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Web Horror Road DSC0720NEWBERRY ‒ Every Halloween organizations create haunted houses for thrill seekers to be confronted with ghouls, zombies, witches and various types of mayhem. Haunted houses usually take the form of a maze in a darkened building with multiple scenes and characters to frighten people as they wander through. Some haunted houses are commercial ventures, but many local ones are held by charity organizations to raise money for various causes, and it is a popular pastime and for many families it has become a tradition. But in 2020, traditional Halloween haunted houses have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and need to social distance in enclosed spaces, especially darkened buildings where people may be disorientated.

This year the Newberry American Legion Post 149 switched up the familiar haunted house format to raise money for Veterans Programs and put together an outdoor haunted house for cars to drive through, maintaining a safe distance and following guidelines. According to Legion member Bob Watson, while the post hosted the event and built all the scenes, they had support from other organizations as well. Eight sponsors provided funding for candy, supplies and construction material. Volunteers helped with the construction, which took about 1,000 hours over a month. Volunteers also became some of the actors, including children and teens, including five students from Buchholz High School. The Youth Marine Corps also had 10 members volunteer as well.

Each vehicle took 10-15 minutes along Horror Road to slowly circle around the Legion's building, stopping at multiple fright-inducing scenes. Greeting each vehicle was a cemetery complete with skeletons, a demon and a long dead pirate. Then the frightening journey confronted Beetle Juice as the actor ambushed each car. Across the road was a guillotine with its victim holding her bloody head in her lap, as a mother and daughter zombie team came at the car from the other side. More child zombies approached as the car slowly proceeded, only to be stopped by a traffic cone and a witch in the middle of the road. As the witch cackled at the car to get the occupants’ attention, a giant red-eyed spider dropped on their car from above. Then it was on to a blood-soaked prom queen, finally to be stopped by victims of a car accident who were texting while driving as two of them lay on a tarp with multiple wounds.

Over the weekend 190 cars drove down Horror Road. Watson estimates that included 400 kids. “Some people came both nights and we had one family visiting from Japan that came through,” Watson said. “Altogether we raised $1,600 for Military Vets Programs that the American Legion supports in the area”.

Watson added, “We got a lot of compliments on the show, and we were glad to provide some Halloween entertainment for the kids and keep the tradition alive.”

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NEWBERRY – For the fifth consecutive year the City of Newberry has won the 2020 “Building Strong Communities” award. The Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) issued the award in recognition of the City offering its citizens extra services and programs beyond those normally provided.

Newberry was announced as an award recipient on Nov. 2 at the FMEA Energy Connections Virtual Conference, which ran through Nov. 6.

This year, 22 winners were selected for community programs that included environmental improvement, community education, public safety, charitable donations and sponsorships and other special services, such as lighting ball fields and playgrounds, parade and festival participation and building car and phone charging stations.

“We commend the City of Newberry for everything they have done to positively impact the lives of their families, friends and neighbors, especially in a year that has been everything but normal. We thank all the recipients for doing what they do best by putting the community they serve first,” said FMEA Executive Director Amy Zubaly Zubaly.

In the past year, Newberry supported a variety of community organizations and activities that impacted almost all of its residents.

Notable projects during the past year included support for the Newberry Watermelon Festival –the longest running festival in Florida, hanging holiday lights at Christmas and hosting the Tree Lighting event, support for numerous local volunteer organizations, providing support for charitable events through the community by sponsoring Relay for Life, United Way contributions, conducting an employee-donated food drive at Thanksgiving and a children’s gift/toy drive at Christmas.

Additional projects included sponsorship of the Energy Whiz Expo at Oak View Middle School, providing customers a free do-it-yourself online energy auditing tool, free yearly energy and water audits and energy efficiency kits to help customers save money as well as providing other energy-saving educational items.

Efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic were also recognized. Public power utilities across the state suspended disconnects for unpaid bills, waived late and reconnect fees and offered payment assistance plans to help customers financially impacted by the pandemic. The City of Newberry offered meal delivery and homework printing services, hosted food distribution events, leveraged financial resources to lower utility bills, waived online fees, and established a donation fund to provide assistance to those needing help.

“Public power utilities have always been community-focused and invested in programs that give back to their communities” said Zubaly. “This year, with the pandemic impacting nearly every facet of our daily lives, public power utilities have found many ways to assist their communities during this difficult time. From easing financial hardships for customers to providing distance learning resources to students and teachers to providing food for those in need, public power utilities have stepped forward to help community members navigate the challenges COVID-19 has brought.”

According to FMEA, Florida’s 33 public power utilities, combined, are the third-largest electric provider in the state, serving 14 percent of Florida’s customers. Florida’s public power utilities serve more than three million customers and are a statewide employment leader with more than 5,400 employees.

