the letter of the law as well as with applicable provisions of the County Commission's own rules and by-laws,” Cervone wrote of the four specific meetings reportedly cited by Scott’s complaint.

Cervone also noted that the findings are not only that of his office, but of others as well saying, “They are shared by Pat Gleason, an Assistant Attorney General [of Florida]…”

“My office consulted with Ms. Gleason, who reviewed everything involved, not because of any ambiguity or uncertainty but because she is an independent expert in these matters.

“Her conclusion, as was mine, is that no criminal violation has occurred,” Cervone wrote.

Cervone seemingly attempts to quell what he views as hype by Scott and others who have criticized the BOCC for allegedly reaching conclusive decisions before formal hearings.

“Much has been made by the complainants about the ‘crystallization’ of votes at informal meetings.

“There is nothing illegal about any discussions between Commissioners at public, noticed meetings, even if those discussions reference pending votes,” he said.

Cervone said crystallization condemns the commission secretly talking about and agreeing upon a vote.  But, he said, commissioners discussing their positions and intended or likely votes is not prohibited.

“Nothing precludes Commissioners from such public discussion and debate about their positions.

“Indeed, it would be foolish to suggest that Commissioners could not have a public dialogue about their positions and intentions on issues coming before them for a vote,” said Cervone.

In a follow-up response to Cervone, Scott said the state attorney’s conclusion misses the point.

Scott notes that the Sunshine Law requires the BOCC to provide “reasonable notice” of meetings and that courts interpreting the statute have underscored the principle of due process.

“A list of meetings of the week doesn’t fly,” Scott wrote.

“While informal meetings were technically noticed, the style of notice kept citizens in the dark about serious business before the commission, like the gas tax.

“Therefore the notice was not ‘reasonable.’

“Due process was not provided,” Scott contended.

He was also critical of how the County kept records of the meetings saying, “while minutes were technically kept, they did not reflect the actual decisions and behaviors of the commissioners,” Scott said, “This behavior could only be detected on the audios, if you knew about them.”

Scott and Cervone both noted, however, that since the issue had been pressed, the BOCC has opted to televise and provide agendas for informal meetings.

Cervone’s conclusion and statement Tuesday comes on the heels of a Dec. 7 request by Scott to have the investigation turned over to an outside agency.

“I hereby request that your office provide me with the necessary instructions to request that your formal investigation now be transferred to the proper agency of the State of Florida, so that this investigation can move on as unencumbered by case load, or politics, as possible,” Scott said in an e-mail to Cervone’s office.

Scott reiterated in his response Tuesday that he wants the matter reviewed by a party outside of Alachua County.

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Cogle-and-Kim-White_MBF_IMG_2681-250x165Christopher R. Cogle, M.D., an associate professor of hematology and oncology in the UF College of Medicine, talks with Kim White, who is being treated for a blood disorder known as MDS. (Photo by Maria Farias/University of Florida)

GAINESVILLE — A group of life-threatening blood disorders collectively called myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, may occur four times more often than reported by national cancer registries, according to new research from the University of Florida based on data from Medicare claims.

MDS occurs when the body’s blood factory does not produce healthy red or white blood cells or platelets. Getting a more accurate picture of the disease could lead to earlier diagnosis for patients and better guidance for public health policy. The findings, reported in the November issue of the journal Leukemia Research and in an earlier issue of the journal Blood, indicate that more women than men are overlooked.

“The data from the cancer registry is showing us a partial picture of MDS,” said Christopher R. Cogle, M.D., an associate professor of hematology and oncology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine. “State cancer registries, which feed the national registries, need more resources so they can more comprehensively capture this disease and others, such as skin and gastrointestinal cancers.”

MDS is a hard-to-diagnose disease that presents itself in a wide range of ways. On the less severe end of the spectrum, it shows up as a low blood cell count, and, at the other extreme, as leukemic growths inside the bone marrow.

Seventy percent of people with MDS die of complications related to a low blood cell count. Even with low-grade disease, the average person’s survival after diagnosis is about five years.

“For those diagnosed in their 60s, we know we can do better than that,” said Cogle, a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center whose clinical and research program has been designated a Center of Excellence by the MDS Foundation. “At best, we can double survival time — but we have to know who the patients are so we can offer them the right treatment.”

Cogle and colleagues at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa noticed that their clinical practices received many referrals from local physicians trying to figure out the cause of low blood cell counts. MDS diagnoses in those cases occurred almost exclusively on an outpatient basis. But such cases are not captured by registries, which get most of their data from hospitals and laboratories.

“There was a discord between where we saw the disease and where the registry data came from,” Cogle said. “There was a mismatch between clinical practice and the data, so we tackled that discrepancy and tried to make sense of it.”

The researchers devised a new algorithm that made an allowance for the difficulty in diagnosing the disease. Previous studies used MDS insurance claims to estimate the number of cases. But that approach is error-prone because MDS is often coded as different diseases, such as leukemia, aplastic anemia or even vitamin deficiencies, before the true diagnosis becomes clear.

