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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission has tentatively approved an increase in electric utility service rates. Commissioners conducted a legislative public hearing on first reading of an ordinance to amend and revise sections of the City’s Code of Ordinances.

During the five budget workshops held by Newberry, rate changes were proposed to modify electric rate charges. The changes were authorized by Commissioners at that time and were presented and approved during the Sept. 14 public hearing.

Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee presented Ordinance No. 2020-24 and reminded the Commissioners that the City establishes electric rates to generate revenue that will meet its operating expenses. Each year staff members evaluate utility rates at budget time to determine whether they need adjusting.

“Staff proposes an increase in its water and wastewater rates to ensure the funds operate in a self-sustaining manner,” Lee said.

“Residential electric rates were adjusted by 1.00 percent on the customer charge, for an average residential impact of $1 per month. Non-residential rates are proposed to be adjusted in a similar fashion,” said Lee.

Lee pointed out that even after the proposed rate changes the City will still offer competitive rates when compared to other utilities.

A second and final reading of the proposed increases will take place at the Sept. 28 Commission meeting.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry is contracting with Perry Roofing Contractors for $26,500 to replace the Newberry Fire Station bay roof. The decision was made during the Sept. 14 Commission meeting. Commissioners also authorized the city manager to approve change orders not to exceed 15 percent of the contract amount.

“The bay roof replacement project was programmed in the City’s Capital Improvement budget for replacement due to the condition of the existing flat roof and leaks in the roofing system,” said Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie Jones during his overview of the project.

Three bids were received for replacement of a flat roof replacement system. Bids were received by Perry Roofing Contractors, Professional Roofing Systems and Advanced Roofing. While all three were considered responsible and responsive to the request for proposals, Perry Roofing came in with the lowest bid amount.

Their bid price was based on a Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) roof system. Thermoplastic Polyolefin is a single-ply roofing membrane constructed of a single layer of synthetics and reinforcing scrim.

Jones contacted Perry Roofing and was provided additional pricing for tearing off the existing roof system and insulation down to the steel deck in lieu of recovery for an additional $5,000 over their original $20,000 price. Installation of 100 linear feet of TPO walkway protection pads for $1,500 was also discussed.

“Based on discussions with the contractor and the City Building Department, both of these options were recommended to be included in Perry Construction’s scope of work,” said Jones and all were approved.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ North Central Florida is known for its pristine natural beauty and recreation based around the springs and rivers in the area. The rivers are popular spots for swimming, diving and boating by kayak or canoe and for group get togethers. Unfortunately, not everyone helps maintain the natural beauty they enjoy, discarding their trash in the river and on the surrounding banks.

The trash is not only unsightly and disruptive of the natural beauty, it adds to the pollution and degradation of the environment and river system. This is especially problematic for parks offering group recreation leading to group partying and an increase in trash at sites like the popular Ginnie Springs and other parks along the river.

Several organizations and individuals have taken it upon themselves to organize cleanup events with volunteers using kayaks to reach the banks and surface of the water and scuba divers to clean the river bottom. Often the cleanups are a combination of several groups to make use of more volunteers.

On the weekend after Labor Day, Our Santa Fe River organization (OSFR) teamed up with Rum 138, Current Problems, Trail Trash Outdoors, Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures and scuba divers James Merritt and Joe Miller along with other volunteers to do a large river clean up.

Current Problems, a Gainesville based non-profit organization, works to clean the waterways of North Central Florida not only by holding frequent cleanups but by also providing outreach and educating the public on water quality issues. So far, Current Problems has removed 888,000 pounds of trash from area rivers.

Rum 138, which is where OSFR is based, provided four free kayaks and transportation for those with their own canoes. Rum 138 also offered additional kayaks at a reduced rate of $15 per volunteer, young or old. That also included paddle, vessel, life jacket in tandem kayaks, canoes or single kayaks. Also included was shuttling services to and from the river. Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures also provided kayaks for the volunteers.

Brothers Travis and Maverick Smith founded Trail Trash Outdoors. They duo organized the event and filmed the efforts for their YouTube Channel and Facebook page. The brothers have been going on the river weekly since December in an effort to make a difference in the environment.

