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City of Newberry firefighters demonstrate the capability of the fire department’s newest pumper trusk as compared to its old one. The new truck carries up to 4,000 gallons of water, a dramatic improvement in the ability of the fire department to extinguish larger fires.. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

NEWBERRY – On Monday, Dec. 19, a ceremony was held at the Newberry Fire Station to introduce the public to the department’s new acquisition. It is a tanker truck apparatus capable of carrying 4,000 gallons of portable water for putting out fires. The addition of the new tanker provides dramatic improvement to the Newberry Fire Department's (NFD) ability to battle larger fires.

In the past, if a fire occurred in an area without a city water hydrant nearby, the department was limited by its water supply. Fire trucks do not carry water and depend on either hookups to city lines or a tanker truck. The city owned a much smaller tanker truck, but if more water was needed it would have to leave the area to refill, using precious time and possibly leaving the firefighters with no way to continue to battle the blaze until more water arrived.

NFD covers a 64-sq. mile area, much of it rural, with limited access to the city water supply. Due to its increased storage capacity, this new truck will allow the crews to fill a plastic pool known as a dump tank, which the fire engine hoses can draw water from while the tanker refills. This will give the firefighters a constant water supply to fight the fire. This increased capacity can make the difference between saving a structure or watching it be destroyed due to limited water access.

According to Newberry Fire Chief Ben Buckner, the city saw the need for this purchase and budgeted $220,000 from the 2015-16 city funds to purchase this specialized vehicle. “We hope to balance the cost with our increased ability to fight fires and by lowering the insurance rates for city residents,” Buckner said.

Fire insurance rates are based on Insurance Service Office (ISO) standards. The lower the number, the lower the rate charged by insurance companies. If a residence is based within 1,000 feet of a city water hydrant, it is rated as a three. If within five miles, then the rating is a nine. Outside of that coverage area, the insurance rates go even higher and sometimes the structure becomes uninsurable unless it contains its own water suppression system.

According to Buckner, the new tanker will allow property owners to get a three rating within the five-mile classification, which will help lower the fire/property insurance rates for many of the residents in Newberry. “We will make the money back by helping lower insurance rates for our citizens,” Buckner said.

To celebrate this, the NFD offered a demonstration of the new tanker for the public. The ceremony was a traditional event known as a “wet down,” which dates back to the era where fire pumpers were driven by horses and the pumps were hand powered. After a fire, the horses were separated from the wagons and both horses and pumper would be washed down by the firefighters. The wagon would then be pushed back into the station for the next fire. In the present era, a “wet down” signifies placing a new vehicle or apparatus into service.

For this ceremony, a dump tank was set up and both the old tanker and the larger new one pumped water into the tank. The comparison was to demonstrate the difference between the two trucks in speed, volume, ease of use and time. The old truck had a hose that attached to the truck and drew the water out by suction. The new truck has a built in chute at the back of the truck that pumps the water out directly at a much faster speed and volume.

Although NFD must register their new purchase with ISO to be able to qualify homeowners within a five-mile radius to receive a lower rating, the acquisition of the new truck is ultimately expected to lower insurance rates and make it much easier to fight fires effectively...possibly saving lives as well.

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Newberry City Manager Mike New holds the award presented to the city for its community improvement efforts. (Photo special to Alachua County Today

NEWBERRY – During the Nov. 14 Newberry City Commission meeting, City Manager Mike New read an introductory announcement into the record indicating that the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) honored the community service efforts of the City by recognizing the municipal electric utility with the 2016 Building Strong Communities Award.

“The City of Newberry received the award for its commitment to enhancing its customers’ quality of life through community improvement programs such as its energy audit program, support of the local schools and community festivals, Energy Expo, its annual food and toy drives, and its support of Relay for Life,” he said.

A plaque commemorating the award was presented during the Building Strong Communities luncheon at FMEA’s annual Energy Connections Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, on Oct. 27, and was displayed during the Nov. 14 City Commission meeting.