In the new calculation, the researchers counted only patients who had had at least two MDS insurance claims at least 30 days apart. They also included blood count and bone marrow biopsy confirmation in the one-year period before MDS insurance claims. They excluded people who were making a Medicare claim for the first time, because those people might have been diagnosed previously, while covered by private insurance.

The UF and Moffitt researchers found that in the 65-and-older age group there were 75 new cases per 100,000 people each year — almost four times the accepted estimate of 20 per 100,000 that is based on the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results cancer registry. That registry shows an overall estimate for all age groups of 3.3 new MDS cases in every 100,000 persons each year.

So who are the people being left out of the traditional database? It turns out that more women than men were omitted, and those people generally had a lower grade of disease and lower medical expenses. Cancer registries indicate that the average age of diagnosis is 71 to 76, but the researchers will use their new calculations to find out whether people are getting diagnosed at a younger age.

The researchers say the MDS underestimate prevents people with the disease from getting available care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for example, uses the low estimate of the number of people affected by the disease as part of the rationale for not paying for bone marrow transplants in MDS patients, except in approved clinical trial settings.

The low estimates also hamper research efforts that could lead to new treatments.

“These data bring the realization that the incidence of MDS is much greater than previously recognized, and that emphasizes the need for greater research funding for the disease,” said senior author Alan F. List, M.D., executive vice president and physician-in-chief at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

A better estimate of MDS cases could also help to galvanize funding agencies to invest more resources into patient education about the disease and about treatments.

“They can let the public know about the significance of a low blood count — not to sit on it, but to go out and get a diagnosis,” Cogle said. “If you have MDS, we have ways to help you.”

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ALACHUA – Motorists driving through Alachua in the coming months will undoubtedly experience road construction in various spots throughout the city.

City of Alachua transportation infrastructure was the subject of discussion at a recent city commission meeting.  The commission authorized $247,000 in the City’s FY 2011-12 budget for street resurfacing of an asphalt overlay of existing roadways.  These funds will pay for $50,000 for resurfacing 1,000 lineal feet of streets within the city’s Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), $152,000 for resurfacing 3,000 lineal feet of streets outside the CRA and $45,000 for chip-sealing unpaved roads in Alachua.

Resurfacing a road involves putting an asphalt overlay on top of an existing roadway and comes at an average cost of $50 - $55 per foot of roadway. Street segments within the CRA to be resurfaced include 800 feet along NW 148 Place from State Road 235 to NW 142 Terrace or 875 feet along NW 145 Avenue from NW 142 Terrace to NW 145 Terrace.

Street segments outside the CRA to be resurfaced are 300 feet along NW 125 Street from NW 147 Lane to US Highway 441, 1,300 feet along NW 141 Street from NW 154 Avenue to NW 158 Avenue; 500 feet along NW 147 Avenue from NW 135 Terrace to NW 137 Terrace; 700 feet along NW 135 Terrace from US Highway 441 to NW 147 Avenue; and 450 feet along NW 137 Terrace from NW 147 Avenue to NW 146 Avenue.

Chip-sealing refers to covering unpaved roads with a gravel-type asphalt mix and costs significantly less than asphalt paving.  With chip seals, a thin film of heated asphalt liquid is sprayed on the road surface, followed by the placement of small chips, which are then compacted onto the asphalt, and excess stone is swept from the surface.

The cost for chip-sealing is significantly less than for asphalt paving at a cost of $85,000 per mile of chip sealing versus $300,000 or more per mile for asphalt paving.

The City of Alachua maintains six miles of unpaved roads. This year’s funding level will enable the City to chip-seal approximately 2,800 feet of unpaved road. Roads selected for the chip-sealing process are NW 150 Avenue from Burnetts Lake Road to NW 128 Street.

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HighSpringsDSCN1360_copy  Before dashing away to prepare for Christmas, Santa Claus greets youngsters at High Springs' twilight parade Saturday night.

HIGH SPRINGS – By the time Santa arrived, Olivia Grinstead was exhausted. The four-year-old had spent an hour waving enthusiastically at all the well-wishers in the 15th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade in High Springs on Dec. 10, and her arm was tired.

The parade is sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce to bring people into town and do something fun for the community, said Donna Mogler, chamber president. The parade featured 36 floats plus four groups from Alachua, said event manager Sandra Webb, with participants from Hardee’s Restaurant to Hare Krishnas turning out to march.

The winner of the parade was the Santa Fe High School Raider Regiment Band, sparkling with Christmas lights strung up their pants legs. Coming in second was the High Springs Girl Scouts, followed by the Santa-hat-clad High Springs Community School band.

The theme was based around pioneers, and many groups took it to heart. Tractors and wagons took over High Springs, making their way from Second Avenue and Second Street all the way to the railroad tracks on Main Street.

Lights flashed as participants waved at children, yelling “Merry Christmas!” and handing out candy. Vendors sold light-up toys and local foods, with many children tugging at the legs of their parents to bring home a holiday treat.

The chamber of commerce started taking applications in September in order to ensure they had time to assign floats and give the participants numbers. On the day of the event, members arrived at 3 p.m. and worked until 9 p.m., Mogler said.

“It’s a long day,” she added.