“High Springs is our home,” Maverick said. “We grew up here and want to help preserve this natural beauty for our kids and future generations to enjoy.”

The brothers started Trail Trash Outdoors after a hike in North Carolina mountains where they witnessed the large amount of trash people left beside the trail. As they hiked, they gathered the trash into piles and then removed it on their way out. “The whole way home we discussed it and when we got home and went on the river, we realized the same problem existed here so we decided to do something about it,” said Travis.

Each week they go down the river and film their efforts for their YouTube channel, which is a blend of tag-along camping footage, adventure hikes, trash cleanups and even a survivor challenge where the brothers race to see who can build the best fire the fastest. “We want to make the world a better place by removing trash from our environment,” said Travis. On their weekly cleanups, other kayakers and swimmers in the springs watch the pair travel through using their garbage grabbers. The brothers like to remind tourists that the bottled water they drink comes from the very springs they are hauling this trash out of.

They are not the only ones filming their efforts. Divers James Merritt and brother-in-law Joe Miller also have a YouTube channel and Facebook page, “Into the Water with James.”

“I noticed the amount of trash in the water and decided to do something about it and make the public aware of the problem by filming our dives,” Merritt said.

Not everything the divers find is trash. “We find a lot of cell phones, sunglasses, watches and shoes—items people drop when leaning over their boat to take photos or capsize,” said Merritt. “Any items we can't return we see as a little bit of profit for our efforts. I have more sunglasses than I know what to do with. Occasionally we have even found car keys, which means somebody, especially a tourist, is having a really bad day.” Merritt said.

Volunteers met at 8 each morning at Rum 138 for the cleanup day. On Saturday, 28 volunteers gathered at Rum Island Park between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. to float downstream to Hollingsworth Bluff Boat Ramp. On Sunday, participants gathered at the U.S. Highway 27 Bridge and paddled downstream to Rum Island Park, collecting trash as they went. At Hollingsworth Bluff Boat Ramp, a dumpster was provided by Current Problems with assistance from Columbia County.

On Saturday the group collected 274 pounds of trash and 138 pounds on Sunday. “However, with the river being so high, it means there’s a whole world of trash we still weren’t able to reach but have goals to attack in the near future,” said Smith. “We found a good bit of trash but not as much as we would like.”

The groups are planning to do another major clean up in late October or early November. Anyone interested in joining or getting more information can contact one of the groups through their Facebook pages or contact Rum 138 at 386-454-4247.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Heavy rains may be contributing to people and pets recently falling into sinkholes in the High Springs area. High Springs Fire Department (HSFD) Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan reported that just before 2 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13, three local fire departments and a police department were dispatched to a wooded area off of Poe Springs Road to help rescue a couple trapped in a sinkhole.

HSFD, High Springs Police Department (HSPD), Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) and Newberry Fire Rescue (NFR) were involved in the rescue attempt of the couple who had driven their ATV into a water-filled 40-foot deep sinkhole. Upon arrival, HSFD crews found the two victims trapped in the sinkhole.

“The couple was riding their ATV through the dark woods when their vehicle struck a sloped area on the ground, plummeting them into the sinkhole,” said Mangan. “The victims had to swim to the surface to await rescue,” he said. Luckily, another couple was with the two individuals and reportedly they were the ones who called 911 for assistance.

A single rescuer repelled down the sinkhole and removed each person one at a time using specialized technical rescue tools. The couple suffered only minor injuries and were not transported for further medical attention.

According to reports, the sinkhole is located in the wooded area roughly across from the industrial park, about a half of a mile off of the road.

In another incident that occurred at 6:35 a.m., Monday, Sept. 14, High Springs and Alachua County Firefighters were dispatched to 22210 N.W. 188th Street to rescue a dog reportedly stuck in another sinkhole. Upon arrival, HSFD Engine 29 crew found a dog trapped in a sinkhole roughly 40 feet deep. According to reports, the sink had been a stable depression on the property for the last several days before finally giving way.

Assisting with the rescue was Alachua County Fire Rescue’s technical rescue unit, Squad 23.