According to city records, FMEA Executive Director Barry Moline said, “Being a part of the community is about more than making sure the lights are on. The recipients of the 2016 FMEA Building Strong Communities Awards excel in not only taking an interest in seeing their communities succeed, but also actively working toward making them better places to live and building strong communities.”

FMEA represents the unified interests of 34 public power communities across the state, which provide electricity to more than 3 million of Florida’s residential and business consumers, including the City of Newberry.

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NEWBERRY – In the near future, Newberry may become the smallest city in Florida to institute a new type of technology that would revolutionize their utility services. Once instituted, meter readers would not be required to travel throughout the city to read meters and the city would be able to tell their customers when they have a leak or some other problem the homeowner might not easily recognize.

Newberry's staff has been evaluating automatic metering infrastructure (AMI) technology to determine whether it would be beneficial for implementation in Newberry. According to city records, the city has conducted two public workshops on the topic. In addition, staff has evaluated AMI that have been implemented in other cities. The City Commission has indicated that it supports continued evaluation of the technology.

An evaluation team consisting of Mayor Bill Conrad, Commissioner Jason McGehee, City Manager Mike New, Finance Director Dallas Lee and Jamie Jones, Director of Utilities and Public Works, traveled to Kings Mountain, North Carolina, to evaluate an AMI system that has been in operation for 22 months. Kings Mountain is similar to Newberry in many ways and their AMI system is similar to the system Newberry is considering through Leidos Engineering, Reston, Virginia.

New produced a power point presentation to help explain how an AMI system works, what they found out in their information-gathering trip to Kings Mountain and reasons why the city is considering implementing it.

“AMI technology includes meters that are smart and contain a computer motherboard for two-way communication between the meter and City Hall,” he said. “The benefit of this system is that we can ask the meter what the meter reading is or ask it to turn off service.”

Due to the relatively small number of city staff, the city is looking at a company called Smart Grid to help them evaluate the data coming from the meters. In Kings Mountain, New pointed out that their meter readers were retrained to be able to access the data and evaluate important patterns and problems like neighborhood wide data outages.

New said the city would work on funding and ways to move through the competitive process. “Staff will be working on identifying a plan to move through the competitive process and developing a financing plan,” he said. “We will come back to the commission in early 2017 with that information so you can evaluate what we find out and tell staff how the commission wants us to proceed or what further information is needed.”

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ALACHUA –  The Nov. 28 City of Alachua Commission meeting opened with a review of the financial health of the city. Finances and Administrative Services Director Robert Bonetti provided a detailed report on the city's budget and the expenditures during the fiscal year. Overall, the city came out ahead, with an anticipated surplus of funds at the years end.

There are six types of funds that make up the city budget. General Funds cover the cities operating expenses and salaries. This includes city government, police and fire, parks and recreation and public works. Special Revenue Funds are collected for special projects and can only be used for that particular project by law. Although they collected 106 percent of the funds needed, they only spent 78 percent, leaving a surplus. Debt Service Funds cover the debts owed by the city, and 100 percent of the debt projects were covered. Capitol Project Funds are used to maintain and fund long term programs with a lengthy investment portfolio. The other two types of funds in the city budget are Enterprise Funds which sell government services to the general public and Internal Service Funds which cover services billed internally between different government departments. Bonetti explained the income and expenditures for each of the six. In summary, he showed that the city’s annual budget amounted to $55,412,138.

Looking to the future, consulting firm CHW's Gerry Dedenbach gave a report on the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which was requested by the city. The project seeks to analyze and identify transportation priorities and issues the city will likely face in the future. The study covers the next 20 years with the goal of relieving traffic issues on the city's roads due to increased traffic caused by a growing resident population and businesses. The report also took into account increased traffic from commercial traffic serving the growing population.  

