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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs, on July 28, tabled discussion of an ordinance to amend design standards for murals. The delay was requested by City Attorney Scott Walker who said the item needed more work. Commissioner Linda Jones voiced concern about the delay, “We don’t have any protection in place and we need it.” Jones wants to see it on the next commission agenda. The subject of outdoor wall murals has been a topic of controversy in the community, with opposing viewpoints leading to continued friction.

Solar Farm Zoning Final Approval

In other business, the Commission approved in a 4-0 vote second reading of an ordinance changing zoning on some 735 acres from County Agricultural to City Agriculture to clear the way for construction of a solar power facility proposed by Duke Energy. The property is located south of Northwest 174th Avenue on the southwestern outskirts of High Springs. The related Comprehensive Plan Amendment was approved by the state a few weeks ago.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose recused himself from the vote although he maintains he has no conflict of interest, but since he had recused himself from the first vote on the related application, he thought it best to do so again in an abundance of caution.

Emergency Repairs of Sewage Lift Station

In other city business, the Commission authorized staff to move forward with emergency repair of a section of piping, fittings and valves at the City’s main lift station that serves as the main point for all city sewage. Public Works Director Thomas Henry said, “You can touch a bolt with your fingers and it just crumbles in your hand.” Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said he would bring back prices to the next Commission meeting for authorization to proceed with the emergency repairs.

Chamber Freebie Questioned

In other action, the Commission is questioning whether the High Springs Chamber of Commerce should continue using City-owned facilities free of charge. A facilities fee waiver for the use of the Civic Center by the organization was pulled from the Consent Agenda for discussion. Previously, the City approved a fee schedule for use of City buildings and facilities that allowed for a 50 percent reduction in cost to non-profit organizations.

Commissioner Ambrose said it was not appropriate for a 100 percent exemption to be allowed for the Chamber so they can hold their monthly meetings, referencing the Chamber’s growth and ability to pay. He pointed out that originally the Chamber said they couldn’t afford to rent the building.

Reading from an email sent out by the Chamber president on June 17, Ambrose said that the communication talked about starting out with only 30 members two years ago but now boasted 100 members. With a significant growth in membership, Ambrose wondered why the Chamber couldn’t afford to rent the Civic Center at the 50 percent rate.

Commissioner Jones asked for a list of organizations that rent City facilities that have not paid. The Commission voted unanimously to allow the Chamber to use the Civic Center for their August meeting and to address the issue again when the list Jones requested was available.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure Interim Financing

The Commission approved on May 12 an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project and now City Finance Director Diana Wilson wants to use the General Fund to foot the costs until financing is obtained. Wilson presented a resolution to formalize the request. The Request for Proposal (RFP) for financing is pending, but has not yet been finalized. Meanwhile, Utility Services Co., Inc. a/k/a Suez is ready to begin the project.

Wilson said formally taking this action makes the reimbursement of funds “transparent” and appropriate. Commissioner Katherine Weitz opposed the action because a specific dollar amount that would need to be reimbursed could not be determined at this time. The motion passed in a 4-1 vote with Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

FY 2022-23 Budget in the Works

The Commission unanimously approved the proposed tentative not-to-exceed millage rate for FY 2022-23 at 6.25 mills and the rolled-back-rate at 5.5251. Wilson is preparing next fiscal year’s budget based on last year’s 5.99 millage rate. “The rolled-back rate is what a city would need to set the millage rate at to collect the same amount of revenue as the previous year,” said Wilson.

Budget workshops are set for Aug. 4 to discuss the General Fund, Aug. 16 to discuss other funds and Aug. 23, if needed. Budget hearings are set for Sept. 8 for First Reading and Sept. 19 for Second Reading. Budget hearings will take place at 6:30 at High Springs City Hall Commission Chambers.

Water Pressure, School SRO, Summer Arts Camp

The Commission also approved awarding low bidder General Underground out of Chiefland to improve water pressure and flow on the west end of town. This Suwannee River Water Management District Water System Interconnect Project is a grant funded project that will connect West U.S. Highway 27 and U.S. Highway 441 water lines through River Run Plantation and Riverglen subdivisions. It will eliminate the need for flushing of the water system in this area and will help reduce non-revenue water loss. The City is providing a financial match for the project.

Commissioners approved an agreement to provide one High Springs police officer to act as a School Resource Officer (SRO) for First Christian Academy. The School Board agrees to pay up to $53,071 as its share of funding for this SRO for the 2022-2023 school year.

Good News Art Director Jessica Caladas addressed the Commission to review the Summer Arts Camp, which was in held in partnership with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. Caladas said that 130 youth from kindergarten to eighth grade participated in the program over the summer with 60 – 80 children participating per week. She said the Children’s Trust of Alachua County provided scholarships to those children who couldn’t afford to pay as well as helping to provide lunches and snacks.

Caladas reviewed the field trips the group took to Poe Springs, Cade, Harn and Florida Museums and thanked the Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina for his help and support. Caladas invited everyone to attend the Summer Arts Camp Art Show at Good News Arts on Aug. 6 from 5 – 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

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