Authorities report that “A methodical preparation process led to ACFR Lt. Brian Ferguson, using an extension ladder and rope system, to descend into the sinkhole to rescue the dog. Once at the bottom, Lt. Ferguson found a frightened, but thankful pup. The dog was successfully removed from the sinkhole uninjured.”

This is the second technical rescue in a sinkhole in as many days in High Springs. While sinks are common in this area, both fire departments warn that the extended periods of rain seen recently may cause further sinkholes to open or deepen.

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NEWBERRY – The Newberry City Commission has drawn a line in the sand with respect to Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendment. At the Aug. 24 City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve Resolution No. 2020-36 in opposition to the County’s Charter Amendment, which if approved by voters in November, would extend the County’s growth management jurisdiction in various municipalities.

Commissioners voiced concerns that the change would take away home rule from the cities and give it to the County. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said that the Alachua County League of Cities is in opposition to this significant change and he hopes community leaders in the other municipalities will educate their voters as to the significance of the proposed change.

The City’s resolution indicates that if the County’s proposed charter amendment is implemented it is designed to restrict the ability of municipalities to determine the appropriate uses for property within their jurisdiction after annexing property from the County.

The resolution further asserts that the Florida Constitution provides for Home Rule. Article VIII, Section 2(b) of the Florida Constitution reads, “Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”

Newberry’s Commissioners said local elected officials make the best decisions about commercial, residential, recreational and conservation development within their community.

The resolution states that the County’s proposed amendment, as drafted, “eliminates the ability of municipalities to determine land uses that allows them to chart their unique course of development and differentiate themselves from other local communities.”

Pointing out that businesses and residential property owners often choose to annex into a municipality because they believe their interests are compatible, this proposed change will negatively impact growth and limit people’s ability to make those types of choices, stressed Newberry’s commissioners.

Commissioners said they are capable of managing their own zoning and policies and do not believe that the extra, unnecessary level of bureaucracy is in the best interest of the citizens of Newberry.

A map of the County’s Growth Management Area indicates just how much land the County will control should this amendment be approved. Commissioners encouraged the public to go to the County’s website to view that map.

The resolution approved by Newberry’s City Commission states “it is in opposition to the County’s proposed Charter Amendment that would prohibit the City from managing growth of land annexed from the County.”

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NEWBERRY - Newberry’s newest City Commissioner Mark Clark and his family pose for pictures following the Aug. 25 Swearing in Ceremony. The ceremony was held during Newberry’s Special City Commission meeting. Clark replaces Commissioner Rocky McKinley who stepped in earlier this year to replace Commissioner Matt Hersom, who relocated out of the area. In addition to Clark, Group One and Group Three incumbents Rick Coleman and Monty Farnsworth kept their seats and were also sworn in at the same meeting.

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ALACHUA COUNTY — The voter registration deadline for the 2020 General Election is Oct. 5.
 
All Alachua County voters will be able to vote in this election, which will be held Nov. 3.
 
Registered voters are encouraged to verify and update voter registrations. This can be done at https://www.votealachua.com/My-Registration-Status or by calling 352-374-5252.
 
There are numerous ways for prospective voters to register:
  • Online: Florida residents can register to vote online. The online voter registration portal — found at RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov — is a safe and secure option for voter registration.
  • In person: The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections’ office, located in Gainesville at 515 N. Main St. on the third floor of the Josiah T. Walls Building, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Supervisor of Elections Office will remain open until 7 p.m. on October 5. Registrations can also be completed and turned in at any Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office or Alachua County Public Library.
  • After hours: The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections’ office has a white, secure, afterhours drop box outside its main entrance. Completed forms received through the drop box by 11:59 p.m. October 5 will be accepted.
  • By mail: Forms are available online at VoteAlachua.com. Mailed forms must be completed and postmarked by the October 5 deadline.
 
Currently registered Florida voters will be able to update their information through Election Day. It is recommended that they do so sooner, however, as it could mean a change in voters’ assigned polling places or a longer wait at the polls if not completed before Election Day.
 
For more information, contact the Supervisor of Elections at 352-374-5252. 

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