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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ In an effort to bolster economic development in High Springs, the City of High Springs is putting more funds into the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). High Springs Finance Director Diane Wilson reviewed the proposed Fiscal Year 2022-23 CRA budget with the CRA Board during the Sept. 19 meeting.

The FY 2021-22 budget was set at $326,692 and $400,740 is earmarked the proposed FY 2022-23 budget—a nearly 23 percent increase.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos reviewed several of the proposed projects in the coming year’s budget. The Grant Program, previously known as the Façade Grant, will increase to $100,000 from the prior year amount of $50,000. The increased funding will allow not only grants for facades, but also structural improvements as well.

The Marketing and Promotions line item was increased from $5,000 to $25,000 based on decisions made during the Strategic Planning project to promote the downtown area. The CRA will be receiving money from the General Fund to work on economic development projects for the City as a whole.

Funds allocated for administration will remain the same as last year, but will be a lower percentage of the increased budget.

Board member and City Commissioner Linda Jones moved and Board Member and City Commissioner Ross Ambrose seconded a motion to approve the FY 2022-23 CRA budget. The motion passed unanimously.

The Facilities Plan Proposal and CRA Expansion Study Plan are anticipated to be discussed at the next CRA meeting, which is proposed for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 13.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The Kiwanis Club of Sant Fe is lending a helping hand to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD). A special presentation was made to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) at the Sept. 19 City Commission meeting.

Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe President Sue Weller addressed the Commission to explain that the purpose of their organization is to help children, especially very young children. She said they realize that whenever a situation arises where law enforcement has to be called in and children are involved, it is confusing, stressful and somewhat scary to the child.

To help officers calm children suffering a traumatic event, the club is donating 50 teddy bears for HSPD officers to keep in their cars to give out whenever children are involved in an upsetting situation.

HSPD Chief Antoine Sheppard said he was so appreciative of their thoughtfulness and thanked the Kiwanis Club for their partnership over the years.

Commissioners and audience members applauded the gesture.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The Deeper Purpose Community Church of High Springs has launched a new free reading program called “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read” to help students in the area who could use help learning how to read, enhancing reading skills, reading comprehension and building their courage to read out loud, in front of others.

This program is provided at no cost to parents and is funded by donations received by the church. The program is for kindergartners and up. It doesn’t matter what school they attend or where they live. Their first session was 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10. The location is Deeper Purpose Kids Academy Nursery and Preschool, 19930 North U.S. Highway 441, High Springs, directly behind Subway Plaza.

A large number of students are struggling in school with reading and Deeper Purpose wants to do something about that. They currently plan to hold sessions twice a month, but hope to increase the sessions to more days. Days and times will vary.

To make sure there are enough teachers and volunteers to work in small groups, contact the coordinator Elder Adam Joy at 386-454-5300 or email deeperpurposecc@yahoo.com to volunteer or to reserve a spot for a child to participate. Parents can drop their children off or are welcome to stay.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Belsar Francisco Cruz Vicente, 28, of Trenton, was arrested early Sunday morning after he allegedly hit another vehicle head-on in Newberry and then fled on foot.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a call at about 8:45 p.m. about a vehicle swerving all over the road and then hitting another vehicle head-on in the area of 1800 Southwest State Road 45 in Newberry. The driver of the swerving vehicle fled from the scene of the crash on foot. A witness said he chased him west on Southwest 15th Avenue, but lost sight of him.

At about 10 p.m., deputies saw Cruz Vicente walking in the 25900 block of W. Newberry Road but lost sight of him. At about 10:30 p.m., Cruz Vicente was located by deputies in the 25900 block of Southwest 1st Avenue in Newberry. In a search incidental to the arrest, deputies reportedly found a baggie with 0.3 grams of a substance that field-tested positive for cocaine.

Cruz Vicente was reportedly positively identified as the driver of the vehicle in the crash and confirmed to be the registered owner of that vehicle.

Vicente has a federal criminal history and also had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at a hearing on a case in which he was charged with driving without a valid license.

