NEWBERRY – Newberry’s project list for the Alachua County transportation surtax will be discussed in a public workshop this Monday at 6 p.m. at Newberry City Hall.

The surtax is on the 2012 November election ballot.

Because Alachua County currently has a backlog in roadway maintenance needs, the county is suggesting that Alachua County municipalities agree to impose a transportation surtax, which is a sales tax, to provide additional funding for road projects.

The county has requested that cities that want to be a part of the surtax submit a prioritized project list of road projects that need to be done in the city.

The City of Newberry has not voted on whether or not to accept the inter-local agreement presented by the county.

If the tax were to pass, money would be distributed to the cities based on a formula taking into account population size and road mileage.

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NEWBERRY – At the start of Monday night’s City of Newberry Commission meeting, there wasn’t a seat empty. Those who couldn’t find a chair sat on the floor around the perimeter of the room. High school athletes, coaches and parents waited for their team to be recognized.

The Newberry High School’s girls basketball team and cheerleading competition team were presented with a proclamation from the City of Newberry recognizing the teams’ success in their respective seasons.

The cheerleading competition team was runner-up in their division in the state competition on Feb. 4. Coach TiAnn Stark said the coed team finished with a record of 23-4 in the season.

The team also has a collective GPA well over 3.0, she said.

The girls basketball team was also runner-up in the FSHAA Class 1A state finals in late February.

Coach Ray Parrish commended the girls on their success in this year’s season, but urged the city and the commission to remember these teams as the city’s sports tourism industry begins to take off.

“You can’t leave these kids and the community,” Parrish said Add a comment

NEWBERRY – On Friday, the deadline to qualify for the 2012 City of Newberry Commission elections passed, marking the beginning of the local election season.

The election will take place on April 10, deciding a trio of local seats. A candidate forum will take place on April 5 at Newberry City Hall at 7 p.m.

Newberry commissioners Joe Hoffman, Lois Forte and Alena Lawson are up for reelection this year.

Hoffman will face opponents Tim Marden and Linda H. Woodcock. Forte will square off against Barbra Hendrix, and Alena Lawson will run against Monty Farnsworth.

At the end of Monday night’s commission meeting, Hoffman, who was sitting in as pro tempore for Mayor Bill Conrad, called for a clean election.

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kindle_5Shell Elementary Media Specialist Mariana Herndon (center) demonstrates to fifth graders Jeremy Starkes (left) and Zackery Poppell (right) how to use the school's new Kindle e-readers.

HAWTHORNE – Once the initial ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ were out of the way, about 30 fifth-graders gathered in the media center at Shell Elementary began focusing intently on the six-inch screens in their hands. For many, it was the first time they’d ever read anything on an e-reader.

“This is awesome,” said student A.J. Williamson. “It makes learning more interesting.”

The students are among the 80 Shell 4th- and 5th-graders and teachers who have received a Kindle Touch thanks to a nearly $10,000 grant from the Plum Creek Foundation. The Kindles came pre-loaded with Aesop’s Fables, a dictionary and an interactive word game. But teachers and students will soon begin adding textbooks, more learning activities and books to read just for fun.

“I like it,” said student Dominique Byrne. “It’s ‘funner’ to read on.”

“It makes reading more fun,” agreed classmate Zachary Poppell.

During an initial training session, media specialist Marlena Herndon showed the students how to turn on their Kindles, navigate through the menu, turn pages and perform other basic tasks before turning them loose on the new devices. Later they’ll learn about other useful features, including the ability to download audio books that will allow students to hear a book while reading along.

Principal Denise Schultz says providing this kind of learning tool for her students has been one of her primary goals.

“I want Shell to be out on the forefront with technology,” she said. “I knew that once we put this device in our students’ hands they would just take off with it.”

Rose Fagler, community relations manager for Plum Creek, said she was gratified at the intensity she saw among the students as they experimented with the Kindles.

“Even though they live in a small rural community, these kids are now on the cutting edge of technology,” she said. “This is where textbooks and reading are going to go in the future, and they get to be a part of it.”

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GAINESVILLE – The City of High Springs’ proposed takeover of management of Poe Springs Park has been delayed, as a result of a construction issue over the park’s steps.

The matter was presented to the Board of Alachua County Commissioners on Tuesday by High Springs Vice Mayor Bob Barnas. Barnas said the delay is due to a permit issue with the completion of the steps.

During a Feb. 14 meeting, Barnas said construction was moving along and the city anticipated completion.

The commission appeared prepared to make a final vote on the agreement between the City of High Springs and Alachua County until the construction issue was presented by Barnas.

Although Barnas said the city wants to move ahead with the plan, the county commission opted to delay action on the agreement since a firm date for completion of the steps is unclear.

The Poe Springs Park agreement would place the City of High Springs in charge of day-to-day operations of the park such as daily staffing and maintenance.  According to the agreement, the park would be open Wednesday through Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday being free admission days. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, High Springs will be charging $5 to $8 per vehicle, and $2 for individuals for entrance into the park.

The Alachua County Commission delayed the final vote of the agreement until the construction issue is resolved.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In recent months, City of High Springs officials have made sweeping changes to the personnel landscape there; and now, City Planner Christian Popoli may be the next to go.

