Thu07282016

Last updateThu, 28 Jul 2016 1pm

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County, City at Odds over Road Repairs

ALACHUA - The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and City of Alachua Commissioners demonstrated sharp disagreement regarding county road repairs at a joint meeting held Monday, July 11.

The discussion was one of a few agenda items covered by both commissions and was initiated when City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. brought the poor condition of two county roadways to the BOCC's attention: County Roads 2054 - also known as Peggy Road - and 235A.

“There's nobody on the County Commission who doesn't understand that there are roads in terrible condition,” BOCC Chair Robert Hutchison replied.

“We hear all the time about it, we are scraping together every spare nickel we have to put into road repaving, but it’s also true that we’ve put three referenda out there, and all three have been defeated."

The referenda Hutchison referenced were three separate attempts by the BOCC – one each in 2004, 2012 and 2014 – to approve a sales tax that would fund county road repairs. Each referendum was voted down by county voters during elections.

“There's virtually no pure government anywhere in the State of Florida [that] doesn't have the infrastructure surtax for their roads,” Hutchison added. “We're the only county our size that doesn't have that additional money.”

Hutchison stated that, without additional tax funds, the BOCC has barely been able to fund approximately one tenth of the total needed to adequately maintain county roads. He noted that the regular BOCC budget does not have sufficient funding to cover road repairs.

“We could literally gut the county budget and put it all into roads, and it still would not cover the needs,” he said.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper claimed that the reason the referenda were defeated was due to the inclusion of added expenditures that had nothing to do with road repairs.

“There referenda that have been on the ballot, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's always been the caveat of taking more land off the tax rolls or buying conservation land - and there's nothing wrong with conservation land - but the idea is that, when I hear people talk, they want the roads fixed, and that’s all they want,” Coerper said.

“They don't want anything else, and yet it still gets proposed...when these other things are added to it, it’s what gets people’s dander up."

Hutchison strongly disagreed, stating that each proposed road tax did not include provisions for parks, recreation, or conservation land.

Boukari stated for clarification that, as he recalled, the point of contention many voters had specifically with the most recent 2014 referendum was the addition of expenditures to be made on bike paths, sidewalks, gutters, and other items that were ancillary to road repairs.

“The maximum that was going to be spent on bikes and...sidewalks was five percent," Hutchison responded. "And so because people don't like bike paths and sidewalks, they’re willing to throw away the other 95 percent of the money.”

Coerper said the BOCC's reputation with voters regarding the spending of tax money is ruined; therefore voters don't want to trust the BOCC with more funds unless it is for the one clear purpose of road repairs.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly countered that the BOCC still has plenty of credibility with voters when it comes to issues that people deeply care about, such as land conservation.

“[The people] trust the County to take their money and spend it wisely, and even in the depths of the last recession, agreed to tax themselves in order for the County to have land conservation funds,” Byerly said.

“I think what perhaps we need to accept is that, whereas we all hear anecdotally from people how important the roads [are], until people are willing to take out their wallets, it’s hard to take that seriously.”

Byerly had the last comment on the topic when he stated that the only solution the County has for repairing roads rests on the willingness of county voters to approve an additional tax to raise revenue.

“Until the county is willing as a group to put more money into this, things will keep getting worse, and eventually it’ll reach the point where people will realize it’s real, it’s not politics, it’s not posturing, we're not spending enough money on roads,” he said.

“When that day arrives, we'll get the votes we’re looking for.”

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Developing a Downtown Identity

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ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

 

Alachua's downtown area and the larger historic district will be beneficiaries of a public/private partnership between the City of Alachua and area businesses and organizations.

 

ALACHUA – A firm contracted by the City of Alachua to prepare a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) development plan presented its study to the city commission Monday night.

Redevelopment Management Associates submitted an 86-page report to the commission in which it explained the results of its market study and recommendations after taking into consideration public comments from a workshop held June 13.

The CRA district comprises 256 acres, focusing primarily on the downtown district adjacent to Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods.

The main emphases of the study were directed at establishing an identity for Alachua’s downtown.

Of 10 recommended initiatives, the first five centered on creating a cohesive vision for the downtown area, including the creation of a “branding, marketing and messaging program,” the hiring of a downtown coordinator as a new city staff position, and hosting community events by partnering with local businesses.

