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NEWBERRY ‒ The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has begun work on work on U.S. 41 (State Road 45) with the addition of a right turn onto Southwest 15th Avenue in Newberry at Oak View Middle School.

Other improvements include milling and resurfacing, highway signage, lighting and other incidental construction on U.S. 41 at Southeast 15th Avenue.

FDOT hired V.E. Whitehurst & Sons, Inc. to complete this $674,000 project in late 2022, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting.

Daytime lane closures and nighttime construction activities are expected throughout the duration of the project. Lane closures are prohibited in school zones from one hour before school begins to 30 minutes after school begins and one hour before school ends to 30 minutes after school ends.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Commissioner Linda Jones voiced her concerns about services the City is receiving from contracted attorney Scott Walker. Jones is frustrated with Walker’s response time to City staff and commissioners as well as his interpretation of what could be challenged as far as the mural ordinance is concerned. Jones dissatisfaction led her to suggest the City hire a second attorney from a different firm to reinterpret Walker’s interpretation of what is legally defensible regarding murals.

Jones penned a letter detailing her concerns saying that “issues are stacking up, therefore the City cannot proceed unless they proceed with writing ordinances, etc. themselves.”

Jones also said the attorney was not prepared on the proposed Bridlewood development presentation of July 14 as he said at that time that “this was just a presentation.” Her third concern was the continued disagreement as to the rights of artists and the citizens. She said citizens have few rights when it comes to the number of mural applications that can be submitted at one time. Her fourth complaint was turnover in Walker’s firm. “I believe we need an attorney with more experience; our staff does not have time to train new attorneys.”

Walker responded to each of Jones’ complaints. Walker pointed out that his firm has worked on over 70 projects for High Springs since January and an additional five special projects. He also said that he has implemented an email address exclusively for High Springs that will go to all of the attorneys involved with the City. Walker said he hoped that would improve communication. In addition, he has given the Commissioners and City staff his cell phone number and suggested that his legal assistant could be contacted in his absence if someone needs to talk to him personally.

In response to the Bridlewood comment, Walker said the presentation was just that and he didn’t believe it was appropriate to get into a lengthy un-noticed discussion about the project, especially since it would eventually come before the City Commission.

Regarding the mural ordinance, he said he is not hired to do what is popular or what even 100 people want to have him do, but instead to respond with an interpretation of the law. “There are people out there who look for cases like this to challenge,” Walker said. “My job is to present an ordinance that will pass constitutional muster to keep the City out of a lawsuit.”

Walker said he has been with the firm for 40 years and his partner for even longer than that. He added that several of his attorneys or staff members have been with the firm for several decades. He had earlier mentioned that one of his younger attorneys was watching the meeting on zoom to gain more insight into how she would handle different issues.

Jones specifically asked about a mural that recently went up in the historic district that apparently contained an aspect in the design that was considered a sign. Walker said the person who put up the mural was willing to remove the signage portion of the mural. Because the mural was in the historic district, he said a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Board should have been obtained prior to putting up the mural. However, he specified that the building itself was not a historic structure.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose suggested that clear timelines as to when an ordinance or project was due would help staff— a suggestion with which Walker said he agreed.

In response to a question if the contract with the City could be modified to hire a second attorney, Walker said it could be done, but a separate attorney would require putting out a Request for Proposals (RFP).

Commissioner Katherine Weitz made a motion to bring the item back for discussion after they had a chance to review the contract. The motion was seconded by Jones and passed unanimously.

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TRENTON ‒ The swimming area at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is currently closed. The popular recreation area encompasses a collection of natural springs, including a large second-magnitude spring that produces an average of 44 million gallons of water per day. One of its most popular springs provides a pristine swimming area of crystal-clear water.

Due to the impact of heavy rains, the park had to close its spring swimming area on Friday, Aug. 26, as well as the suspension bridge until further notice.

According to State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) workers, heavy rains eroded and partially collapsed the seawall around the swimming area. The rains also created a mudslide that blocked access to the swimming area. There are concerns that more rains may cause the mudslide to pollute the spring head.

The park service is waiting for DEP to determine what can be done to repair the damage and rebuild the seawall to stabilize the surrounding area. There is no current estimate on cost or timeline for reopening the swimming area.

The park is still open for other activities including hiking and picnicking, but the popular swimming hole is off limits for now. The park is located in Gilchrist County about five miles west of high springs.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Alachua County has approached High Springs to see if the City would be willing to share the cost of purchasing a local landmark. The purchase price of the Priest Theater is $300,000 - $350,000. Renovations just to bring the building up to code are estimated at $1.5 million. The cost to bring in equipment to shore up the building to keep it from collapsing is estimated to be $30,000 with an additional $8,000 per month to keep the equipment in place. The cost to replace the roof is another $300,000 - $500,000 and it is estimated to cost $100,000 per year for upkeep.

Anticipated funding would come from a combination of Wild Spaces Public Places and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds. Although some individuals prefer that the money be spent on roads, the two funding options cannot be used for road maintenance.

