HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners met on Thursday, April 20 to discuss the 10-year, one percent local government infrastructure surtax, a trunk radio system and broadband service, among other issues.

The infrastructure surtax is split between Wild Spaces Public Places and roads, fire stations and other public facilities. The County estimates it will receive a county-wide total of $56 million per year in revenue from the surtax. The first half cent of the surtax is dedicated to Wild Spaces Public Places and the second half cent is dedicated to roads, fire stations and other public facilities. Of the second half cent, the County is proposing to allocate 70 percent to roadways and that the new surtax will generate approximately $11.7 million per year for roadways. The County commission will meet on May 23 to discuss municipal shares of the projected funds. It was estimated that High Springs will receive annually $921,625 and $460,000 for Wild Spaces Public Places projects.

Regarding planned road repairs, the County Commissioners stressed there is a limited budget and not all roads will be fixed in the first 10 years. Additional roads can be selected if revenues increase and the County will consider other road projects as grants are found.

The County is developing a Pavement Management Plan and included an inequity component to help identify roads that have not been addressed in a long time. Also, roads that have had 15 or more work orders recorded are added to the list of road projects the County may consider. According to County staff, the City of High Springs has several inequity areas under consideration in the improvement plan. Most of the highly traveled collector roads will be repaired and the work will begin this summer.

Turning to the Trunk Radio System, County Fire Chief Harold Theus said he thought they would be able to determine fixed prices soon but estimated that the City of High Springs would likely pay $26,400 per year for the next four years. He said the cost would possibly be less than the current system run by Gainesville Regional Utilities.

There may be help on the horizon for some High Springs residents who are struggling with broadband service. Much of High Springs is considered “underserved” by broadband service. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are being designated to the tune of $15 million by the County to provide broadband services throughout Alachua County. Cox, Windstream and AT&T are all interested in serving parts of High Springs and other cities in the county.

In other business, High Springs City Manager Ashley Stathatos brought up possible expansion of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) district to include part of U.S. Highway 27. That expansion would require County approval. She reviewed some of the most recent projects the City has accomplished within the CRA district, new businesses that have recently come into town, new cross walks, planting of trees downtown, the Farmers Market, the recent Walldogs event, a tree-planting program along Railroad Avenue and a $1.2 million grant the City is applying for on behalf of the Priest Theater.

An item not on the agenda generated comments from some citizens expressing frustration that the City had not included the proposed utility district as a discussion item. At issue is an ordinance originally presented at the March 9 City Commission meeting that would create a utility district to expand the City’s service area and provide water and wastewater services along County Road 236 up to the Interstate 75/CR 236 interchange.

Citizens along that corridor expressed concerns that the City would force them to hook up to the utility services if the lines were installed. Although they have been informed by the City Attorney, the City Commission, the City Manager and the County Health Department that they would not be required to hook up, one citizen addressing the joint meeting emphasized several times that they were being lied to by the City.

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ALACHUA, FLA. ‒ Antonio Cornelius Roberts, 41, of Alachua, was arrested on April 11 and charged with leaving the scene of a 2021 accident involving serious injury.

Roberts allegedly hit a pedestrian on U.S. Highway 441 near Northwest 147th Drive at about 12:24 a.m. on March 11, 2021. The pedestrian, a 47-year-old Alachua man, was reportedly in the roadway. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) reported that Roberts saw him too late to avoid hitting him. The pedestrian was pronounced deceased at the scene by Alachua County Fire Rescue.

Roberts allegedly drove home, called Alachua Police Department and said he “hit something in the roadway.” Officers made contact with Roberts at his home.

Roberts’ blood was drawn and reportedly tested positive for a compound indicating the presence of marijuana in his system, but the tests determined he did not have any alcohol in his system.

Post Miranda, Roberts reportedly said he saw something in the roadway. After he hit it, he looked back and saw a person, and thought to himself that it was dumb for this person to be sitting in the roadway. When asked why he did not stay at the scene of the accident, he reportedly said he just wanted to get home because he had to work the next morning.

