HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs proposed an increase in ad valorem taxes from 6.15 mills to 6.39 mills after the motion passed 3-2 during the Thursday, Aug. 2, special budget meeting at City Hall.

“We have to find quite a bit of money to meet our budget needs,” Commissioner Sue Weller said during a Tuesday phone interview. “Until we can go through the budget and determine where cuts can be made or how different operations can be handled to come up with the money that we need, I think it’s at least better to have that higher millage rate. We can always go down, but we can’t go up.”

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made the motion to raise the tax rate to 6.39 mills after a previous motion failed.  Commissioners Scott Jamison and Weller voted with Barnas to raise the rate, while Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voted against the increase.

Weller said it is the goal of the commission to keep the rates at the current level.

“I ran on a platform of reduced taxes and listening to the people,” Mayor Dean Davis said. “I haven’t found anyone yet who wants to raise taxes.”

High Springs residents should expect to receive a notice in the mail from the Alachua County Property Appraisers Office informing them of the public hearing set for Sept. 13.

On Thursday, Aug. 2, City Manager Jeri Langman suggested raising the millage rate to 6.9 mills after she planned the 2012-2013 budget with the higher rate.

At the proposed 6.39, the City will see a decrease in the amount of ad valorem taxes it brings in. Due to falling property values, to keep the taxes level with what High Springs received this year, the commission would have to raise millage rates to 6.5849 mills.

At the meeting following the public hearing, the commission can reduce the millage rate from 6.39, but in accordance with state law, they will not be allowed to increase it. At Thursday’s meeting Barnas said he intends to suggest several cuts that would allow the City to return to the 6.15 percent rate.

The decrease in ad valorem taxes is juxtaposed against a substantial increase in City expenses, with much of the increase due to the City’s decision to operate their own emergency dispatch center, and ceasing to contract with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office for those services.  High Springs has increased the High Springs Police Department communications budget from $85,000 to $281,050.

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HIGH SPRINGS – After discussing the High Springs fire department budget, the High Springs City Commission set the preliminary fire assessment fee at $99 in a 3-2 vote during a July 31 special meeting.

On Aug. 23, a public hearing will be held to allow comments from the residents regarding the decision. The City still has the option to return the fee to the current year rate of $73.

The fire department 2012-2013fiscal year budget reflects shortfalls, which the higher assessment fee will help reduce. But even accounting for the increased fee, the department will still be in a deficit situation, requiring transfers from the City’s general fund to cover all the costs.

“I don’t know if we truly appreciate how much we are going to have to come up with in the next budget to pay for stuff,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “I want to have the option to do what needs to be done.”

Earlier, Commissioner Sue Weller attempted to raise the fee to $112, but the motion died in a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voting against it and Weller and Commissioner Jamison in favor.

“I’m not really interested in raising taxes or fees,” Gestrin said.

Gestrin is in favor of rolling the fire department budget over from this year to next fiscal year, as well as keeping all fees the same.

For the proposed 2012-2013 budget, the fire department budget weighs in at a proposed $1.321 million, up from last year’s $1.286 million.  With the proposed fire assessment fee set at $99, the City can expect to see approximately $60,000 in revenues from that fee alone.

According to Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, the budget increased because of several required upgrades. One request includes $20,000 to buy new gear for current staff and incoming volunteer firemen.

“Can we exist within our operating realms and get by? Of course we can, we will make do,” Gillingham said. “But there’s some areas that if we want to keep expanding, like the volunteer program, that we’re going to have to commit a little money to this year.”

Gillingham hopes to move forward with the volunteer program and has already added nine new volunteer staff members.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Despite opposition by two City of High Springs commissioners, on Thursday, July 26, the Commission authorized High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley to expend funds on training for future emergency dispatch employees, as well as to provide salaries for those employees.  The Commission’s action authorized expenditures which were not funded in the City’s budget, and had not been approved by an amendment to the City’s budget.

High Springs currently contracts with Alachua County for emergency services through the Sheriff’s Office Combined Communications Center (CCC), but this is scheduled to end Oct. 1 when High Springs activates their emergency dispatch center.