At the Sept. 8 High Springs City Commission meeting, the Commission took no action about the purchase, but did indicate that they would like to see what the County is willing to put into the project before making a decision. The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners heard this item at a Special Meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The idea of possibly helping with part of the $300,000 purchase was discussed, but no commitment was made. “We are now taking a look at it to advise the Commission at a future meeting,” said Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton.

The item is anticipated to be considered again at the next High Springs City Commission meeting scheduled for Sept. 19.

Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant

In other City business, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe was on hand to talk about the possibility of including High Springs in a regional wastewater facility proposed by the City of Newberry. If approved by the state, the proposed $40 million facility would serve Archer, Newberry and High Springs and may also serve Trenton.

The project site is approximately 92 acres just south of Newberry’s existing wastewater treatment plant facility. Marlowe said 40-42 acres would be needed for the facility. He would like to see the remaining acreage used as a wetland area with walking and biking capability, among other environmental options. Marlowe said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has said they would pay for the lines to run from Archer to the Newberry facility if the project goes forward. “They may do the same for High Springs,” he said. “I’m not making any promises, but it is a possibility.”

The High Springs City Commission voted unanimously for staff to explore the possibility of being included in the proposed regional wastewater project.

Tractor Supply Site Plan

The commission also unanimously approved a 5.01 +/- acre site plan for a proposed Tractor Supply to be located on Santa Fe Boulevard. The parcel is located on the west side of Northwest U.S. Highway 441, approximately one mile north of County Road 236.

Due to limitations on the site, the High Springs Plan Board approved a variance on Aug. 30 that granted the applicant a reduction in required parking spaces from 110 to 75 spaces and a reduction to the Highway Enhancement Zone Front Yard setback from 35 to 13 feet. City Manager Ashley Stathatos said that the site plan is consistent with the Land Development Code and staff recommended approval.

Citizens who had expressed concern about the lighting were told the lighting would be dark sky, meaning that the lights are directed to the ground. Another citizen concern raised was about proposed tree removals. Stathatos said the plan had not yet been addressed regarding trees, but that the City has a tree ordinance, which will be considered regarding the final plan review.

Mini-storage Facility to Expand

Clay Sweger of eda Consultants, Inc. requested a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) on the property known as People's Choice Storage High Springs LLC. The 8.01 +/- acre parcel located at 26029 W. U.S. Highway 27 is zoned C2 and already contains a mini-storage facility within an existing RV/boat storage facility. The original CUP was approved in 2017.

The total square footage of the two existing buildings on site is 10,850 square feet. The five new proposed buildings total 79,750 square feet. The Plan Board recommended approval at their July 26 meeting with conditions present in the original 2017 CUP. The 2017 conditions included provision of a landscape design to the Commission, permanent maintenance of all plantings/buffers agreed to and reassurance that vehicle maintenance not be allowed on the property.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to the new CUP with the existing conditions and the addition of dark sky lighting and that the emergency access entrance not be allowed to be a regular use entrance going forward.

City Budget Set at $17.6 Million

Following budget workshops over the past several weeks the Commission set the tentative ad valorem millage rate for Fiscal Year 2022-23 at 5.99 mills, the same rate set for FY22. Although the millage rate was not increased, property owners are likely to see an increase in their property taxes due to increased property values. Consideration of the final millage rate and budget is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Prior to budget approval, the Commission briefly discussed the $12,000 Commission salary increase included in the FY23 budget. Finance Director Diane Wilson reported that a survey of area commission salaries showed that High Springs’ commissioners were paid less than other similarly-sized cities. Wilson also suggested the $12,000 increase could be allocated differently in the future if the Commissioners decided to use the funds for another purpose.

K9 Brix Retiring

High Springs Police Department K9 Brix will be retiring early and going home with his handler, Officer John Frickie. Brix has been trained to locate marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana for medical use, Brix is no longer needed to fulfill that need for the department.

“FHP and other agencies are moving away from using K9s for sniffing out marijuana,” said HSPD Chief Antoine Sheppard.

Retraining the dog for other uses would take approximately nine months. As Brix would be older by that time, his usefulness to the department would be limited. His handler has agreed to pay the pro-rated value of the dog and plans to take him home to join his family permanently.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has tentatively set its upcoming fiscal year budget at $57,651,391. The City Commission held the first public hearing on the tentative increase on the millage rate and approval of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. Alachua finance director Robert Bonetti said the City is proposing 5.39 mills, which is 8.10 percent more than the rolled back rate of 4.986. The tentative 2022-23 Fiscal Year budget comes in at $57,651,391, which is an increase of $8,912,748 over the previous year. The final public hearing on the millage rate, which is based on yearly property tax assessments, is slated for the Sept. 26 Commission meeting.

In other budget related business, the Commission approved extending the city contract for residential solid waste and increasing the rate from $18.60 per single-family residence or each living unit to $25.60 to compensate for inflation and increased costs. The existing contract with Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. was established in 2016 and expires Sept. 30, 2022. The current contract provides for one final extension of four years, and at that point, a solicitation of bids through a competitive process will be initiated to provide services. The Commission agreed to amend and extend the Waste Pro contract until 2026.