In June 2022, FHP received a ruling from a pathology laboratory that said the blood test results were “consistent with the recent and chronic use of cannabis. Further, the post-incident observations of the subject are consistent with impairment.”

Roberts was originally charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury, but he was only formally charged with leaving the scene.

Roberts has seven felony convictions and eight misdemeanor convictions, all of which were non-violent. He has served one state prison sentence and was released in 2015. He was on probation following a conviction for trying to cash a false check at the time of the crash.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe held its 3rd annual mini golf tournament at the Pink Flamingo in High Springs on Saturday, April 15. Competitors and spectators turned out not just for the competition, but also to help raise money for the various charity projects the Kiwanis Club sponsors for children. Each player paid $8 per adult and $6 for ages 7-12 to play 18 rounds of mini golf along with five specialty “hole-in-one” prizes. Players were teamed up in groups from particular clubs, businesses or City of High Springs departments to compete for the top four places.

While the tournament is designed as a friendly competition and an opportunity for recreation, the main purpose is charity. Kiwanis is a global organization of over 550,000 volunteers dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time. Local clubs look out for needs in their own communities while the international organization takes on large-scale challenges, such as fighting disease and poverty. The organization believes that when children are given the chance to learn, experience, dream, grow, succeed and thrive, great things can happen, and many children need the support of the community and organizations like the Kiwanis to achieve their potential.

Besides bragging rights, the top four teams in Saturday’s competition also won prizes from 16 sponsoring businesses. The 1st place team received $100 gift certificate from the Great Outdoors Restaurant, along with $75 from Winn Dixie, and $50 from Publix along with gift certificates from Hardees, the High Springs Brewery and the Pink Flamingo. The next three winners received similar prizes in a reduced amount. The eight competing teams included one team of City of High Springs employees and the fire department. The City teams also hold a separate competition for a trophy every year for City champions title, and the fire department team won that trophy for the second year.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe works locally, holding multiple events throughout the year to raise money. “We raised over $3,000 at the mini golf tournament this weekend, which will be distributed to the various programs we support,” said Kiwanis member Tom Hewlett. “We are especially concerned with making sure lower income families have proper food supplies, especially for holidays.”

Hewlett said that the club sponsors a Thanksgiving and Christmas meal program as well as supplying students with backpacks to take meals home over the weekend. The local Kiwanians also hold an annual BBQ for vets’ event, provide funds for kids to attend the Sherriff’s Youth Ranch, and provide toys for the annual Christmas Cheer gifts that are distributed to needy families that might otherwise have a very limited Christmas. “While we do these events to raise funds, we also try to make it fun and get members of the community to gather together for a good cause and to help those in need,” said Hewlett.

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YANKEETOWN, FLA. ‒ A 51-year-old Hawthorne man was killed on Saturday, April 1, when his vehicle drove off the end of the road and into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the man was driving a 2002 Ford Mustang at a high rate of speed on County Road 40 at about 9:08 p.m. For unknown reasons, he failed to stop at the boat ramp at the end of the road.

The car sank into the water, and the driver was transported to Seven Rivers Hospital in Citrus County, where he was pronounced deceased.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ Daniel John Pernini, 50, of Hawthorne, was arrested on Friday, March 24, and charged with perjury on a voter registration form and voting by an unqualified elector. Pernini is a designated Sexual Offender who is on lifetime federal probation for possession of child pornography.

Pernini allegedly registered to vote on Sept. 30, 2020, and voted in the 2020 General Election. As a sexual offender, he is not eligible to vote in Florida.

Pernini is one of nine sexual offenders referred to State Attorney Brian Kramer by Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton in August 2022. Charges have been filed so far against Pernini, Derrick A. Robinson and Clifton Anderson. Pernini is the first to be arrested.

Pernini has a previous history of two misdemeanors and two traffic violations in addition to lifetime federal probation for child pornography.

Judge James Colaw ordered a bond of $25,000 per charge, or a total of $50,000, in the arrest warrant he signed. Judge Thomas M. Jaworski set bail at $5,000 per charge, or a total of $10,000, at Pernini’s first appearance.