“The City of Newberry’s utility serves 2,600 customers and employs numerous area residents,” said Director of Finance and Administration Dallas Lee. “For over 100 years, the City of Newberry has made it possible for residents of Newberry to own and control its energy future while receiving affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power,” he said.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - After leading Alachua County Public Schools since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Superintendent Karen Clarke has announced that she plans to step down from her position effective June 30 of 2021. In a letter to the Board members, Clarke expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to serve the district’s students, families and staff, particularly during such challenges as Hurricane Irma and the COVID pandemic. She also highlighted a number of accomplishments during her tenure. Those include: the district raising its state grade to an ‘A’ for the first time in four years; an overall graduation rate increase from 83% to 88% and an increase from 68% to 79.9% for African American students, both of which were all-time highs; passage of the Half Cent for Schools initiative, which is already funding massive facilities improvement projects; the recent renewal by voters of the One Mill, which currently helps pay the salaries of more than 300 local teachers, is the primary source of technology funding and guarantees a nurse in every school; an increase in the district’s average teacher salary from 55th in the state to 21st; new career-tech programs at Eastside High and Hawthorne Middle/High School; a record number of students earning national career certification, and; a number of equity initiatives, including the AVID and AP Capstone programs, universal gifted screening and a magnet lottery. Clarke said the decision to step down was not an easy one, but she believes the new school board, which will be in place on November 17, should have the opportunity to select a new Superintendent. She also wanted to give the School Board time to plan for a Superintendent search. This is especially critical during a time in which the district is addressing major issues such as COVID-19 and rezoning for the new Elementary School I. “I am honored to have spent nearly 29 years as an educator with Alachua County Public Schools and am very proud to have led this wonderful district for the past 3 ½ years,” wrote Clarke in her letter to board members. “I am sure that with the support of the Board, the staff and the entire community, this district will continue to achieve great things.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ High Springs City Commissioners chose their top candidate for the City Manager’s position following four interviews conducted via Zoom on Oct. 27. Previously, Commissioners narrowed down the roster of 27 candidates to five and scheduled interviews with each to choose the top candidate. However, one candidate withdrew from consideration.

To facilitate faster action on their part, the City held a Special Commission meeting rather than a workshop so Commissioners would be able to vote on their top choice immediately following their interviews.

Although all of the candidates interviewed well and presented outstanding resumes, Ashley Stathatos, who was the last candidate interviewed, impressed them the most.

Comments about her energy and the diversity of work experience she has performed in the past, which fit well with High Springs’ current needs, made her a standout as all of the Commissioners chose her as their top candidate.

“First and foremost, she has been a city manager and has past experience in managing water and sewer projects,” said Commissioner Scott Jamison. “In addition, it was evident that she had researched the city and came prepared to talk on such. Finally,” he said, “I was impressed with her energy and enthusiasm.”

Another asset was Stathatos’ ability to be in High Springs two weeks after being hired. As current City Manager Joel DeCoursey, Jr. is scheduled to leave the position on Nov. 30, it is likely there will be time for overlap, which pleased Commissioners.

Stathatos indicated she has over 20 years of municipal experience including planning, economic development, overseeing capital projects, acted as liaison to the Planning and Zoning Board and Board of Adjustment, worked with the Economic and Community Development Boards and the Parks Advisory Board.

Other Commissioners commented as well as to what made her the overwhelming favorite for the job.

“After the interview process, I had the feeling that Ms. Stathatos had the education and the experience to lead the city effectively,” said Commissioner Nancy Lavin. She also noted that Stathatos had researched the community and had enthusiasm and energy that would be welcome at City Hall.

“She also appears to be someone who gets involved in the community and will be willing to open up further channels of communication for our staff and citizens,” Lavin said. “I am excited about this new leadership choice for our city.”

“Ashley answered questions with examples of the work she has performed in her current and previous positions,” said Commissioner Linda Jones. “She was energetic and positive and she was overwhelmingly the number one choice,” she said. “I’m very excited to get her onboard.”

Stathatos has earned a Masters in Public Administration and her BA in Political Science. In addition, her resume indicates she has continued her education with Texas Certified Public Manager Program Courses at Texas State and training courses with the International Economic Development Council.

The next step in the hiring process is for the city attorney to conduct a background check and begin negotiations on a contract. The published salary for the position is $100,000 annually with additional items that have been provided to previous city managers.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12. It is likely the City will hold a Special Commission meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, should the city attorney successfully complete the candidate’s background check and contract agreement. Whenever the meeting occurs, Commissioners will consider the negotiated contract with Stathatos, and if approved, formally hire her as the High Springs City Manager.

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NEWBERY ‒ Alachua County and UF/IFAS held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the construction for the new county extension office headquarters in Newberry at the former Canterbury Equestrian Showplace site at 23100 Newberry Road.

Construction of the facility and auditorium is scheduled to be finished by November 2021. The auditorium will have seats for 300 to 400 people and a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen for cooking. The kitchen will be available for 4-H and nutrition classes that will be offered to the public.

The current equestrian facilities will be incorporated in the IFAS program. Not only will residents in Alachua County be able to take classes, but they will also have the opportunity to participate in extension programs and 4-H events, as well as Master Gardener and Youth Fair training. The building will also house six extension faculty agents, three county staff, and one 4-H program assistant. The auditorium can be divided into three meeting rooms, allowing for different programs to occur simultaneously. The property will also be used as the new location for Alachua County Fairgrounds and will host the various events that happen there.