“We’re trying to ram this thing through,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “This is all stuff we were trying to warn about, and now they’re here. We have to circumvent things. I don’t understand the willingness to do whatever has to be done to do this. It just doesn’t seem like good business.”

Recently the commission has made staffing changes, such as the termination of the former city planner and addition of a city engineer by first making adjustments to the City’s budget.

According to Holley, he required immediate approval because of time constraints related to having the city’s emergency dispatch up and running on schedule. Two employees were required to attend training at the Marion County Public Safety Communications on July 30 and first must undergo physical exams on July 30.

Holley estimated the cost for school, salaries and physical exams at $400 to $500.

“While we are working on the budget, we, as a commission, voted to go ahead with bringing on our own dispatch,” Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas said.

Barnas made a motion to give Holley the authority of the Commission to take all necessary actions to get the dispatch up and running by the Oct. 1 deadline. Commissioner Linda Gestrin seconded, and the measure passed 3-2 with Commissioners Jamison and Sue Weller voting against it.

Holley’s additional request follows his July 17 update about the CAD software, which he informed the Commission would cost $39,000 this fiscal year. To pay for the software, the City will be using money from its contingency funds. Jamison opposed using emergency funds to pay for the dispatch startup costs.

“This isn’t an emergency. This is a purchase of choice,” he said on July 17.

During the Tuesday, July 31 commission meeting, the commission approved by a 3-2 vote to hold two meetings to adopt an amended budget setting aside $167,200 in capital outlay costs for the Communications Department.

The City will finance a Motorola console and APX 7000 radios for $128,000, which are required for the dispatch to become operational.  For this budget year, the City will pay $39,200 for the CAD software and $32,190 to add six staff members into the Communications Department.

Weller recommended again against moving forward with the local dispatch, instead offering that the City could hire a person to answer the 415-number and provide cell phones to officers to answer the number after hours.

“Even with drastic cuts in the budget, we are not going to be able to afford the dispatch,” Weller said. “We are in dire straits right now; we will be in dire straits this coming year. Unless you are going to cut out every other department, and you’re only going to have police and fire and no other services, then you might as well hand this over to the County at this point.”

Despite Weller’s expressed concerns and Jamison’s objections, by a 3-2 vote, the Commission approved the measures to move forward with the dispatch.

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 ALACHUA - A thunderstorm that pushed easterly through Alachua Wednesday morning not only deluged the area, but also generated intense lighting, which reportedly struck a power transformer at Rachael Boulevard and NW 126th Terrace.  For nearly three hours, much of downtown Alachua and other areas of the city were without electricity as utility crews raced to replace the damaged equipment.  Meanwhile, Alachua Police Department officers directed traffic at the busy intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 241 where traffic signals were out.

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Wastewater and water rates to go up, electricity down

 ALACHUA – City of Alachua Public Services Director Mike New presented the proposed utility rates for the 2013 fiscal year at the city’s public workshop Monday, highlighting changes that will result in decreased rates for customers who use the city’s water, wastewater and electricity.

According to New, the proposed rates will add 0.1 cent per kilowatt-hour to electric bills.  However, the bulk power cost adjustment will decrease from 2.275 cents to 1.85 cents per kWh.  As a result, the bill for a customer using 1,000 kWh a month would decrease by $3.25 a month.

New said water conservation efforts have led to a decrease in consumption of the city’s water and wastewater, with the average residence using 700 fewer gallons of water and wastewater per month than in 2009.

Due to insufficient revenues, the proposed rates of these utilities will increase next year.  The proposed water rate would add 78 cents to the monthly bill of a residence using 6,000 gallons of water per month and $2.04 to a residence using the same amount of wastewater.

New noted customers receiving all three utilities from the city will see an average monthly rate decrease of 43 cents a month.

“We have 2,700 wastewater customers,” New said.  “Nearly every wastewater customer is also a water customer and an electric customer.  I would say more than 2,500 customers have all three services.”

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L-R: Aidan Collins, Hannah Collins, Olivia Huffer, Meghan Collins, Coach Joey Todd, Pete Collins and Head Archery Coach Robert Turner.

NEWBERRY – The Easton Foundations Regional Archery Center of Excellence has brought local, national and international attention to Newberry.

