NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has negotiated acquisition of property rights-of-way to make the long-awaited extension of Southwest 15th Avenue from Southwest 260th Street to County Road 337 a reality.

“The City has identified the best route for the extension, which contacts six parcels and four property owners,” said City Manager Mike New. One of the property owners is the City and the remaining three property owners are Paul K. and Tammy B. Coleman, James F. and Connie F. Coleman, Jason D. and Mary E. Coleman.

New received Commission authorization to enter into agreements to acquire the rights-of-way and land rights necessary to extend the roadway. The roadway extension is intended to reduce traffic congestion in the downtown area during school start and end times. “The roadway is envisioned to feature two paved travel lanes, sidewalks, streetlights, open swales and associated utilities,” said New. He estimates that the project would commence within 36 months.

The City has agreed to install a farm fence along the roadway to keep the property owners’ cattle on their property. Commissioner Rick Coleman recused himself from voting on this issue and the motion to approve received a 3-0 vote. Commissioner Mark Clark was not in attendance.

Wastewater Treatment Facility Expansion

Commissioners also authorized the acquisition of six parcels of vacant land totaling approximately 93.4 acres for the expansion of the City’s wastewater treatment facility. The negotiated price is $12,500 per acre for a total of $1,167,500. The property, which is currently owned by Barbara McElroy, is located south and west of the City’s current wastewater treatment facility site. The McElroy property is primarily used for hay production and cattle grazing.

The City is more than 75 percent complete with development of a Wastewater Facilities Plan, a document that identifies and recommends the facilities necessary to treat the City’s wastewater for 30 years. The Wastewater Facilities Plan identifies a need for 63 acres of additional land for effluent disposal of wastewater, plus an additional 15 acres for a biosolids processing site, for a total need of 78 acres. As the McElroy property totals 93 acres, it is larger than the City needs for the plant, but the property owner is not interested in selling a portion of the property.

Other potential uses for the 15-acre difference could include relocation of the City’s Public Works and Utilities Operations Center, development of a rural collection center, a meat processing facility or a firefighting training facility; the last three possible uses of which would be in partnership with Alachua County.

The proposed closing date is Dec. 31, 2021, or sooner. The City will provide the seller with a deposit of $50,000, which is contingent on approval by the City Commission. The City has agreed to continue to allow the seller to retain the right to cut from the property for a period and graze cattle up to one year. Other contingencies include acceptance of the results of a feasibility study/geotechnical exploration and funding approval by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).

Two Florida Statute-required real estate appraisals were conducted on the property, which came in at $4,000 and $6,400 per acre. Based on those figures, Commissioners questioned the amount the City is paying per acre.

“Staff conducted independent comparisons of recent purchases of similar land tracts in Newberry and found unit costs of $12,088 and $16,064 per acre,” New said. He also said the City paid $10,000 per acre in 2009 to acquire property for its most recent wastewater plant expansion.

Expansion of the wastewater treatment facility is anticipated to be funded by Newberry development fees, the Florida State Revolving Fund loan program and the SRWMD. New said the City applied for a SPRINGS grant through the SRWMD in 2020 and is recommended for award of $750,000 for land acquisition. The agreement associated with the award is forthcoming he said.

Currently, the City is spraying wastewater effluent, which New said is not efficient. The City is considering constructing wetlands, which can use growing plants to help clean the wastewater and result in a park-like setting open to the public.

New said the City will hire a consultant to help determine the best use of the extra 15 acres of land not needed for the wastewater treatment facility.

State Road 26 One-Way Pairs Project

In other business, the Commission unanimously approved a resolution to send a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)about the State Road 26 One-Way Pairs Project. FDOT has advised the City that they are about 60 percent of the way to completion of the design of the project, with a design completion date in April.

The letter requests local side street improvements to six north-south side streets to include asphalt, curbs and gutters, sidewalks and street lighting similar to the improvements scheduled on Northwest 255th Street.

The City would pay for additional design services to accommodate the City’s requests.

In addition, the letter requests pedestrian crosswalks at five intersections and one round about, golf cart crossings at Seaboard Drive and near Lois Forte Park and that FDOT amend its design for two street segments to accommodate changes to Seaboard Drive.

Relocation of the proposed parking area at the Newberry Cold Storage location to include Northwest 254th Street, the Municipal Building parking lot and a portion of Barry Park was also requested. The City also asks that FDOT convey from the City Hall campus and from First Baptist Church to the stormwater retention facility planned west of the railroad tracks near Northwest 3rd Avenue, amend the design of the stormwater retention facilities at Lois Forte Park to improve efficiency of land use and adjust the cul-de-sac terminus of Northwest 1st Avenue east of Northwest 264th Street.

Charter Officer Salary Increases

In other City business, charter officer annual evaluations were conducted and the results were reported during the meeting. Evaluation results are ranked to a possible five-point top ranking. Results were as follows: city attorney 4.94, city clerk 4.98 and city manager ranked 4.92.

As the city attorney is reimbursed via contract each year, his rate will be considered when negotiating a new contract. All employees achieving these high rates are awarded a four percent salary increase, which the city clerk and city manager will receive.

However, in the case of the city manager, he was awarded an additional 2.5 percent increase for two reasons. When he joined the City, New was given several items to complete. The last of them was recently accomplished with the finalization of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for Newberry.

“The City has worked tirelessly through the years to establish a CRA and that goal was finally accomplished,” said Mayor Jordan Marlowe.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution establishing the salary increases for the city manager and clerk.

Newberry City Hall will be closed Nov. 11 in observance of Veterans Day. The Commission will next meet on Nov. 22 and again on Dec. 13. City Hall will be open Dec. 20 – 22 and will be closed on Dec. 23. City Hall will also be open Dec. 27 – 29 and will be closed on Dec. 30.

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