HIGH SPRINGS – Two meetings slated for Thursday evening will have commissioners in High Springs talking about nearby Poe Springs Park and economic development within the city.

At a specially called 5 p.m. workshop, the commission will consider the possibility of taking over operations of Alachua County-owned Poe Springs Park.  Commissioners called an unscheduled, last-minute meeting Dec. 29 to preliminarily discuss the idea.  In a 4-0 vote, they approved of the takeover in concept.  Commissioner Eric May was unable to attend the meeting.

Chief among concerns with some commissioners is if running the park is to the city’s advantage.  Commissioners are not only considering the cost of staffing the park, but also how its management might boost economic development within the city.

For about two decades, the park was managed under a contract between Alachua County and the YMCA with the county providing about $50,000 annually toward the upkeep and management.

But looking to cut costs, the county issued a contract in 2009 to Nature Quest, a private company, which managed the park without any funding assistance from the County.  That contract was cancelled last year and Alachua County took over operating the park in October 2011, when county officials were dissatisfied with maintenance of the park.

High Springs and County officials have yet to agree on a deal that would allow the park to be operated by the city.  Thursday’s meeting aims to further hammer out details of a possible deal.  Among the possible arrangements are that the County would continue general maintenance at the park while allowing High Springs to operate the facility and handle day-to-day maintenance.

Located along the Santa Fe River, and outside of High Springs city limits, the 202-acre park has historically featured swimming and canoeing amenities, concessions, meeting facilities, a playground, soccer and softball fields and volleyball courts.  The driving attraction at the park is a natural spring, which feeds the Santa Fe River with about 45 million gallons of water each day.

The County turned down a previous proposal offered by High Springs in November, which included $55,000 budgeted for personnel to staff the springs and handling day-to-day operations while the county would handle long-term needs such as maintenance

A 6:30 p.m. workshop at the City of High Springs will focus on economic development.  Interim City Manager Jeri Langman said Wednesday that the commission would discuss at least two issues, including possible tax abatement for a local business.

Under a measure approved by High Springs voters, the city may offer a tax abatement incentive to a business that would contribute to economic development.  Plantation Oaks Senior Living Residence at 201 Northeast 1st Avenue is seeking consideration for such abatement, which would reduce ad valorem property taxes paid by the owner.

Commissioners have also invited John Manley, a local High Springs resident, to provide his ideas on how to save a railroad that may be dismantled by the rail line operator.  Manley has been advocating usage of the railroad to promote economic development in High Springs.  The tracks, owned by CSX, had been slated for removal in the first quarter of 2012.

In an impassioned letter to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, Manley urged that plans to remove the rail line be halted until the City of High Springs could offer alternatives to its removal.

Working under a tight timeline, commissioners are looking to Manley for guidance in how the city might save the railroad.