In other City business, the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) will be paying the City of Alachua $320,400 to continue the School Resource Officer Program (SROP) for the four schools within Alachua's jurisdiction, Santa Fe High School, Mebane Middle School, Alachua Elementary School and Irby Elementary School. The SBAC requested that the City enter into an agreement for the 2022-23 school year. The agreement requires five School Resource Officers—one in each of the elementary and middle schools and two at Santa Fe High School. The share of funding for Alachua schools for this contact is $320,400, which represents a $20,400 increase from the previous year.

Each year the Alachua City Commission honors the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America with a proclamation celebrating the historic event. By Presidential Proclamation, Sept. 17 through Sept. 23 is designated Constitution Week. At the Sept. 12 Commission meeting, Mayor Gib Coerper presented Kay Hall, the Past Regent for the Gainesville Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, with the City of Alachua proclamation of Constitution Week. Hall offered a brief speech discussing the founding of the nation and uniqueness of the country’s democracy and Constitution.

In other business, Mayor Coerper read a proclamation declaring October as American Pharmacists Month. Coerper said pharmacists are important members of a healthcare team who are well versed in medications, the effects they produce in a body, and how they interact or interfere with each other to safely providing medicine to the public. Pharmacists also offer many other services as part of their commitment to helping patients live healthier lives. Coerper also stressed the important role the pharmacist played during the Covid Pandemic including offering testing along with medications and vaccines. Today, there are over 300,000 licensed pharmacists providing care and serving as patient advocates for ensuring the best and safest therapy for the patients they serve

In other City business, Joy Glanzer, Chair of the Opioid Task Force, spoke about an interlocal agreement for funding the task force. An estimated 70,630 people lose their lives to overdoses each year, and many communities are struggling to find funding to combat the epidemic. The Opioid Task Force is working to get all communities in Alachua County to provide funds to combat the epidemic and educate children in schools to the problem to keep them from becoming victims. The agreement is for the Children’s Trust to distribute funds on behalf of the municipalities that have entered into the agreement. The Opioid Task Force is asking for a $10,000 contribution from each community and have had agreements signed by High Springs, Micanopy, Archer and $15,000 from the City of Newberry. The Alachua Commission agreed to contribute $10,000 to the Opioid Task Force.

The City’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) will be seeing new faces as the Commission voted on approving three appointments to the five-member council. Santa Fe High School 11th graders Abigail Blumer, Emma Cedeno-Alonso and Keyosha Queen were elected for two-year terms. The purpose of the council is to stimulate and foster the active participation of young individuals in addressing the issues impacting the youth of the community. It also ensures that the leaders of tomorrow have input in the local government process today. The YAC also makes recommendations to the City Commission on policies and procedures affecting the community youths.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ three new officers have joined the High Springs Police Department (HSPD).  A special presentation was made at the beginning of the Sept. 8 High Springs City Commission meeting to welcome the new officers.  Police Chief Antoine Sheppard explained that although the officers are new, as they are hired, they go through a tough training program.  The training program consists of three phases that includes monitoring by three different field training officers.  The new officers are James Davis, Dennis Clayton and Markel Parks. 

Davis joined the HSPD on Feb. 2, 2022.  He was born and raised in Lake City, where he graduated from Columbia High School.  He worked for the Department of Corrections for several years before attending Florida Gateway College to pursue a career in law enforcement.  

Clayton joined the High Springs Police Department on April 18, 2022.  He was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he resided until his family relocated to High Springs, when he was six years old.  Clayton attended the High Springs Community School and later received his diploma from Fort White High School.  When he is not dedicating his time to his career with HSPD, he loves spending quality time with his family.  

Parks also joined the HSPD on April 18, 2022, but started his career in law enforcement in his hometown of Starke in 2018 with the Starke Police Department.  Parks worked for the Starke Police Department for four years before coming to the HSPD to further his career.  Parks enjoys going to the gym and practicing martial arts.

Following the introductions, Chief Sheppard administered the oath of office to each of the officers to a round of applause from the audience and Commissioners.

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ALACHUA ‒ Sallone Travonta Barbary, 38, was arrested on Saturday, Sept. 10, and charged with violation of probation, carrying a concealed firearm without a permit, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and cocaine possession.

The Alachua Police Department responded to a call about a vehicle burglary in progress in a residential neighborhood near Criswell Park. The victim said that an unknown male was inside his car and that he might have a gun. When officers arrived, Barbary was reportedly sleeping in the driver’s seat of the victim’s car.

The officer awakened Barbary and placed him in handcuffs. Barbara reportedly had a shoulder bag on the front side of his body. When it was determined that Barbary would be arrested, the bag was searched. Officers reportedly found a loaded pistol, a box of ammunition and a baggie with a white powdery substance that field-tested positive for cocaine. The pistol had previously been reported stolen in Alachua County.

The officers also learned that Barbary is on felony probation for narcotics and charged him with violation of probation. Barbary has six felony convictions and was released in 2017 from a state prison sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was arrested in 2019 for DUI and narcotics possession and sentenced to four months in the Alachua County Jail, followed by three years of drug offender probation. The conditions of probation require him to abstain completely from alcohol and illegal drugs.

Barbary is being held without bail on the probation violation charge and on $55,000 bail on the other charges.

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