Last updateMon, 31 Aug 2015 8pm


City emergency communications costs $114k more than county services

HIGH SPRINGS – If High Springs shut down their emergency communications center and contracted with the Alachua County Combined Communications Center (CCC) for those services, it would likely save the city over $114,000 annually.

During an earlier presentation of the city’s proposed 2014/2015 budget, which included the costs associated with continuing to maintain emergency communication services locally, Commissioner Scott Jamison asked to see a comparison of what the budget figures would be if the city was to have the county provide those services.

During the July 24 commission meeting, those figures were provided to commissioners and showed a reduction in expenses of $114,715.

The topic of maintaining services locally or contracting with the county to take over emergency communications has come up off and on during the year. The last time it arose, commissioners agreed to postpone further discussion until budget planning for 2014/2015 to allow time for actual costs to be calculated.

According to High Springs City Manager Ed Booth, the cost of eliminating local communications services can be viewed in two categories. Information technology expenses would be reduced by $10,000 and police communications expenses would be reduced by $104,715, for a total reduction in city costs of $114,715.

The cost of having Alachua County take over those services again would be based on the number of calls handled by the CCC multiplied by the percentage of the population. Looking at the previous contract the city had with the county, the city was charged 60 percent per 1,000,000 citizens, based on a population of fewer than 6,000 residents.

The last year the county provided communication service to High Springs, which was 2012, costs were approximately $80,000, said Booth.

Concern has been expressed that if the city eliminated the service locally and engaged the CCC again, the county's costs to the city for those services would escalate when the population increases to 6,000. City Hall estimates a current High Springs population of 5,494 residents. However, it is unknown at this time how or if a population increase would affect costs for future CCC services.

Commissioner Bob Barnas said that all the signs in the city would have to be replaced to accommodate E-911 addressing if the county handled emergency calls for the city. He suggested the cost for all of that be built into whatever figures the county might charge to handle emergency calls for the city.

Actually, that is not the case, said Keith Godwin, Alachua County Director of E-911 Services and a resident of High Springs. “The signs are fine just as they are,” he said. “The county handles calls for the city's fire department and ambulance services without any problem right now. It would be no different for other emergency services,” he said.

Booth commented that he had been asked to provide both sets of budget figures, which he did. He also said he had already budgeted local emergency communications services into next year's budget.

“At this time, that's all I've been asked to do,” he said. “Unless a majority of the commissioners want me to do something else and give me further direction, that's where things stand,” he said.

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LaCrosse to see road, pedestrian improvements

LACROSSE – Three Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) projects are expected to impact LaCrosse residents beginning in late 2015 or early 2016. The first is a 6-mile resurfacing project from LaCrosse to the Union County line, which is currently slated to begin fall 2015. Preliminary cost estimates for this project are in the vicinity of $3.25 million.

Another resurfacing project beginning at U.S. Highway 441 in Gainesville and continuing approximately 9 1⁄2 miles to LaCrosse on SR 221 is slated to begin in spring 2016. Preliminary cost estimates for this project are in the vicinity of $3.89 million.

While both projects are needed and will greatly enhance the safety of traffic and pedestrians along S.R. 221, the project that will have the most direct impact to the town's residents is part of the Transportation Alternatives Program. Project information was available to the public at an open house held July 14 at LaCrosse Town Hall.

At the meeting, FDOT representatives proposed enhancements which would add a new sidewalk to connect to an existing sidewalk and provide for the installation of pedestrian lighting on both sides of the roadway from N.W. 202nd Place to just south of the CSX railroad crossing. Welcome signs at both ends of town were also included in the project description.

Residents were encouraged to review the proposed plans, ask questions of FDOT staff and provide input into the project, which is currently scheduled to begin in early 2016. Project costs are estimated to be $971,000.

The enhancement project has been a long time in coming. Mayor Dianne Dubberly submitted an application for project funding to Alachua County in 2001.

“Eventually, our project worked its way up to the top of the list as other projects were scheduled to be completed,” said

Dubberly. Once the project reached that point, the county turned it over to FDOT to add to their project list.

“We are about half-way through their [FDOT's] 5-year plan,” said Dubberly. “I feel confident that this project will be completed as scheduled.”

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Publix making progress, FDOT approves signal

W - publixA rendering of Public at Alachua Marketplace designed by Cuhaci & Peterson Architects Engineers Planners. / 

Rendering special to Alachua County Today


ALACHUA – The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) gave the City of Alachua the green light to install traffic signals near the proposed Publix Super Market construction site.

The signals will be installed for turn lanes near the site, according to Gina Busscher, spokesperson for the FDOT office in Gainesville.

Busscher said the developer still had to close on the purchase, but construction on the property is projected to begin early 2015.

City officials and developers met to discuss development standards and process for the new Publix Super Market, according to Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari. However, site plans have not been submitted yet. “But we do anticipate a site plan to be submitted.” Boukari said.

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Weekend on water

W - Water float 1If you canoed the Sante Fe River last weekend taking advantage of the long holiday, you might have been floating alongside of world-renowned cave diver Rick Stanton.

Rum 138 co-owner Doug Jipson said the European diver came into his kayak and canoe rental shop near Rum Island asking to explore the river from above instead of beneath the surface for a change.

“He asked ‘Can you take us up to 441 to dive,’ ” Jipson said about Stanton’s request. “He has dived every springs,” Jipson added. “He’s the number one rated diver out of Europe.”

So Jipson said he dropped Stanton and his crew off at Hornsby Springs near Camp Kulaqua.

“He’s always been beneath,” Jipson said. “Now he’s going to be above.”

