HIGH SPRINGS – Citizens for a Better High Springs will be hosting a Christmas party for City employees and their families at the refurbished old school building behind City Hall. The group received approval from the High Springs City Commission to hold the festivities at the former school. The event, which will be a catered dinner with live entertainment, will take place on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, from 6-8 p.m.

The idea for the dinner came about as an effort to thank City employees, some of whom took a pay cut this fiscal year, for the hard work they do on behalf of the citizens of High Springs.

Donations of food, drink, paper goods, decorations and entertainment are all being provided by more than 20 individuals, businesses and groups who want to show appreciation for the City employees.

Ed MacKinnon, Events Chair for Citizens for a Better High Springs, said that people are still making donations. “There will be no shortage of food.”

A variety of casseroles, a shrimp, rice, vegetable medley, roasted turkeys and Boston butts, along with a large array of desserts are among the dishes on the menu to be enjoyed by City employees and their families. “I’m going to have to slow some of them down a little bit,” quipped MacKinnon with a chuckle.

The gathering will be entertained by guitar music and vocals by Michael Loveday of Bank of America.

Former and retired employees, “some of whom retired 25-30 years ago,” will be joining in the festivities according to MacKinnon, who also said that many of them are providing food for the event.

“We are honored to be the first group to use the building in its new condition,” said MacKinnon about the former school. “The City spent $2 million renovating the building and it is absolutely beautiful. With its large rooms, high ceilings and beautiful wood floors,” he said, “it’s a throwback to an earlier time. They did an excellent job in rebuilding this school.”

“We really want employees to bring their children and spouses to this event,” said MacKinnon. “This is a great opportunity for all of them to see this beautiful building,” he said with a smile.

By the way, he said the nickname for the old school building used to be “The Sand Spurs.” Many long-time residents may remember that name he remarked with a smile.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry city officials are taking to steps to ensure that the city’s parks will soon be safer for all pedestrians. Signs will be posted that display safety rules, as well as information such as the hours the park is open to the public and the contact numbers to reach the Newberry Parks and Recreation Department.

Triangle Park is the initial impetus behind the initiative. “The idea came about when folks would drive right over the walking trail and up to the pavilion,” said Richard Blalock, the department’s director. “We don’t need vehicles driving around a walking park.”

Signs will also eventually be posted at the city’s East Park, West Park, Downtown Park, Diamond Sports Park, and the Easton Newberry Sports complex.

The rules will span basics such as leashing dogs and picking up after them, as well as no loitering. Other rules include no rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, bikes or motor vehicles. The park hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Blalock’s chief concern is about people racing around on wheels because the walking trail is only about four feet wide, which doesn’t allow space for people to get around safely.

Newberry’s city attorney is reviewing City guidelines about designated smoking areas so that the parks will also be smoke-free areas.

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GAINESVILLE – Alachua County’s Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO) has raised controversy by announcing plans to include Alachua’s Turkey Creek neighborhood as an urbanized area as it plans boundaries.

The organization’s voting members are six Gainesville city commission members, Gainesville mayor Craig Lowe and five county commission members.

Because the organization is mainly made up of Gainesville officials, some worry that other Alachua County cities won’t have enough input if the MTPO oversees roads and holds sway over transportation infrastructure within another municipality.

During a Monday meeting, the organization spent about an hour discussing the boundary lines in the proposed plan. According to North Central Florida Regional Planning Council Director of Transportation Planning Marlie Sanderson, the County has to include parts of Alachua in the plan.

“State law and federal law says the MTPO area has to include, must [include], the urbanized areas that are contiguous to the city of Gainesville,” he said.

“In addition to the existing urbanized areas which you must have, they also ask you to consider including areas that are expected to become urbanized over the next 20 years,” he said.

During the meeting, City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper openly opposed the proposed plan.

“It seems like there’s been no phone call, no email, no conversation at all with the City of Alachua,” he said. “The only reason we know about it is because I happen to sit on this board,” he said, referring to the MTPO.

He said that the MTPO would be making decisions for Alachua roads under the proposed plan, which he said he disagrees with.

“Over the years, they bring in state and federal dollars for transportation projects,” he said in a phone interview. “They have to follow state and federal guidelines. I just disagree with the criteria.”

According to Coerper, state and federal guidelines say that an urbanized area is any area where there are 1,000 people per square mile.

“[Turkey Creek] really shouldn’t meet that broad criteria of being an urban area,” he said, noting that it’s a private community.

Coerper said he wants to emphasize there isn’t a “love-hate” relationship between Alachua and the County.

“We want to work with the MTPO,” he said. “We may not agree with the decision, but we are committed to trying to understand where they’re coming from.”

He said that members appreciate the differences between the cities.

“We all respect one another,” he said.