“While ‘The Good Life Community’ describes the city’s sense of small town charm and friendly atmosphere, a clearly defined targeted message with a strong comprehensive campaign is necessary to catapult the downtown area into a thriving hub of social activity,” the report states.

The report goes into detail regarding several possible options the city could pursue to assist in establishing a brand, from hiring a CRA marketing and events professional to creating an image committee and a Downtown Alachua website.

If every branding suggestion were followed by the city, the estimated annual budget could be as high as $175,000, per the report.

Other key recommended initiatives included implementing a façade improvement grant program (something common to other local community CRAs), improving wayfinding and directional signage downtown, and targeting a business hotel near the downtown area.

An additional point of emphasis the report noted concerned enhancing the customer base for local businesses and improving “public perception related to entertainment / social offerings and overall atmosphere in Downtown Alachua.”

One suggestion was to “create a monthly Downtown Alachua discovery tour event, activating the theatre pocket park [Alan Hitchcock Park] as the central gathering spot / information space. Consider wine and / or craft beer tastings in each business…Place sidewalk musicians through the downtown to draw people to walk the entire area and invite juried arts / crafts business vendors to set in front of vacant storefronts.”

The entire report is available at the City of Alachua homepage at www.cityofalachua.com.

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Alachua Main Street to See Changes

W - Alachua Main Street - Barnett IMG 0827

 RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

 A view of Alachua's iconic winding Main Street that will soon change as new landscapaing, including replacemenet of diseased trees, will refresh the area.

 ALACHUA – Main Street in Alachua will look a bit different by September.

The City of Alachua’s Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board (DRTB) met June 29 to present the details of a projected $70,000 renovation of the landscaping along the town’s historic street.

The most immediately noticable change will be the replacement of the Bradford Pear trees that line the street between NW 150th Avenue and NW 148th Place with new nursery-grown Bradford Pear trees.

The project will also include reworking of irrigation systems and the addition of new plants, flowers and shrubs in plant beds drafted by a professional landscaper.

Sidewalks will be pressure cleaned, and The Hitchcock Theater Park will be landscaped. New street striping will also be applied.

Existing, free-standing newspaper stands will be replaced with a uniform black box with cubbies for various papers.

The Bradford Pear trees are scheduled to be replaced because they have lived beyond their expected natural life, and replacement trees will be placed in locations that allow for better traffic view of businesses, entrances and signs.

The report comes as a result of efforts made by City of Alachua staff approximately two years ago, when the City contracted with landscape architects Buford Davis & Associates to perform an analysis of the condition of the landscaping along Main Street and make recommendations.

A neighborhood meeting was held on June 14, 2016 with current owners and tenants along the corridor to share the proposed project and receive input.

Construction activities are slated to conclude in September.

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MOMs WOWs with Smithsonian

Q -- MOMs IMG 0899

RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

  Families came together inside the Water Ventures exhibit to play games focusing on how to recycle waste items. 

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RAINA BARNETT/ Alachua County Today

  Inside the Museum on Main Street, exhibits about local waterways illustrate the economic and social importance of maintain the health of area springs. 

 

HIGH SPRINGS – The Smithsonian Institution, the largest group of museums and research complexes in the world, is up and running in the High Springs Museum with an environmental exhibit that will run until Aug. 27, 2016.

Ed Booth, City Manager of High Springs, said it was a tremendous effort from various organizations to help put on the exhibit.

“Volunteers from several clubs, organizations and businesses played a big part in this effort,” he said. “We were just one of six Florida cities selected to display the traveling Smithsonian Water/Ways Exhibit in our museum. Of those six cities chosen, High Springs was only one of two locations in north Florida to qualify for this honor."

“To complement the Smithsonian exhibit, museum volunteers created fantastic displays which highlight our local springs and waterways," he said. “This type of exhibit is something you don't see every day and certainly not in smaller towns like ours.”

From families to advocates of nature, many different people attended the grand opening of the exhibit Saturday, which concluded a long organization process headed by Kristina Young, the Water/Ways Program Director.

“From application to the final display that visitors saw this weekend took about a year for approval, display creation, sponsor coordination and communication and coordination of the grand opening,” said Roger Chambers, High Springs Historical Society President. “It was a lot of work by a lot of people, but well worth the effort."