Jipson and his wife Merrillee opened Rum138 one year ago. “It’s our anniversary,” Jipson said.

“We have seen a huge growth because we are smack dab in the middle of all of the springs. I turned 40 people away on Saturday.

Meanwhile, at Rum Island, snorkeler Jim Allen and his granddaughter Mia, 8, said they were searching for creatures. “We come here to enjoy the flora and fauna Allen said with his mask still on as he climbed out of the water.

A canoe was approaching sporting an American flag and paddlers Andrew and Sarah Kittrell of Jacksonville were trailing behind their friends from High Springs. The Kittrells were being watched by 10 turtles perched on a branch and a Blue Heron.

Over at Itchetucknee Springs State Park, employee Jimmy Decker was trying to squeeze as many tubes and rafts onto the flatbed of the tram hauler as possible so he could get the next 75 passengers back where they started.

“Memorial Day weekend is when we start the tram service,” Decker said.

Lisa and Justin Daniels of Jacksonville have just reached the end of their float down the Itchetucknee as they introduced their daughter Paisley, 2, to the experience. “She sat on my lap the whole time,” Lisa said.

Now Miss Linda Lynch is manning the booth below the tube tree her employee Rudy made. Lowe’s Tubeland was hopping all weekend and Lynch was enjoying a plate of hot dogs and fresh cut watermelon.

Lynch is a co-owner of the business that’s been in the family for years, she said. “My grandparents started it.”

“Sundays are always slower to start,” Lynch said about the weekend. “Part of the river is still closed.

“Best time is to come during the week,” she advises to avoid crowds. “It starts Memorial weekend through Labor Day weekend.”

Over at Poe Springs things are going smoothly. “It was busy,” said Vernest LeGree, Acting Parks Open Space Superintendent for Alachua County. “A lot of activity, not overcrowded. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves and there was a steady stream of people coming and going.

LeGree said new steps replaced the old steps into the springs that had started to erode. And he noted that water levels were still above normal.

“It’s pretty high, he said. “There’s three or four steps going down into the springs.”

River Ranch Water Park lifeguard Jeremie Thompson, 16, of Lake City, was enjoying the start of his second season at the water park of Camp Kulaqua.

“It gets crazy when the summer camps come in,” he said. “The heat is the most challenging and the funnest park of the job is the slide,” he added.

“You get to go down it at the end of the day.”

Joseph Shook, 18, is waving cars down on Route 27 trying to entice customers to stop at the Ichetucknee Tube Center. His day started at 7:30 a.m. and lasts until about 3 p.m., he said.

He describes his job. “It can range from when a customer pulls up you tie the tubes on for them, to greeting customers,” he said. “It depends on the situation.”

Shook bows and waves his arm as if to give permission for the next car to pull up curbside.

“Since I’m waving for hours, I might as well enjoy myself,” he said.

“Those blue ones right there,” he said as he pointed to a stack of tubes, “Are really comfy and they’re two dollars more.”

Back to Kulaqua River Ranch where Manager Jeanette Queen said they had a good turnout. We’ve had 300 to 350,” she said.

“Our next community days are June 22 and 29.

We’re starting to catch on and trying to make it where we’re out in the neighborhood more,” she adds.

“There’s all locals here. If they aren’t a local, it’s because they came with a family that is local.”

Back in Alachua, one-year-old Christopher Torres won’t budge from the circle of fountains squirting all around him. He is soaked and sporting a Superman shirt. His parents heard about the Splash Park on Gainesville Word of Mouth on Facebook.

Manning the facility is City of Alachua employee Kade Talton who is double checking the pH and chlorine levels. He just emptied a filter and jotted down the readings in a log.

“My job is to keep it clean and make sure the chemicals are right,” Talton said.

It is Christopher’s first birthday and he is still sitting in the circle of sprinklers and he couldn’t be happier.

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Alachua resident held on $3.6 million bond in drug arrest

W-howard vonzellALACHUA – An Alachua man was arrested recently on several drug-related charges stemming from an ongoing investigation by the Gainesville/Alachua County Drug Task Force with participation by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Vonzell Demond Howard, 31, was arrested and booked into the Alachua County Jail on May 12, on several counts of drug possession and possession with intent to sell. Howard, who lives at 13912 N.W. 142nd Place, Alachua, is also charged with maintaining a drug dwelling.

At the time of his arrest, Howard was out on $25,000 bond for a previous arrest on Sept. 19, 2013. His earlier case was still pending when his bond was revoked and he was rearrested on May 12.

Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff's Office arrest records show Howard was in possession of morphine, oxycodone, methamphetamine, cocaine and cannabis. The total bond amount for all charges is set at more than $3.6 million.

Howard was arrested on three warrants. His first warrant was for trafficking in cocaine, a felony of the first degree, carrying a bond of $50,000.

His second warrant was for drug possession with intent to sell Schedule III or IV drugs, a felony of the third degree and maintaining a drug dwelling, a misdemeanor of the first degree, carrying a bond amount of $5,100. During a search of Howard's home, investigators found morphine and oxycodone.

His third warrant was filed by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and carries a bond amount of $3.6 million. He is charged with five drug-related charges including possession of methamphetamine and the purchase of cocaine, both of which are second degree felonies, the purchase and possession of marijuana, both of which are third degree felonies and trafficking in cocaine of more than 28 grams, but less than 150 kilograms, a first degree felony.

Howard has a history of arrests for drug possession, possession with the intent to sell, trafficking in cocaine, keeping a dwelling or vehicle with drugs inside and has either bonded out with a $25,000 bond or was released on his own recognizance in those cases.

At press time, Howard remains in the Alachua County Jail under a combined bond of $3,655,100.

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