“We walk the whole parade at the very end, all the way up to our Christmas tree,” she said. “Then Santa gets to meet all the kids.”

The youngsters ran up to Santa Claus while he was still on the float, reaching for his hand and they followed as quickly as they could. Haley Rondello, 6, thought the whole thing was great. What was her favorite part?

“I loved the candy!” she said, sucking on the last bit of a candy cane.

***For more photos of the parade, visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ACTNEWS

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GAINESVILLE – Tuesday, January 3, 2012 is the last day to register to vote or change party affiliation for the Jan. 31, 2012 Presidential Preference Primary Election.

Voters are encouraged to verify and update their registration status online at www.VoteAlachua.com by clicking on “My Voter Information Page”.  The Supervisor of Elections Office will be open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. to accept voter registration applications. The Supervisor of Elections Office located at 111 S.E. 1st Avenue has an after-hours mail drop located at the main entrance. Voter registration applications received through the mail drop will be accepted up until midnight on the 3rd.

You may use the on-line application form at www.VoteAlachua.com to register to vote, update your voter information or update your signature. Be sure to fill out the form completely and check the correct box. You will then need to print the application form, sign it, and return it to the Elections Office. You may also register to vote in person at the Supervisor of Elections Office, by mail or at one of our scheduled community voter registration drives. For a list of other facilities in the county where voter registration application forms may be obtained or to view a calendar of our community voter registration drives, please visit our website or call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 352-374-5252.

To vote in the Presidential Preference Primary Election, mail-in applications must be postmarked no later than the Jan. 3 deadline.

You can also update your address, update your name or change your party affiliation by notifying the Elections Office by using a signed written notice that contains the voter’s date of birth or voter registration number.  If you have moved, you can update your address in person, by phone, by mail, by e-mail, by fax, or by a written signed notice provided that the change is made directly to the Supervisor of Elections in the county of your residence.  Otherwise, you will be required to make your change of address on a voter registration application form.

Florida is a closed Primary State.  In a Florida Primary Election, you may vote only for candidates of the political party in which you are registered, unless all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the General Election.

All registered voters may vote in non-partisan elections, on issues, and for any candidate in the General Election.

Party changes must be submitted no later than 29 days prior to a Primary Election.  The deadline to make a party change for the Presidential Preference Primary Election is Jan. 3, 2012.

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Alachua_Parade_DSCF5278_copyAlachua's 34th Annual Christmas Parade offered an eclectic mix of floats, people, cars and an assortment of animals, including horses, dogs and llamas.

ALACHUA – Threatening rain and overcast skies were no match for the excitement and buzz of activity in downtown Alachua Saturday afternoon.  With the city’s annual Christmas parade slated to begin at 2 p.m., crowds began gathering around noon along Main Street in spite of the gloomy forecast.  While an occasional rain shower has fallen during previous parades causing umbrellas to launch, this was not the case Saturday afternoon as the event remained rain free.

This year’s parade theme of a “Good Life Community Christmas” offered participants a seemingly infinite range of ideas to use in decorating the colorful floats that lined up at the top of Main Street.

Starting at 2 p.m. the series of floats, people, cars and an assortment of animals, including horses, dogs and llamas, headed down Main Street as hundreds of excited spectators perched on street curbs and folding chairs waited for the show.

Former Alachua mayor Jean Calderwood, who served as the parade’s Grand Marshal, headed up the procession of 50-plus registered parade entries.

This year’s parade featured a float design contest with prizes for not-for-profit and for-profit entries.  As each participant reached the intersection of Main Street and NW 148th Place at the flashing yellow light, they paused under the watchful eyes of parade judges who jotted down scores.  Announcing each parade entry as they passed by, City of Alachua Vice Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. served as the Master of Ceremonies.  Along with Boukari was Alachua recreation director Hal Brady and chamber of commerce member Gussie Lee, who joined in engaging participants in good natured banter as they passed by.

Excited children waited in anxious anticipation for the candy that is traditionally tossed from parade participants.  Red and white striped candy canes, green and red peppermints and a variety of other colorful candy were soon in the hands of youngsters who dashed from their perches to retrieve the sweets.  While cheery elves handed out red and white balloons to children, one woman walked through the crowd serving hot coffee to adults.

To the delight of spectators, the parade lasted well over an hour.  And unquestionably, the crowd’s favorite appeared at the end of the parade.  Perched high atop a fire truck and dressed in his trademark red suit, a jolly Santa delivered a hearty “ho-ho-ho” and a “Merry Christmas” before dashing off.

While the parade may have been over, judges Randy and Antoinette Hunt, and Alachua’s city decorator Diana Felver, weren’t finished, as they continued to deliberate their decision for the float decorating contest. In the non-profit category, 1st Place was awarded to the Santa Fe Pop Warner Football and Cheerleaders, 2nd Place was awarded to Standing United as Americans and 3rd Place was awarded to Tacachale.  In the for-profit category, Matchmaker Realty claimed 1st Place and Dollar General claimed 2nd Place with 3rd Place going to Marlowe Smith Electric.

A partnership between the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the City of Alachua, this marked the parade’s 34th year.

*****For more photos of the parade visit us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ACTNEWS

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