NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission at their Sept. 25 meeting finalized their millage rate, budget, electric and water rates. The Commission approved a final budget of $43,167,065 for Fiscal Year 2023-24, a 27.6 percent increase over last year’s budget, and a millage rate of 5.9 mills for Fiscal Year 2023-24. The current 2022-23 fiscal year millage rate is 5.9244 mills.

The Commission also approved an employee compensation program giving the highest salary and cost of living increases to the lowest paid City employees with the highest paid employees receiving a flat two percent cost of living increase only.

A portion of the salary increases will come from expenses the Commission previously refused to approve. Those disapproved costs included $75,000 for a cemetery fence and another $75,000 for a wage study, freeing up $150,000 in the budget. The Commission allowed $75,000 to be used as part of the compensation program, and of the remaining $75,000, $45,000 will be placed in the Contingency Fund with the remaining $30,000 earmarked for possible use for the stormwater assessment, if needed.

Electric Rates

The Commission approved a three percent hike in electric rates for Fiscal Year 2023-24. Residential electric users can expect an average increase of $3.42 per month. Non-residential rates are proposed to be adjusted in a similar fashion.

There are also slight changes in the ordinance to the solar interconnections. There is currently a discrepancy between the City’s ordinances and the adopted tariff with the Public Service Commission. “Our tariff requires solar customers provide insurance, however our ordinance does not,” said Assistant City Manager and Finance Direcctor Dallas Lee. The adoption of this ordinance corrects that error and sets the application fee for tier one solar connections at $100, where it was previously not charged.

Water and Wastewater Increases

The Commission also approved a hike in water and wastewater rates for Fiscal Year 2023-24. Changes represent a 10 percent increase in the wastewater consumption charge with an anticipated residential hike of $4.52 per month.

Water rates were increased by seven percent in the consumption charge for water resulting in 6.7 percent in the residential customer charge for an average residential impact of $1.73.

MSBU and Alachua County

In other business, the Commission approved an ordinance providing consent for the entire corporate limits of the City to be included in a non-ad valorem assessment for Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) created by Alachua County Solid Waste Management costs. Alachua County Waste Collection and Alternatives Manager Patrick Irby was on hand to answer any questions regarding MSBU program, but there were none.

MSBU amounts are charged with property taxes and serve to provide solid waste services to the City. The MSBU rate for residential customers in Fiscal Year 2023-24 is $25.27, an increase from the prior year rate of $20.78. Rates have not been increased in the prior three years.

Gus Olmos from Alachua County was also present and said the County is still looking at a hazardous waste facility and recycling plant, which he planned to present to the County Commissioners at the second meeting in October. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the City is holding 10 acres of land for the County for the program with City Manager Mike New saying that the City would provide a long-term lease, possible 99 years, to the County so that the City would be able to provide electrical services to the project.

Olmos also indicated that a traffic study on the 337 corridor would likely be presented also at the second meeting in October.

Eden’s Garden

The Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plat and construction plans for Eden’s Garden subdivision. Sophie Lancaster, owner, proposes to place 12 single-family units on 6.95 +/- acres of land. The minimum lot size is 7,500 square feet. Open space and common areas are to be 3.5 acres.

Procurement Policy

The Commission moved to accept donations of alcohol and expenditure of funds specifically designated for the purchase of alcohol and other items for fundraising events, ensuring that public funds are not spent on alcohol, in line with the City’s purchasing policy.”

In other business, Mayor Marlowe said he had been contacted regarding the City’s sexual offender/predator code. The City of Williston has a much more stringent code as to the distance from “protected places” for sexual offenders to live.

“A list of 14 protected places occurs in Newberry,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. However, in discussion it was determined that there may be no means of enforcement unless the State Attorney is willing to prosecute offenders based on a municipal ordinance.

No official action was taken on this issue at this meeting.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct. 9.

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