Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am


Haunted house donates funds to area non-profits

HIGH SPRINGS – The Madness and Mayhem event held recently in conjunction with Halloween, scared up some funding to help out three non-profit organizations whose members volunteered their time to the frightening haunted house. The High Springs Historical Society Museum, Our Santa Fe River (OSFR) and Plenty of Pit Bulls (POPB) each received $1,468 for their efforts in support of the production of M&M.

Presentation of each organization's check took place on Sunday, Nov. 16, and was made at a location that represented each group's interest. The steps leading up to the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Civic Center, which currently houses the Historical Society Museum, was the ideal place for that group's presentation, while Rum Island Springs at the Santa Fe River was the site for OSFR. A Gainesville park used for dog training classes was the choice of the POPB group.

It took a few days after the event for Creative Director Chris Scott, Technical Director Andy Phelan and Volunteer/Public Relations Director Terry Phelan to tally up the volunteer hours from each organization, said Bob Watson, President of High Springs Historical Society Museum.

Although the original plan was to divide the money based on each group's participation, “The number of volunteer hours from all three groups were close and they were all in it to the end,” said Terry Phelan. “Under the circumstances, we decided the best way to divide the proceeds was equally,” she said. “We left the 50 cents off of the presentation check, but they got it in the actual check,” said Phelan with a chuckle.

“It took 80 volunteers and thousands of hours to put this together and then take it all down again,” said Phelan. “It was remarkable how many people pitched in. Our volunteers were incredible,” she said.

Pointing to one in particular, she mentioned Kent Brush, an artist who specializes in construction and design. “There were times he stayed until 3:30 a.m. to finish something he was working on. People sometimes volunteered their time for 12 hours or more in order to get everything completed on time,” said Phelan.

In talking about what the Historical Society's contributions were to the project, Watson said their volunteers helped build some of the sets and props for the haunted house, which was located this year at the city's Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center, behind City Hall. “We helped put up the fence, set up and break down the sets, helped with lighting and a couple of our people helped out with sound,” he said. “We probably had at least 1,000 volunteer hours into the set up and cleanup effort,” said Watson.

While all three groups worked together to accomplish everything, some volunteers specialized in costuming and makeup, others in set design, painting and construction. “There was always something to do and all of our volunteers participated in all aspects of this project,” said Phelan.

Asked about what was the worst part of the cleanup, Watson volunteered that the women's restroom was the worst. “People did makeup in the women's restroom and costuming in the men's restroom. There was fake blood everywhere in the women's room. If you didn't know any better, you would think a real massacre had occurred in there,” he said.

It took two days to clean up the old building and bring it back to normal, said Terry Phelan. Watson, whose museum is housed in the same building as the haunted house, corroborated her story. “You'd never know anything had happened in there now,” he said.

Watson said the proceeds his group received from this event will be put into a reserve account for the organization's many projects. “The money could be used for repairs to the city's first 1927 Brockway La France fire engine, a structure to house it or any one of the many other projects the museum is working on currently.”

OSFR President Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson said their organization would be using their charitable donation for stationary and portable scanners. One of their projects involves a search for photos of the Santa Fe River that are 20 years old or older to archive, as well as to compare past and present water levels of the river.

POPB will use their donation to help support their efforts to foster and place pit bulls into forever homes. “We are always looking for foster homes,” said POPB President Anna Peterson. The donation they received is not earmarked for one item, but will be used to help the organization continue to provide free veterinary care, training, food, toys and other accessories like collars and leashes. POPB not only provides free training for all dogs in foster care, but continues to provide additional training after an animal is adopted.

This year's haunted house fundraiser was so successful that the three co-directors have decided to begin the process of becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization. “Our endeavors will be to raise money for local charities through a haunted house experience,” said Phelan. “Our choice of charities will focus on those in which there are no paid employees.”

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High Springs may see lower tax rate

HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Commissioners approved a resolution at the July 24 regular commission meeting to set the ad valorem tax rate at 6.15 mills, the same millage rate the city set last year. Setting the proposed millage rate has the effect of setting a cap on the amount the city can charge for ad valorem taxes during the coming year. Once the cap is set and Alachua County is noticed, the city cannot exceed that millage rate.

The good news is that the commission can choose to lower that rate, and may actually do so this year.

City Manager Ed Booth already proposed a millage rate reduction from 6.15 to 6.1326 mills when he recently presented a balanced general fund budget of $3,923,601.

At the lower millage rate, citizens could see a slight reduction to their tax bill. However, if the taxable value of their property increased during the past year or some other change occurred, it is possible that property owners may not notice a reduction. However, those property owners will still reap the benefit as their next year's taxes will be lower than they would have been at last year's higher millage rate.

A reduced rate would mean the city can expect to realize approximately $5,000 less in revenues next year according to Booth, but he's planned for that and built it into his budget.

The proposed budget has a minimum of $25,000 set aside in the city's contingency fund for the coming year. “Last year's budget process saw very little money set aside for contingencies,” said Booth.

His long-range goal is to reduce the millage rate slowly over the next five years, hopefully to 5.2 mills by the end of that time.

“The reduced rate I proposed this year is just a start,” he said. “As the city gets better financially, I believe we should share with the citizens who have borne the brunt of less lucrative years along with the city,” said Booth.

At Booth's proposed roll back rate of 6.1326 mills, all of the anticipated expenses would be covered plus the city would see a much-needed improvement to vehicles, including police cars, and equipment, as well as reasonable salary increases for employees.

