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Sonny Richards is still serving up local favorites from a menu of sandwiches and sweets at the eatery’s new Santa Fe Boulevard location.

HIGH SPRINGS – After nearly 12 years of operating out of a building near the railroad tracks, a familiar eatery has moved. The Station Bakery & Cafe moved to their new location at 201 Santa Fe Boulevard in early May.

The Station first opened its doors in 2001, after Sonny and Suzanne Richards, along with their daughter, Laura Janicki, came across the train station situated on Railroad Avenue. The family decided that it would be the ideal place to open a bakery.

As a family-run business, they came up with each of the menu items and soon became known for their assortment of sandwiches, cakes and éclairs.

Although they are no longer located in a train station, The Station will keep their name and the train theme. Railroad lanterns hang from the ceiling and model trains decorate the counter.

“We are still in the process of putting up the train pictures,” Janicki said.

The new location provides the bakery with a larger kitchen and double the seating. The family has also hired two new employees to help with the shop.

Janicki said that the new place is in a more convenient location for customers and that it provides a great opportunity for business.

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NEWBERRY – A reduction in property tax revenues has forced City of Newberry commissioners to place a freeze on discretionary spending.

The move is not expected to affect the completion of projects such as the construction of the Martin Luther King Community Center, said City Manager Keith Ashby.

“I made the announcement on Monday night that all discretionary items on the budget were frozen. However, because the community center is funded by construction through grant money, the freeze doesn’t affect the completion of the center,” Ashby said.

The decision to cut discretionary spending came after the Florida Rock property, Newberry’s major industrial property taxpayer, was devalued from nearly $173.4 million to $88.3 million. The loss of almost half of Florida Rock’s taxable value is hitting Newberry hard. The city had budgeted ad valorem taxes from the company at $1.3 million, but that tax revenue is now being reduced by some $312,297.

“So that’s a big chunk. That’s like 21 percent of our ad valorem revenues,” Ashby said.

Not only must the city grapple with the loss of revenues, but the matter is compounded as the property value adjustment process is occurring as the city is three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, Ashby said.

“The only way to recover is to freeze the budget totally, which is not going to raise a lot of savings. Obviously if we are three-quarters through the year, there’s no way to save money because it’s already been spent,” he said.

Mayor Bill Conrad believes the loss in revenue will directly affect the availability of a travel budget for the commission and that it may result in a hiring freeze and a larger transfer from the utility fund to the general fund.

Meanwhile as the city juggles funds with fewer than four months left in the 2013 budget year, there is still no known completion date for the MLK building, which further complicates the planning of its programs and staffing considering both these elements would likely fall under discretionary spending.

“It seems like the building may not be finished up until the end of this month, maybe even July,” said Commissioner Alena Lawson.

Ashby said a lack of information about programming and staffing the community center stems from the uncertainty of the completion date with respect to the end of the city’s fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

“If there’s only a month left in the year, then the expenditures of funds on programs is going to be pretty negligible,” he said.

If the decision is made that paid staff is needed to run the community center, the majority of those expenses would likely come from next year’s budget, regardless of a freeze on discretionary spending.

The focus on the community center’s function currently “is a moot point,” Conrad said.

The more pressing issue for the city appears to be dealing with the $312,297 loss of revenues that had been included in this year’s budget.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua-based company RTI Biologics is acquiring a Michigan-based manufacturer of surgical implants.

RTI, which provides orthopedic and biologic implants, announced Wednesday it was buying all the outstanding stock of Pioneer Surgical Technology, a company from Marquette, Mich.

“We believe the combination of Pioneer and RTI will be a catalyst for continued growth,” said Daniel Webber, Pioneer’s president and chief executive officer

RTI will be paying $130 million in cash to acquire Pioneer, and expects the deal to be finalized by late this year.

Representatives from both companies have been positive about the purchase

“The combination of RTI and Pioneer is an exciting opportunity for both companies and their employees,” said Brian K. Hutchison, RTI president and chief executive officer.

The company's combined quarters will continue to be based in the city of Alachua, and RTI expects it to continue to grow and thrive in the city, employing about 1,100 people. The company will decide on a new name to reflect its expanding portfolio. In addition to the headquarters, it will have manufacturing plants in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

Representatives of RTI were not able to comment directly on the impact the acquisition would have on the city in terms of job growth and economic stimulus, but did give assurance that the company would continue to expand and become more profitable.

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It's been over 20 years since Stockton Whitten last lived in Alachua County, but he still remembers the small-town feel of the area.