Robert Turner, head archery coach, explained at the City of Newberry Commission meeting last Monday how Easton-Newberry Sports Complex has developed since its opening three years ago, and is now a training facility for the community as well as international archers. “We have the best archery equipment in the country,” Turner said.

The Australia native is also working to increase the popularity of archery in schools, exposing students to the sport.

Commissioner Jordan Marlowe, an archery coach at Newberry High School (NHS), said the school is one of 60 schools in Alachua and Marion counties taking advantage of the program. The organization bought Newberry High School $5,000 worth of bows, targets and arrows, he said after the meeting.

And Easton has offered to pay for any school that wants to train a teacher to be a certified archery coach.

The archery club started two years ago and had 16 athletes last year. The team participates in the Easton Foundations’ Olympic Archery in School Mail-in Tournament.

The coaches submit the athletes’ peak scores and medals are given to the top 10 scorers in each division. NHS had the top boy athlete last year.

Turner said the next step is to have a local and national competition amongst the schools. Texas, New York and California schools also utilized a similar program.  Florida and California have the largest number of schools.

“We’re excited about archery in Newberry.” Turner said. “It was a big step for Newberry to take on this facility and invest money.”

Newberry went out on a limb and the risk paid off, he said, adding that Newberry offered a progressive look at sports and made an excellent decision to bring the facility to the community.

The complex is in the beginning stages to become a world archery training center with the World Archery Federation. There are only four such existing centers today, and Newberry would become the fifth.

Turner said they are also working with hotels to provide shuttles and a place to stay for traveling athletes.

Easton has a distinct tie to this year’s Olympics.  Eight teams from Chile, Canada, Romania and two other countries, as well as Team USA Archery have been on site earlier this year to practice. Turner said Olympic archers to keep an eye on during the games are Denisse van Lamoen from Chile and Crispin Duenas from Canada. Both athletes have trained at Easton.

“The Olympics is a big part of our history,” he said.

In addition to a 30-second commercial featuring the facility, which will air on NBC throughout the Olympic games, Easton will be hosting an Olympic party to celebrate the games and archery on Aug. 4 at 2 p.m.

“Movies like the ‘Hunger Games and ‘Brave’ are creating a boost for us, Turner said, adding that Easton will be viewed as a valuable training facility in the next three years.

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HIGH SPRINGS – As the November election draws closer, it won’t be long before campaign signs dot the streets of High Springs.

During the week-long qualifying period, which ended Friday, July 27, new names appeared on the candidate forms, as well as several familiar ones.

After serving one term, Mayor Dean Davis does not intend to run again. Though he doesn’t plan on remaining on the commission, Davis said he would be willing to help any time he could.

“I feel like we need to get some younger folks in there to do the job,” he said. “I think we accomplished a lot of the things that we wanted to do, but, you know, you always wish you had done a better job.”

Pat Rush will compete against former Vice-Mayor Byran Williams for Seat 4, which Davis currently occupies.

Rush has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently employed by the University of Florida.

“The city of High Springs needs greater focus on the needs of its citizens,” he said. “The people of High Springs know what they want, but have become frustrated by the fact that their city does not respond to their interests.”

Rush hopes to rein in spending, adding that the City’s debt, lack of money and sloppy bookkeeping is inexcusable.

Williams previously served for seven years on the commission, and is the pastor at Montgomery United Methodist Church.

“I always like serving the community,” Williams said. “This is my home. I just want the best for the City of High Springs.”

If elected, Williams intends to bring economic development back into the area, as well as work to get the City moving forward again.

Vying for Seat 5, newcomer Edward Riess will run against current Commissioner Scott Jamison.

Jamison won Seat 5 in an April special election when he squared off against Ann Carter. During the April election, a total of 503 residents cast their votes to select former commissioner Eric May’s replacement after he resigned in January.  Jamison has a bachelor’s degree in Public Recreation and additional credits to teach. “When I ran the first time, one of the questions they asked at the candidates forum was if I would run again, win or lose and I said ‘yes.’ Ultimately, I’m keeping my word,” Jamison said.

Alachua County Today attempted to contact Riess, but was unable to reach him at the phone number provided to the City of High Springs.

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