Pernini is no longer in the Alachua County Jail.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gainesville City Commission and Utility Advisory Board (UAB), along with Rep. Yvonne Hinson, hosted a rare Friday night meeting tonight to discuss Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Clemons’ local bill (HB 1645) that would create a governor-appointed board to govern Gainesville Regional Utilities.

UAB Chair Barry Jacobson said his board had requested the meeting because the draft bill was a “general outline,” they had questions, and “it’s time for everyone to talk.”

Mayor Harvey Ward said, “The bill before us doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me… How it’s implemented, I couldn’t tell you. I expressed that concern to Rep. Clemons, and he told me it would be fine, don’t worry about it. I do worry about it, and it’s my job to worry about it because we, the City Commission, were hired to worry about such things. I’ve heard some ideas about it, that are not accurate, that it will lower rates. Nothing in there that says it’s gonna lower rates, and I will tell you what I probably should have been saying more often, is that I would be the most popular guy in Gainesville if I could lower your rate responsibly… Our staff makes a pretty darn good case that lowering your bills just to lower your bills, to be popular, is a really bad idea, that we have a utility to run, and we need to run it responsibly.”

Ward continued, “We are told by our bond counsel… that there are many questions they have about this bill, and those questions aren’t answered in the latest version of the bill. They’re simply not. That means that the folks who buy bonds from us are going to be nervous, realistically. That means when we have to borrow money, which, by the way, we do regularly and so does every other utility, they’re likely to charge more money to buy our bonds. That means that’s going to be passed on in your bills, more than likely. That could be incorrect, but that’s what the odds are.”


UAB Vice Chair Jason Fults said he had hoped that more members of the legislative delegation would be at the meeting and that limiting citizens to 30 seconds at the April 19 House State Affairs Committee meeting was “shameful.”

“There’s a dark side to it”

City Commissioner Ed Book asked Hinson if she wanted to say anything, and she said she just wanted to listen but then added, “It’s a local matter. I’m fighting this fight because I’ve seen it for ten years. I mean, it didn’t just begin. It began in 2012, I know, and maybe before that, when I became a commissioner. It’s not like this just began, that’s how I know there’s a dark side to it. I know that. I’ve been to Tallahassee as a commissioner twice, to fight this same kind of legislation from these same legislators, so there is a dark side to it and I’m not sure what it is, but it exists.”

She said she had filed two amendments to the bill, which were voted down: “This is par for the course. When it hits the floor, they’re gonna vote lock and step together. I’m thinking what could be done, short of getting a very stubborn governor to veto it–nothing, except legal consequences.”

City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut asked the people in the room to write the governor and ask him to veto the bill: “Start it now. But let’s not stop with Gainesville, because there are 37 other utilities in the state of Florida that are owned by the public, so I want you to call your cousins, your aunt, your uncles, have them also write to the governor to veto this bill. He needs to see a campaign, not just in Gainesville, because this doesn’t affect just Gainesville. This has implications for all 36 other utilities across the state.”

Chestnut continued, “And I won’t get to the issue of democracy and having a voice and not being silenced… Start tomorrow. All of you are excellent letter-writers; I can look at your faces and tell. I know you are… Let’s have letters from Key West to Pensacola to the governor’s office.”

City Commissioner Bryan Eastman questioned assertions made in Tallahassee that various amounts of money were taken from GRU above its earnings: “The fact is, we don’t take more money from the utility than we spend… It’s a made-up statistic… What is being forced upon our community, to me, is clearly unprecedented… I wanted to just run a city; that is what I ran for, that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a good city, and instead I’m sitting here, just trying to make sure, how do we mitigate the pain that my constituents will feel, and it’s very frustrating.”

During public comment, 18 people spoke against Clemons’ bill, and three people spoke in favor of it. Many of those who spoke also spoke at the House State Affairs Committee on April 19. Many expressed the fear that the bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to sell GRU to an investor-owned utility.