The project is a partnership between the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and the University of Florida IFAS in coordination with the City of Newberry. The creation of this project has taken 40 years according to former Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson. “They kept it together with baling wire, duct tape and chewing gum, but their perseverance was ultimately rewarded, and here we are today” he said at the groundbreaking.

Other speakers at the event included IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle, State Representative Chuck Clemons, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, and UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders.

Several locations had been discussed over the years for both the IFAS Extension office and a new location for the fairgrounds. Since the early 2000s Alachua County has planned to move the fairgrounds, in part so that its current location by the airport could serve as a business and commercial center that would be the impetus for economic development along the Waldo Road corridor.

In 2018 the Alachua County Commission voted to relocate the county fairgrounds and extension services to Newberry. Another five acres was purchased by the City of Newberry for $1 million, using Wild Spaces and Public Places funds, and will be the site of the new extension office. Wild Spaces and Public Places is a one-half percent sales tax collected between 2017 and 2024 to protect environmentally sensitive lands and to create, improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities.

Funding for this project came from Alachua County, the City of Newberry and a Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services grant. The total cost of the project is $20.5 million, Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman said. The county provided $13 million of its Tourist Development Tax and General Fund dollars for the project, while Newberry provided $1.5 million. The grant from the State of Florida Department of Agriculture provided $400,000.

“IFAS is number two globally for agricultural and natural resources research, so this is a powerhouse of an organization and of a university,” UF/IFAS Vice President Dr. Scott Angle said. “Agriculture is a driving force in Florida’s overall economy, as well as the local economy in Alachua County.”

Alachua County Extension Director Dr. Cynthia B. Sanders said the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County will provide county residents with new programs and opportunities. “No matter where we are in the county, we are going to serve all citizens,” Sanders said. “We have been on the east side of the county for 40 years, and we served everybody here in Newberry, Alachua, Micanopy, Waldo, LaCrosse, and we will continue to do that at our new location.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Based on the projected path, heavy rains and sustained winds from Hurricane Eta, and in consultation with local emergency management officials, the decision has been made to close Alachua County Public Schools on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Employees should NOT report to work on Thursday.

No decision has yet been made regarding school on Friday, Nov. 13. The district will be closely monitoring the storm and communicating with Emergency Management. ACPS families and staff will be notified when a decision about holding school on Friday is made.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs is poised to formally join the cities of Alachua, Archer and Newberry to approve an ordinance on second and final reading to litigate against one of Alachua County’s proposed Charter Amendments. The amendment titled, “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area,” if approved by the voters on Nov. 3, would limit each municipality’s right to home rule guaranteed to them by the Florida Constitution.

In addition, approval of the ordinance will allow the City of High Springs to use public funds to educate its citizens about the referendum. The City Attorney emphasized that although the City Commission approved Ordinance 2020-12, they are not allowed to use those funds to tell the voters how to vote. What it does allow the City to do is to explain how the amendment would impact their city should it pass.

In response to Alachua County’s proposed amendment, which is listed on the Nov. 3 ballot as, “County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area,” the City of Alachua filed suit against the County seeking injunctive relief. The case, referred to as City of Alachua v. Alachua County, Florida, et al., was heard on Oct. 14 by Circuit Court Judge Donna M. Keim.

High Springs City Attorney Scott Walker reported to City Commissioners that the judge determined that the County’s Charter Review Commission should be added to the lawsuit. “Now the City of Alachua has amended their pleading to do that. Alachua County, the Charter Review Board and the City of Alachua have agreed that there would be a very abbreviated process to go to summary judgment hearing on Nov. 24.”

“If voters approve the amendment, the lawsuit will go forward. If the voters don’t approve the amendment, no further action will take place,” said Walker.

He said that voters are confused by the amendment because it doesn’t state how approval will impact Home Rule. In addition, state regulations indicate that amendments can’t be more than 75 words. “In English, it meets the criteria. In Spanish, it is 90 words,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how that issue will be determined.”

On Monday the City Attorney will file lawsuits on behalf of the cities of Archer and Newberry. “Micanopy may be interested, as might the City of Waldo and the Town of LaCrosse,” Walker said.

He asked the City Commissioners to also include in their motion to approve the ordinance their authorization to allow him to file suit on behalf of the City of High Springs.

Mayor Byran Williams had to leave the meeting, but rejoined later. Commissioner Scott Jamison was out of town. Therefore, neither one was present to vote on that issue during the Oct. 22 meeting. The remaining three Commissioners indicated they were not comfortable making that motion without the full Commission present. However, the consensus between them was that the missing commissioners would likely vote to take that action had they been available. The topic will be placed on the next meeting agenda for a future vote.

Commissioner Nancy Lavin moved and Commissioner Linda Jones seconded a motion to approve Ordinance 2020-12 allowing use of public funds to educate the public regarding the amendment. The motion received unanimous approval.

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