Vicente has been charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage and cocaine possession. He is being held on $15,000 bail on those charges and on $2,000 bail on the failure to appear charge.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Sheila Ann Symonds, 51, of Alachua, was arrested on Thursday, Sept. 8, and charged with two counts of grand theft of a controlled substance after allegedly stealing Adderall from a co-worker and a bottle of Xanax pills that was inadvertently left behind by a client at a High Springs veterinary practice.

The business owner reportedly told a High Springs Police Department officer that Symonds had taken about 20 Adderall pills from a co-worker’s office and had taken a bottle of 60 Xanax pills that a client had left on the counter at the clinic. Both Adderall and Xanax are controlled substances and are common drugs of abuse.

The business owner provided surveillance video that reportedly showed Symonds going into the co-worker’s cubby three times and taking pills. On one video, the sound of a bottle cap opening and closing can be heard. The video also reportedly shows a client walking out and leaving a bottle of Xanax on the counter; another client gives the pill bottle to Symonds, and two minutes later, the video shows Symonds hiding the pill bottle under receipts. Twenty minutes later, the video shows Symonds hiding the pill bottle in her jacket and then putting her jacket in her own cubby.

Symonds reportedly denied taking any pills and insisted that officers search the parking lot area for the pill bottle. A bottle of pills in the client’s name was found in the dirt near the front of the business; the officer reported that it is unknown how the bottle got there. Officers determined that despite finding the pills, they had sufficient evidence that Symonds had deprived both victims of their medications.

Symonds has 10 felony convictions, including two drug convictions and eight property convictions. She has served three state prison sentences and was most recently released in April 2020.

She is being held on $20,000 bond but will be considered for release on her own recognizance with a requirement for day reporting.

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ALACHUA ‒ Interested in improving your health or the health of a loved one? If so, this Saturday head to the Community Wellness Festival. Several organizations and the City of Alachua will be bringing free health information and testing to the community at Legacy Park Amphitheater. The event also features musical entertainment, kids’ activities and onsite food trucks.

Initially organized by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Elder Options, the event was to be focused on elder health care and organizations that provide care for them. But with the support of several churches and an increasing number of sponsors, the event has expanded to include a diversity of health information and testing.

“It was decided to expand the scope of the event and turn it into a festival for the community,” said Pastor John Brown of the St. Paul AME Church, a festival sponsor.

“A lot of sponsors and organizations have volunteered their time and expertise to benefit the whole community,” said Brown. “Besides information for elders and their caregivers, there will also be Covid testing and vaccines, a blood mobile, testing for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol.”

In addition, there will be information tables offering materials on women's health, AIDs, behavioral health, dental health and weight loss.

The festival will also feature food trucks, children's activities and three bands on the Amphitheater stage. Entertainment includes 2nd 2 None Band from Atlanta and Fast Lane and Bennie and the Band, both local Gainesville bands.

The number of organizations supporting, volunteering, or providing services has continued to grow. In addition to St. Paul AME Church, the City of Alachua, and Elder Options, St. Matthews Church and St. Luke AME Church are also involved in assisting the festival to support the community. Also contributing are several Masonic Lodges, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce, McDonald’s and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

“This came together because all of these people wanting to provide free health services to the entire community,” Brown said.

The Community Wellness Festival will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Alachua Legacy Park Multipurpose Center by the stage, which is located at 15400 Peggy Road, Alachua 32615. For more information call 386-623-5173.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The Alachua County Housing Division will make available $200,000 in State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) funding for home repair as part of the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation program.  The funds include grants for low and very low-income eligible applicants only.  Applications will only be accepted as long as budgeted funds for the initiative are available.

This program is first come, first serve and is for Alachua County Residents only.  Those living in the City of Gainesville are ineligible.

The Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program has grants for roof replacement for Low- and Very Low-Income applicants only with $150,000 in available funds.  The Emergency Repairs program has $50,000 in available funds with a maximum of $10,000 per home.

Grant staff will be available to review and assist applicants with the application process.  For an application, please email housing@alachuacounty.us.  In the subject line, add “request a roofing application.”  In the body, include your name, address and phone number.

SHIP provides funding to local governments to preserve affordable housing.  It is designed to serve very low, low and moderate income families.

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