The Alachua County Commission voted on Tuesday to begin negotiating a contract with Whitten, who is now the top pick for the position of county manager after the previous favorite, James Bourey of Greenville, S.C., withdrew himself from consideration.

Whitten has been the deputy county manager of Brevard County since late last year, and was an assistant county manager for 12 years before that.

People usually associate Brevard County with the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Whitten said, but there's another side to the area.

“What people don't realize about Brevard is that we have a lot of agricultural land," he said. "A lot of our industry is agriculture." Whitten said he's dealt with both rural and urban issues.

The topics important to small communities vary from place to place, he said, so the only way to address them is to listen.

"A good leader is a good listener," he said.

People outside of population centers and county seats can often feel marginalized, he added, and need to be considered when setting county-wide policy.

"We've dealt with people just feeling like they're ignored and not part of the county as a whole. You have to be able to understand their point of view."

Transportation, infrastructure and jobs are three major issues Whitten said he's dealt with in rural areas.

He studied at the University of Florida in 1990, receiving a Master of Arts with a certificate in public administration. Commissioner Susan Baird raised concerns about how Whitten represented his degree, which he described as a Master of Public Administration, a degree that UF does not offer. However, Alachua County Human Resources Manager Kim Baldry said that both degrees are functionally equivalent, and Master of Public Administration was a valid shorthand way for Whitten to describe his qualifications.

The County Commission debated at Tuesday's meeting whether to adopt a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach to negotiating a contract with Whitten.  

Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV took issue with amount of compensation the previous top candidate, Bourey, asked for in addition to his base salary.

"When we're going to give away the kitchen sink, I have some issues with that," he said.

The commission voted to offer Whitten the same contract that was offered to Bourey, a $160,000 base salary as part of a compensation package totaling $227,000.

Chestnut suggested that Whitten be given the chance to make a counteroffer, since the same opportunity was given to Bourey.

"You've got to give him the opportunity," he said. "What I don't want to happen is that this county be sued because we failed in our process to make it a fair process for all of the candidates."

Whitten said he hasn't really started communicating with the county over the details, but the job offer in Alachua County is his preferred choice for employment.

"It's an honor to be chosen," he said. "When I think of Alachua County, I think of nice towns and nice people."

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Political talk radio show “Talk of the Town” with hosts Jake Fuller and Ward Scott debuted Monday on internet radio airing from the Ozean Media studio in downtown Alachua.

ALACHUA – Ozean Media is looking for Alachua County residents with something interesting to say and an opinion to share.

After Talk of the Town, the radio show on 99.5 FM hosted by Jake Fuller and Ward Scott was cancelled last Thursday, Ozean Media, the advertising agency specializing in politics gave the duo a new home by starting an internet radio station called AlachuaTalks. The station’s manager hopes to grow it into a community-oriented hub focusing on local news and issues, and said anybody in the community has the potential to get a program on air.

“We have two requirements,” said Alex Patton, producer and manager. “Be interesting and have a point of view.”

AlachuaTalks will eventually have features that cater to a wide local audience with differing opinions, complete with its own message board, Patton said.

“We want to build it out into a community digital station,” he said.

Fuller and Scott, the latter of which became co-host after Ed Braddy quit the show to run for Gainesville mayor in January, had to look for a new home for their conservative show when JVC Media of Long Island, N.Y. bought 99.5 FM and changed formats. Under the former ownership, the station focused on local politics and news.

The new owners told the pair they would probably not have a show come Monday, Fuller said. Halfway through their last broadcast on Thursday, the incoming management cut the show off after Fuller said the new owners didn’t understand the local community.

By Monday, Ozean Media had already launched the AlachuaTalks station and “Talk of the Town” had its first show on internet radio. The Amazon server that hosted the program crashed, Patton said.

Alex Patton put the whole thing together, Fuller said. “If it were up to Ward and me, we would be using tin cans and strings.”

Now, “Talk of the Town” is the flagship program of AlachuaTalks, Patton said.

An advantage of internet radio under Ozean Media is the lack of outside restraint over content, Scott said.

“This is all about control for us,” he noted. Scott said he recently encountered problems airing criticisms of the Nations Park baseball complex in Newberry because a member of the Gainesville Sports Commission supporting the park was his station manager.

“We’re the bosses here,” he said.

Though “Talk of the Town” is conservative in nature, Patton said he encourages multiple opinions and open debate.

“Debate leads to a better community,” he said.

Scott agreed, adding the lack of an open dialogue results in bad ideas going unchallenged.