On March 8, commissioners voted 3-1 to direct City Manager Jeri Langman to poll other cities to determine what types of engineers they have on staff and then place an advertisement to solicit applications for a staff engineer.  Commissioner Sue Weller opposed the action.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas made the suggestion and the motion to hire an engineer, which he said would be done at the expense of the city planner position.

“We’re at a point now in my mind, where we need a city engineer to deal with some of the things that are going on with the sewer system, with the GRU fiber optics,” Barnas said, adding, “We need CAD drawings that are going to cost us a fortune.  But what if we bring an engineer on staff and can set that up here?”

Weller said she was against the change and recommended that such a move be done during budget planning for next fiscal year.

“One of the things I think you need to do is a thorough review of this.  There are all kinds of engineers,” she said.

“The fact that you hire an engineer doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to handle all of the different types of things that come up in our city,” Weller said, also casting doubt on the city being able to find an engineer for the same amount paid to City Planner Popoli.

“I have heard many times, our city manager indicate that our planner is just constantly overloaded with work,” said Weller, adding, “If you want to add an additional position of a city engineer, fine, but not at the elimination of the planner.”

In support of the change, Barnas read through a list of engineering costs since 2008, which he said amounted to more than a million dollars.  The majority of those costs were related to the city’s sewer system construction.

High Springs resident Robyn Rush said she didn’t envision a staff engineer handling the larger projects such as the sewer system or roads, but instead, smaller problems such as draining issues.

“See if you can get somebody for $50,000,” said Rush.  “They don’t have to be the most proficient, but they certainly would have an understanding of some basic civil engineering principles.”

Resident and former High Springs City Attorney Thomas DePeter noted that many of the engineering fees paid by the city are passed along to developers who submit their projects for development review.

Barnas first proposed adding the staff engineer and information technology positions during a Feb. 9 public hearing in which several major budget amendments were made to the current budget.  Both positions were included in the overall amendment package, but when pressed at that time about their funding, Barnas said he was not proposing to fund them.

During a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board meeting just before the commission meeting on March 8, Barnas also pushed to have Popoli, the current City Planner, removed as the board’s executive director.  Popoli had no voting powers on the board.  Rather, he served as a staff liaison to coordinate the meetings and projects undertaken by the CRA.

In replacement of Popoli on the CRA, Barnas sought to have the board approve hiring an executive director from the community at a rate of $250 monthly.  Popoli, who is paid as the city planner, was not provided an additional stipend for serving as the CRA’s executive director.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The city’s wastewater treatment system was a major topic of discussion at Saturday’s High Springs town hall meeting.

According to city officials, High Springs is $8.5 million in debt because of the sewer system, and all four city commissioners listed the sewer as one of their top four priorities for 2012.

Originally approved in 2001, construction on the final stages of the sewer has been delayed due to uncertainty about the return of the $1.6 million from the USDA, according to city officials. Those funds are needed to complete construction, said High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman.

The commission said that the system’s grinder pumps are failing at a rate of four a month to as many as four a week.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do about the grinder pumps,” Mayor Dean Davis said. “They are designed in such a way that you have to buy the parts from the people that you bought them from.”

Langman said the city will be testing two refitted grinder pumps from an Orlando company that rebuilds the pumps and sells them at almost 50 percent of the original cost. These refitted pumps are guaranteed for a year.

According to Davis, the rebuilt grinder pumps the city is currently purchasing cost $1,700. High Springs is in need of 21 new pumps.  According to Vice Mayor Bob Barnas, the city has already replaced 162 pumps.

The city may mail informational brochures about the pumps to educate residents about proper use. Langman said the grinder pumps are running out of their warranties, and fixing the pumps could eventually fall on the homeowners.

“Some issues are the grinder, some things are what you put into the grinder,” she said. Fried foods turn into butter inside the grinders, Langman said.

High Springs is looking into the cause of grinder pump failure to determine if it is because of a system malfunction, such as crushed pipe, by marking the locations of failed grinder pumps on a map. Langman said if the pump failures are centered in one area, it might be a sign of a larger problem than just individual broken pumps or maybe an educational problem in that area.

Davis said the debt on the sewer system is for a period of 40 years. The system currently has 1,069 users

“So, I think we’ve bought a used car that’s going to wear out before we get the debt paid,” he said.

Davis said sewer rates would have to be raised to $75, possibly $100.

“We’re charging $34,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where that’s going.”

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said she is worried about the lack of an emergency plan for the sewer. It’s on electricity, she said, and questioned what would happen if the power went out. She would like to see future discussion on the sewer involve an emergency plan.

The commission recently approved paying $29,760 to the engineering firm of Mittauer and Associates, Inc. to conduct a study of the wastewater system to determine the best course of action.

Saturday’s meeting was also an opportunity for the commission to discuss changing the High Springs City Charter.  Since 2001, the charter has been changed three times, Davis said.

“It’s filled with personal opinions,” he said. “The way they wanted it done; and they are no longer here.”

Davis said some people think the charter is fine in its current form.

But Gestrin said laws and regulations have changed in such a way that the current charter has become outdated.

Economic development and future planning topped all of the commissioners’ priorities over the coming year.  Commissioners said they would like to see budget planning for next year start early.

Discussion of the police dispatch service was mentioned briefly, and it was suggested by Barnas that the topic be added as a referendum to a future election ballot.

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