A key issue is to ensure changes are integrated into the state roadway system and working with the Florida Department of Transportation on road improvement and repair. At present, there are approximately 10,000 people within Alachua's city boundaries and there is a 33 percent increase expected in the next 20 years. This will cause some of the main roadways to experience maximum capacity congestion and increase possible traffic accidents. Roadways that will experience 100 percent use and heavy congestion include Peggy Road, SR 235, U.S. Highway 441 and ramps on I-75. Repair on these roads will also increase. The report suggested that expansion of lanes and better traffic flow by use of signal and stop signs can help alleviate some of the issues. Much of the funding for these roads would come from county and state transportation budgets rather than City of Alachua funds.

Proposed improvements by the city would include downtown parking, sidewalk improvements, resurfacing city streets, neighborhood sidewalk construction and drainage ditch improvements. The cost to the city would be $1,982, 045. The project it still in the study stage and no funds have been allocated for these changes.

The next order of business involved a proposed subdivision in the 12000 block of Northwest 157th street, located west of I-75. Craig Brashier,ACIP, representing the interests of the developer and property owner, was requesting a change in the land use zoning designation for the area . The proposed changes would change the zoning of the area from Agricultural to Moderate Density Residential. Agricultural zoning density designates only one residence per five acres to help keep the land open for agricultural use. Moderate Density Residential would allow up to four residences per acre, thereby making it viable as a housing subdivision. However, a proposed amendment would limit the density to two residences per acre, limiting the housing project to 20 homes.

Four homeowners from the area spoke about their concerns about the project. Some of the issues raised were that they had bought their property with the intention of it staying under the Agricultural zoning to help limit housing to keep the area rural. They also expressed concerns about increased traffic and speeding on what is now a rural dirt road. The city has proposed paving it. Alachua Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari reported on the proposed road changes and their impacts. After hearing all parties concerned the commission voted to approve the housing subdivision to allow developers to build up to two residences per acre.

In other business, the commission discussed a proposed amendment that would authorize the commission to become the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency and establish an advisory board to oversee its operation.

The final order of business was good news for Alachua residents. Due to a new contract with Waste Pro, the company contracted to collect the waste within the city limits, residents will pay a little bit less for trash collection.

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Alachua Elem vets - BarnettIMG 2596

Students performed several patriotic songs during the ceremony. (Today photo/RAINA BARNETT)

ALACHUA – Patriotic music,speeches dedicated to veterans and American hymns sung by tiny voices all came together to honor about 50 veterans at Alachua Elementary School on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 10.

“I think this is something that lets the students put a face to the meaning of Veteran’s Day,” Assistant Principal Alberta Bing said. “It also gives teachers an opportunity to teach them about it.”

The annual ceremony dates back 20 years, becoming a reality thanks to Alachua resident and D-Day veteran, the late Glynn Markham, according to a Nov. 11, 2011 edition of Alachua County Today. Although Markham passed away in May 2007, his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

Students were asked by their teachers to request veterans they knew to attend the event.

As the children settled into their seats, Uncle Sam, portrayed by fifth-grade teacher Rick Thomas, fist-bumped and high-fived students.

Another teacher handed out miniature American flags to the children to wave during The Star-Spangled Banner and other patriotic tunes.

A small program bearing the artwork of students Josiah Ashley and Zoe Jeter circulated among attendees. The artwork by Ashley depicted a soldier saluting in front of the American flag and the illustration by Jeter featured citizens decked out in stars and stripes saluting an American eagle soaring over the American flag, complete with fireworks exploding in the air.

University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard proudly presented colors, followed by the pledge of allegiance.

A short dissertation on the history of Veteran’s Day was delivered by Uncle Sam.

Numerous tunes, including the catchy and upbeat “Oh, I Love America,” were sung by students during and after the event.

The ceremony came to an end with a moment of silence followed by the playing of “Taps” to honor and remember veterans.

“This is just one small way we can honor those here today and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Bing.

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