Alachua County Today has plans to partner with AlachuaTalks. The two companies would cross promote one another, and Alachua County Today would be the station’s news partner.

The station could be considered an experiment, said Ward, who used to teach English as a professor at Santa Fe College. If the station reaches its goal of attracting a multitude of competing opinions, it could be a learning experience for everyone in Alachua County, he added.

“I view this whole thing as one big classroom.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs may get a rescue vehicle from the county following recommendations by the Fire Services Review Board. The board calls for the addition of a unit in High Springs and one in Alachua. If the recommendations are implemented, Unit 20, which is currently located near the dump between Alachua and High Springs will move to Alachua and Rescue 29 will be located in High Springs.

High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham confirmed that the county contacted him asking if he could house a rescue vehicle and two county employees at the newly renovated High Springs Fire Station. However, no further word or action has taken place since he indicated he could do so.

At the June 13 joint meeting of the High Springs City Commission and Alachua County Board of County Commissioners to be held in High Springs, Gillingham would like clarification of the county’s plans as the construction on the addition to his facility is drawing to a close. “An update would help me plan the use of the space better,” he said recently.

The plan also calls for four new rescue vehicles to go online in Alachua County. Recommended locations are Alachua, Newberry and Micanopy. Another was recommended for Gainesville's Station D, located at SW 24th Ave. and 100th St.

“The location of a rescue vehicle in the city would be welcomed,” said Gillingham. “The national average of medical-related emergency calls is about 80 percent of the total calls per year. We are running pretty close to that in High Springs.”

With call numbers for the High Springs station at approximately 1,250 last year, 80 percent would equal 1,000 calls that included medical emergencies. “About 750 of those calls were from citizens located in our city,” he explained.

Gillingham said also that backup units for High Springs are presently coming from Jonesville and Gainesville, near the Highway Patrol Station on U.S. Highway 441. “It takes a bit longer for backup units to get to us from those locations. Having a unit in the city would drastically reduce response time.”

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The Priest Theatre has reached their fundraising goal, which will allow equipment upgrades from film to digital projection in order to keep the theatre operational.

HIGH SPRINGS – On May 30, 2013, High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) members authorized $40,000 to be used by Priest Theatre owners Alan and Janet Alligood solely on exterior and foundation improvements for the historic theatre building.

Alachua County provides a pass-through of tax dollars from the downtown district’s collected taxes to the CRA to fix or improve deteriorating portions of the downtown district. This year the CRA has chosen to help improve the front of the Priest Theatre, a historic structure built in 1914 by W.A. Priest at 15 NW 1st Street.

According to Janet Alligood, the building is historically significant because it is the only one built during the early days of the city that has been continually used for the purpose it was built.

“People have come all the way from Gainesville to visit our theatre,” explained Janet Alligood. Neighboring towns also are served by the theatre and some business owners believe the theatre is a High Springs visitor’s attraction.

The CRA’s decision to provide funds for the structure and building façade is good news for the 437 backers who pledged $87,472 to help pay for the required equipment upgrade from film to digital projection in order to keep the theatre operational.

The industry-wide requirement began a 60-day fundraising effort by High Springs citizens to raise $85,000 to help pay for the new equipment. As of June 3, 2013, the end of the 60-day pledge drive, the goal was exceeded by $2,472.

The CRA’s decision at this time means that the required improvements to the building will now be completed in time to secure the investment in the required new equipment. The current condition of the 100-year-old structure allows moisture into the building. Digital equipment providers have told the Alligoods that their equipment will be severely compromised if the structure is not repaired before the new equipment is installed.

Board members applauded the couple for their determination to raise funds to pay for the required digital projection equipment inside the building. During the meeting, which occurred prior to meeting their goal, the Alligoods vowed that if their $85,000 goal for the new equipment was not met, they would come up with the additional funds themselves.

Alan Alligood estimated the outside improvements the CRA was funding would be completed before the end of the year.

Also during the meeting Vice-Chair Sue Weller presented a list of several additional projects the board could consider completing within the next three years, which met the requirements for CRA funding. Among the items identified to research further was the possible purchase or rental of the train station building as a site for the train museum. City Manager Ed Booth is to look into the issue further to determine if the building is a viable option and its condition.

Additional parking, sidewalk repairs, building facades and a billboard on I-75 were also listed for consideration. Weller asked the board members to review the list prior to the next meeting, which is scheduled for June 18, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. She asked that Booth attach realistic costs to each project to help the board determine how to allocate the CRA funds for the next three years.

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