HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has tentatively set its Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget at $17.5 million. The City Commission on Sept. 14 also tentatively set ad valorem taxes at 6.9900 mills, which results in an increase to residents of $100 annually per $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. The current millage rate is 5.9900 mills. The final millage rate will be set at the City Commission meeting scheduled for Sept. 25. At that time, the Commission can reduce the proposed millage rate.

Speaking to the City’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget, City Manager Ashley Stathatos said that departments made cuts in all areas. “Any further cuts would result in a decrease in level of services to city residents.”

One resident suggested the City should forcibly annex areas served by the City that are not providing taxable income to the City such as enclave properties and Camp Kulaqua. Currently, the City of High Springs does not forcibly annex properties. However, the Commission said that it was something to consider for the future, but wasn’t currently allowed.

Another resident pointed out that the City has budgeted $1.2 million for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system that isn’t in place. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham explained that the [water] meters are in and will be deployed beginning the following week. He also said that Town Hall meetings would be announced soon to help educate citizens on the new system.

In a 4-1 vote, the Commission approved the 6.9900 millage rate with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

An ordinance adopting the 2023-2024 fiscal year $17.5 million budget was also approved in a 4-1 vote with Weitz casting the dissenting vote.

The budget’s General Fund expenditures for Fiscal Year 2023-24 are $7,218,646. Departments taking the higher percentage of the General Fund are Police at $2.8 million, followed by Public Works (streets, facilities and cemetery) at $900,144; IT at $404,622; Parks and Recreation at $395,864; and the City Manager’s office at $382,079.

The top Special Revenue Funds are Fire at $2.5 million; Wild Spaces Public Places at $954,461; Transportation at $518,258; CRA at $447,540; and Building at $412,750. One-third of the Fire expenses come out of the General Revenue Fund. The balance is made up by the Fire Assessment and fees charged to Alachua County when the High Springs Fire Department responds to calls outside the City limits.

The Enterprise Funds include water, sewer and solid waste. These operating expenses are $1.5 million for water, $2 million for sewer and $1.8 million for solid waste.

Residents also expressed concerns about the City’s use of vehicle leases and internet services. One citizen commented that interest rates charged on leased vehicles was not cost effective and that the City should wait until they could afford to buy vehicles outright before purchasing new ones through a leasing program.

Gillingham responded that the City does not purchase vehicles through a regular leasing company, but instead through a government purchase at a rate comparable to buying the vehicles. He also explained that the vehicles could be purchased at the end of the leasing period if the City decides to do that; so the City would then own the vehicles outright and could sell them.

Gillingham said that vehicles purchased were to replace those that were costing the City money in repairs every year due to their age and the amount of use they routinely receive, especially police and fire vehicles.

In response to a comment about the “high end” types of vehicles the City has, Gillingham said that automobile dealers were unable to fulfill the City’s original orders for lower-end vehicles. Instead, the dealers provided higher-end similar vehicles at the lower-end price in order to satisfy the City’s original order.

Stathatos said that the City has changed the contract with its IT service provider for a monthly set amount. High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan provides some IT services, but he said that security issues limit the issues he is able to help resolve.

Some Commissioners said they would like to address the amount paid to the City’s IT provider in a future workshop.

In other City business, Turnsole Builders LLC requested and unanimously received a zoning change from R1 to C3 on two tax parcels totaling 2.39 +/- acres, for an expansion to the applicant’s storage facility. This item was heard on second and final reading. Staff recommended approval since the parcels next to the property are C3, and the property is along a commercial corridor.

Commissioners unanimously approved a professional services agreement between the City and Megrath Consulting, Inc. for general planning and grant services. Allison Megrath was the City’s consultant during the Comprehensive Plan rewrite when she worked with Kimley Horn.

The Commission commended City employees for their work to get water back on line when a construction crew hit a water line the previous week. Public Works Director Thomas Henry said the City has billed the company for the cost to repair the break and that businesses are working directly with the company to obtain reimbursement for their business losses during the downtime.

Commissioner Byran Williams recommended that citizens not rely on social media and word of mouth on information relating to City government, but rather to come directly to the City to get their information.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose reported that a software glitch in a computer system was responsible for traffic accidents in High Springs not showing up on the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) website. FDOT was under the impression that High Springs had no traffic issues or accidents, thereby negating any requests for traffic lights or other traffic-related issues. Ambrose said that the oversight is now being corrected.

The next City Commission meeting will take place on Monday, Sept. 25, at 6:30 p.m. to set the final millage rate and budget.

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