Various booths were set up with water as a theme throughout. Hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled as orders flowed in around lunch time. The Santa Fe High School band played “Under the Sea” in an ode to the natural beauty of High Springs and its wildlife. Various other bands serenaded passersby as they toured the outside tents, listened to speakers and entered the museum to check out the exhibit.

Al Clements, a member of the National Speleological Association, explained his reasons for visiting the exhibit with his wife.

“I want to see the cave exhibit,” he said. “I dive in caves with no ambient light and I, as well as a lot of other people, are highly interested in the technological aspect of cave diving.”

The exhibit placed an emphasis on diving gear, the importance of natural resources, recycling, and the natural beauty of the Florida aquifer.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she attended for a couple of reasons.

“I came to see the vibrancy of High Springs and all the hard work they put into making this exhibit a success,” she said. “I think it’s very clever, and highlights the beauty of the springs. It’s educational but not overbearing; it’s really great for kids.”

The exhibit was the main attraction, but a traveling interactive exhibit entitled “Water Ventures” was also made available to the public. It highlighted the importance of conserving water and reusing waste water to conserve natural resources.

Jill Lingard, an activist who is involved with the Ichetucknee Alliance and Sierra Club, said invisible pollution is contributing to the degradation of rivers and springs and the aquifer itself.

“It’s the nitrates from mining and leaking septic tanks that mess up our waters,” she said. “A hundred years ago, swamps were considered bad and we drained them and now we’re seeing swamps play an important part in the ecosystem, and it’s a matter of undoing the damage that has been done.”

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Community Steps up in Response to Police-Related Shootings

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LEDA CARRERO/Special to Alachua County Today

The red, white and blue wreath, which included a tribute to law enforcement, was place anonymously on the front lawn of the High Springs Police Department.

HIGH SPRINGS – A beautiful red, white and blue American flag wreath and sign dedicated to the five police officers slain in Dallas appeared Friday afternoon in front of the High Springs Police Department. There was no fanfare, no acknowledgment of who donated the wreath or who placed it.

It became clear that the patriotic wreath and sign had been quietly placed in that location by High Springs resident Leda Carrero. The wreath itself was created and donated by David and Mary Moyer, owners of Thompson Florist Shop in High Springs.

“I wanted to honor those officers out of my own sense of respect, honor and duty,” said Carrero. “There was no need for fanfare. It was just something I thought our community should do to honor the five police officers and our own police officers who keep us safe here in High Springs.”

The sign reads, “In loving memory of those officers killed in Dallas. With respect and appreciation for their service.”

In the past, Carrero has spearheaded several other honorary actions and events in the area. She sought donations and raised money for a 9-11 memorial (which has been placed on U.S. Highway 27) honoring the people who died that day and continues to remember them each year with a memorial ceremony on Sept. 11.

She raised money again for a memorial honoring service dogs, which support the nation's military and first responders. Again she created a dedication ceremony when the memorial was placed in front of the High Springs Fire Department.

Carrero, who is now retired, served two communities for a total of 33 years through the U.S. Post Office. “I never served as a first responder or in the military,” she said, “but I thank those people who have served in those roles on my behalf.”

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Memorial Gathering for Peace and Healing

Following the events of the past few weeks in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, area pastors have asked the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) to join them in a Memorial Gathering for Peace and Healing.

Anderson Memorial Church of God in Christ Associate Elder Adam Joy, who is also a HSPD sergeant, is coordinating the gathering, which will begin at 9 a.m., Saturday, July 23. All will assemble in front of the High Springs Police Department, located behind City Hall.

“All law enforcement officers, first responders and members of the public are invited to attend,” said Joy. HSPD Chaplains Pastor Derek Lambert, First Baptist Church of High Springs, and Evangelist Jessica Hall, as well as other area pastors will be offering prayers for the officers and people slain in officer-involved shootings.

“Even though the recent incidences happened in cities far from Alachua County, we want to pray for all lives lost and mourn for their families and friends. We also want to wash peace and healing over them and over our local communities as well,” said Joy.

“We hope to inspire unity and peace to all area communities and foster a healthy relationship between the police and the citizens we have sworn to protect and serve,” said Joy.

Anyone wishing to donate coffee, juice or pastries is encouraged to do so.

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