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W - Alachua Tree lighting 0026 copyThe holiday season kicked into high gear in Alachua Friday evening, Nov. 30, with the lighting of the city’s official Christmas tree. As children and adults gathered around, Singer Danny Wooten and his band, Southern Slang, offered up seasonal musical favorites. Area youngsters joined in the sing-along while waiting for Santa and Mrs. Claus’s arrival. The jolly elf and his wife, accompanied by a number of colorfully dressed and excited elves, swept into town led by a police escort. After a few ho-ho-ho’s, the countdown began, and the darkened tree was illuminated by hundreds of twinkling lights. Santa headed downtown to the Hitchcock Theatre Park where children received bags of treats and had their picture taken with him. The event was sponsored by the City of Alachua and the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.

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NEWBERRY – There are only nine other cities in the country that have developed a community Olympic program, and Newberry looks like it will be the tenth. The Easton Newberry Sports Complex is in the process of becoming a Community Olympic Department Center (CODC) devoted to archery. Just one other city, Springfield, Mo., has such a commitment to developing a high-quality archery program.

Three representatives from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) visited with about 60 people at a luncheon on Monday at the sports complex. The representatives evaluated the facility and assessed the value of its partnership with the national committee as part of the application process to become a designated COCD.

Easton Foundation submitted a business plan, and USA Archery, the national governing body for archery, was in support, said Alicia McConnell, chairman of the USOC. The next step is negotiation to finalize the development of the program.

“We are pleased with everything that the complex has done. We met with some of the Easton Foundation folks and reviewed the contracts, so it’s really just a matter of time. It wouldn’t take more than a couple of months,” McConnell said.

The complex has already set itself up for success by providing opportunities for all ages to become involved in a top-level archery program, and the Olympic designation will enhance its current status and bring notoriety.

“We hope to bring more kids into the pipeline of archery with the expectation of representing the U.S. at a national event or the end-all-be-all dream of representing the country at the Olympics,” McConnell said.

“With the sponsorship of the committee we can really focus on the athletes and reach out to elementary, middle and high schools,” said Mayor Bill Conrad. “The idea is to connect with thousands to reach a few with Olympic caliber.”

Becoming a Community Olympic Department Center gains the sponsorship of the USOC. As a CODC facility, the complex may have the opportunity to sell sports equipment with the Olympic rings on it and would have access to a staff liaison with the USOC to offer mentoring to coaches.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In a special City Commission meeting held on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, Commissioners unanimously approved a contract with City Manager candidate Edwin Booth to join the City staff on Monday, Dec. 15, 2012. The contract period ends Dec. 31, 2013.

Booth was present at the meeting and discussed his contract directly with City commissioners following an explanation of the proposed employment agreement by attorney Kathryn Tancig of Folds & Walker, the firm representing the City.

Under consideration was a contract for $65,000 for salary plus $1,500 for moving expenses and various other minor alterations to the original contract negotiated by the City attorney’s office. Concern as to how those amounts mesh with the City’s present budget were discussed and Finance Director Helen McIver noted that although approximately $4,000 would be freed up because Booth did not need some of the benefits usually offered to City employees, a shortfall of $13,500 still existed. McIver also said the City’s attorney position was not funded completely for the year.

Noting the next item on the agenda was the second hearing of Ordinance 2012-16, a budget adjustment that would free up funds from last year to possibly go into the Contingency Fund, McIver explained the Commission could use some of that money to fund the salaries of both positions. However, she cautioned that the Commission would have to budget those items in the next fiscal year’s budget to continue to fund the positions. McIver also suggested that at about six months into the budget year, the City could look at their budget again to determine if funds were not being spent and possibly either use those funds for these positions or transfer money from the Contingency Fund at that time.

Booth addressed the Commission and indicated he felt the city manager and commissioners had a “unique relationship” of trust and communication. Stressing his open door policy for cmmissioners and citizens alike, he said he was not the type of city manager who sat in his office all the time. “I like to get out and get a sense of what’s going on with our projects, what the citizens think and report back to the commission.” He also said he felt commissioners could not make good decisions without understanding all aspects of a situation and believed that it was his responsibility to make sure commissioners were informed.

Mayor Sue Weller commented afterwards, “I think we’re very fortunate to have such a qualified person in this position. I think the City needs an individual like Mr. Booth. I think only good things are going to come from this.”

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Crews from the City of Alachua spent most of the afternoon on Monday, Dec. 3, repairing a water leak on Main Street. Area residents say they noticed water running down Main Street as early as Sunday afternoon. By Monday morning, the City of Alachua began fielding calls about the apparent water leak. A short time later, city crews had closed off the area and were tearing up a small section of Alachua’s Main Street between NW 148th Place and NW 147th Avenue. By the early evening, the 3/4-inch pipe had been repaired. The roadway has also since been repaired.

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