During public comment, Ward gave Hinson the opportunity to respond to a comment. She said, “I know we’re not supposed to be speculating, but they left me scared… Can this board sell, or can we make sure this board can’t sell the utility? [Clemons] said this board can do whatever it wants; it will be the Authority.”

What does the bill say about selling assets?

However, the bill language states in 7.03(1), “The Authority shall have the following powers and duties, in addition to the powers and duties otherwise conferred by this article:… (f) To dispose of utility system assets only to the extent and under the conditions that the City Commission may dispose of such assets pursuant to section 5.04 of Article V.” That section states: “The commission may not, in any manner, dispose of or agree to dispose of the following city utility systems, or any part thereof… Unless the commission first adopts an ordinance approving of the disposition and submits that ordinance to referendum vote and such referendum is approved by a majority vote of the qualified electors of the city voting at the election for the purpose of approving the ordinance.”

Ward said he got a “great idea from some of this… A thing I’m going to work on this weekend is writing an editorial that–I love the Gainesville Sun. I love the Gainesville Sun. I miss being able to publish in the Gainesville Sun in the op-ed section. Some papers, not a lot, but some papers in Florida continue to offer that opportunity, and I’m going to reach out to each one of the papers that do, that have a municipal utility in their community, and offer them an op-ed. You might consider doing the same.”

UAB Member Tim Rockwell said, “I truly hope, barring working this out through the democratic process, I truly hope there are legal actions that can be taken if this goes through because people have been put out from the process, and I don’t think they have any intention of bringing people into the process.”

Ward concluded, “I would again urge you to speak your mind to your representatives, your senators, and others, to reach out to your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your old friends, anybody you know, reach out to them and let them know what’s going on here. And I would urge you again to focus on the reality that this thing is a mess, and chaos should frighten you.”

Chestnut added, “The strategy for Rep. Clemons is to have the governor sign this bill as soon as it passes, so that means it’s going to be signed in May… But that is the reason that we really need to get to people across the state to help us.”

Hinson concluded the meeting by saying, “I want to remind you that the best offense is done in quiet. I know this is a publicized meeting, and it has to be publicly noticed, but whatever strategies that evolve based on someone’s recommendation–there should be a strategy; it should not be publicized. I’m just saying.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ It looks as if the City of High Springs has finally settled its waste hauling woes once and for all. Alachua-based Waste Pro will take over as the waste/recycling provider effective May 1. Waste Pro's Municipal Marketer for Northeast Florida Dayna Miller spoke before the High Springs City Commission on Thursday, April 13, saying that the firm is pleased to be working with High Springs again to provide waste hauling services.

Several changes to pick up days and services will come along with this change, and according to High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan, City staff is pleased with several of the proposed changes and anticipates a high level of customer service from Waste Pro.

Trash collection days will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday each week, depending on the property’s location. The City expects “to have a map of the collection routes and pick up days available for citizens by April 24,” said Mangan.

Yard waste collection will be Wednesday of each week and recycling collection will be on Friday. New Waste Pro carts will be delivered to residents between the dates of April 18 – 30. Residents are encouraged to start using the new carts beginning May 1.

Rather than separating different types of recyclable materials between bins, one bin with a blue body and green lid will serve as a receptacle for all recyclable materials. Lids on recycle carts will keep paper and cardboard dry and help keep paper from flying out of the bin in windy weather.

Yard waste and loose debris such as leaves and palm fronds should not be added to either cart, but should be placed in the property owner’s containers for pick up. Plastic bags are not acceptable for yard waste. Yard waste piles should be no bigger than six feet long, four feet wide and three feet in height. More details about acceptable yard trash and white goods pickups will be available soon on the City’s website.

The old WCA/GFL carts and recycle bins are scheduled to be picked up with regular curbside trash collection on April 28.

Commercial customers will find that beginning the week of April 17, Waste Pro and GFL will start the process of removing GFL commercial frontload containers and delivering Waste Pro containers. GFL will service the Waste Pro containers up until April 28.

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