Booth explained that the city is in much better financial shape this year than last and attributed it, in part, to increases in construction and, as a result, increases in inspection fees and income to the city. He also anticipates paying off loans taken out on previously purchased police vehicles and purchasing a new police car out of this year's budget and a second one out of next year's budget.

In addition, Booth anticipates the city will be able to pay off a bridge loan, which has cost $60,000 yearly, out of the coming year’s budget. The loan was originally taken out as part of the sewer project.

“All of these things should put this city in a much better position financially by the time we have to sit down and plan a budget for the 2015/2016 fiscal year,” said Booth.

Commissioners seemed generally pleased with the budget, but thought it might be possible to reduce the millage rate even further. They requested Booth and Finance Director Jennifer Stull provide them with figures on additional millage reductions.

A final determination of the millage rate will be set at a public hearing, which is currently anticipated to be on Sept. 11, at which time citizens can comment on the proposed millage rate and budget for 2014/2015.

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Competitive Florida picks Newberry

NEWBERRY – The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced that the City of Newberry has been chosen as one of four communities participating in the pilot program for the Competitive Florida Partnership, a new rural community development initiative.

The City of Newberry, the City of Port St. Joe, the City of White Springs and Desoto County were the first four rural communities chosen to participate in the program.

The Competitive Florida Partnership focuses on improving local economic development activities, particularly in the rural areas of Florida. The DEO will assist Newberry in creating a strategic economic development plan that is tailored to the community’s unique character and vision.

One facet of the program will be to create a community asset inventory that will be available to local businesses wishing to expand, as well as potential businesses interested in moving to Newberry.

Governor Rick Scott praised the program.

“The Competitive Florida Partnership provides our rural communities with the tools they need to work together and encourage economic development throughout the state,” he said. “Port St. Joe, the City of Newberry, the City of White Springs and Desoto County should be congratulated for being the first communities to participate in this program, and for their commitment to creating jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

The Competitive Florida Program will help Newberry to market the community’s local assets and to set realistic goals for advancing the city’s economic development vision. The program will help Newberry develop an economic development strategy that promotes partnerships, community design and a vibrant local economy.

Asset-based economic development is a bottom-up approach that focuses on developing and promoting existing local resources, such as the available workforce, buildings and land, public infrastructure, transportation networks, education, political advocacy and civic organizations to strengthen the local economy.

This approach focuses on leveraging a rural community’s assets and economic advantages into sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

The DEO will work with Newberry to identify and market these assets and facilitate promotional opportunities to bring economic development to their community.  

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Temporary road closure in High Springs

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs issued a statement Tuesday, April 8, notifying residents that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be closing S.R. 45 (Main Street) at the railroad crossing Monday through Friday, April 14-18.

During the road closure, railroad tracks and accompanying railroad signals will be removed. City Manager Ed Booth said this section of track is a spur that is not being used. The roadway will be repaved and sidewalks will be replaced as part of the work.

Donna Whitney, FDOT's District Railroad Coordinator, will alert the city to the detour plan when it has been finalized. Meanwhile, any questions about the temporary road closing should be directed to High Springs City Hall at 386-454-1416.

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Alachua secures $25,000 tourism grant

ALACHUA - The City of Alachua is the recipient of a $25,000 grant from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council.

The grant will be used to make renovations to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, including the installation of new press boxes near the softball fields.

A total of $100,000 in grants was up for grabs, which is evenly split among the top four applicants based on the ability to draw in tourism.

“We have a clear track record of bringing in out-of-town folks and promoting sports tourism,” said Adam Boukari, assistant city manager, explaining why Alachua got the grant. “Alachua has a very strong reputation in making good on what we say we're going to do. It's undeniable what we bring in.”

The City of Alachua pledged $10,000 in matching funds to help with the project, Boukari said.

The current press boxes are at least 20 years old, he said. By enhancing them, it will help the city to retain the Babe Ruth Softball World Series and other large events. The Babe Ruth Softball World Series brings in thousands of visitors per year to the county.

“Any time you can use funds to enhance community facilities, it's a win,” he said. The press box is in desperate need of an upgrade, he said.

Some of the money will also be used for new signs around the complex to help direct visitors around.

Seven entities applied, the cities of Gainesville, Alachua and Newberry, as well as the Hippodrome State Theatre, the Alachua Chamber of Commerce, the Alachua Historic Trust and Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. The City of Newberry withdrew its application before the grants were awarded.

The top four were the City of Alachua, the City of Gainesville, the Hippodrome State Theatre and Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

Alachua almost didn't make the cut. The first time it submitted the application, it received a score of 52.92 out of 74, placing it outside the top four. It resubmitted and later got a 59.92, second to only Kanapaha.

The criteria of the scores included whether the city would match the funds, how well the application process describes the project, whether the project is sustainable in the long-term and eight other factors.

The money for the grant came from an increase on the Alachua County bed tax in 2010, which raised the tax on renting hotel and motel rooms from three cents on the dollar to five cents on the dollar.  

Alachua was awarded the grant because it has proven itself capable of holding large events, such as the Babe Ruth Softball World Series, said John Pricher, of the Tourist Development Council. The key questions are whether there would be a return on investment for tourism in the county and how the money will help encourage tourism, he said.

“Alachua is doing an excellent job in answering both those questions,” Pricher said.

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