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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Garden Club has chosen Brenda Kay Bader’s yard at 475 S.W. 254th Street as Yard of the Month for July. “We are all rewarded by her efforts in making her yard such a fun place to see,” a garden club spokesperson said. “It is evident that she is a very creative in placing yard art and potted plants around to attract one's eye to her space. The pollinators enjoy it, too.”

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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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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Police Department (APD) responded to 22 vehicle burglaries that occurred around midnight on July 28. Most of the vehicles were in the area of Traveler’s Campground in the 17700 block of April Boulevard.

Several of these burglaries included forced entry by utilizing a window punch. Of the 22 vehicle burglaries, seven firearms were stolen. “This is currently an ongoing investigation by our detectives,” said PIO/Detective Thomas Stanfield.

Stanfield said this is a reminder not to leave unattended valuables in vehicles. These valuable items include electronics, purses, wallets, money, keys and weapons.

Citizens are asked to remove visible and hidden valuables from their vehicles, even if their doors are locked. In addition, the public can help law enforcement stop these crimes by keeping a record of valuables and by notating the make, model, color, any special characteristics and the serial number of valuables. This is important information to assist law enforcement in locating stolen items and possibly the suspect(s) of the crime.

“Currently, we don’t have any suspect information or surveillance video of the incident, but we are diligently working on establishing leads and suspect information,” Stanfield said.

Anyone having information pertaining to these incidents is asked to contact the Alachua Police Department at 386-462-1396.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Amanda Reann Messer, 21, of Newberry, was arrested on Tuesday, July 26, along with two juveniles for conspiring to rob an Archer man.

Messer is accused of driving two juveniles to the robbery location and waiting in the car while one of them robbed the Archer man of cash and the keys to his vehicle by holding him at gunpoint. A juvenile then allegedly took the victim’s wallet from his truck, got back into Messer’s car, and fled the scene.

The vehicle and tag were seen on a surveillance video at the robbery site and the vehicle was later located in Newberry. A search of the vehicle reportedly found a ski mask, the victim’s wallet, a handgun, and cash in several denominations. Messer reportedly said that the other juvenile had come up with the idea to rob the victim.

Messer has been charged with armed robbery, armed burglary and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Messer has been released on her own recognizance with a curfew of 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. along with a requirement that she be accompanied by her mother if she is out of the house.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ One person is dead after a head-on crash in High Springs on Wednesday, July 27.

Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) troopers say a semi-truck crashed head-on with a Mazda 6 on U.S. Highway 441 near High Springs around 9:30 a.m. killing a 35-year-old man.

Troopers say a car was driving erratically on the highway and a High Spring police officer tried to initiate a traffic stop.

The driver did not pull over and continued to drive at a high rate of speed, eventually crossing the median near Northwest 210th Lane and hitting a southbound truck head on. The driver of the Mazda was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced deceased on the scene. The semi-truck driver, a 51-year-old man from St. Petersburg, was not hurt.

“This is a death investigation that FHP is conducting,” said Lt. Patrick Riordan, FHP spokesperson. “We will be at this for several hours because in a situation like this we want to make sure that we factually collect and document everything that is there on the roadways as far as evidence and tells us the story of exactly what transpired.”

About a half mile of the roadway was blocked off and traffic was re-directed. After several hours of investigation, the roadway re-opened.

High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard Department said that officers from his department observed a vehicle driving erratically around High Springs Main Street and Northwest 83rd Avenue. With a suspicion of impaired driving, the officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop on the driver.

The vehicle then evaded law enforcement and continued to drive recklessly through downtown High Springs and proceeded north on Main Street before connecting to U.S. 441 toward Columbia County.

“At the request of the High Springs Police Department, the Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the traffic accident,” said Sheppard. “As with every HSPD vehicle pursuit, an internal review is conducted to ensure our policies are adhered to. HSPD vehicle operation policy authorizes vehicle pursuits in forcible felonies or when the driving and/or other actions of the vehicle driver or occupants place the public in extreme danger.”

Sheppard added, “A preliminary review indicates that the officer acted within policy.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The city of High Springs came together with its police department, High Springs parks and recreation department and other city departments for a night of music, fun, and giveaways. For the past 39 years, on the first Tuesday in August, communities throughout America hold a National Night Out event. Over 38 million neighbors take part across 16,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories and military bases worldwide. National Night Out gives residents an evening to meet neighbors, area first responders and other organizations that provide services to the community.

“We work very well together in the city with a lot of communication, especially as the school year approaches,” said the City’s Parks and Recreation Director Damon Messina. “We like to bring fun activities like this and our summer programs to our citizens, and we have good support and working relationship with many community groups.”

High Springs is one of 100 communities in Florida that sponsor a National Night Out event. Each year High Springs first responders and City staff host the event at the Civic Center field. A line of police and fire vehicles are parked with lights flashing for kids to explore along with games and prizes hosted by local civic organizations and churches.

“The goal is to get out there and interact with the community, show we are their neighbors whose kids attend the same school, we shop at the same stores and attend the same churches,” said High Springs Police Chief Antoine Sheppard. “We want to break down the walls that hinder communication. We want to empower the community with the ability for them help protect their community and to have a more confidence in working together with the police as a team. But we want it to be a fun event as well.”

This year, a long line of parents and students formed at the doors of the civic center for a back-to-school giveaway. Deeper Purpose Church, 1st Baptist Church, Lee's Pre School, Santa Fe Kiwanis club and the GFWC High Springs Womens Club spent months gathering new school supplies to distribute at the event to families. Everything was laid out in orderly rows as families collected needed supplies for the start of a new school year.

Outside, police and fire vehicles were parked with crews who were interacting with people and giving tours of their vehicles to curious children. A DJ played music for the crowd as people lined up for free hot dogs, pizza or burgers served by police and City staff

Various groups set up stations to give away small prizes or games for the kids. By far though, the favorite game was a dunking machine. People took turns testing their skills at tossing a baseball at a bullseye target to dunk a police officer in a water filled tank. Police officers took their dunking good naturedly, even encouraging children to hit the target with their fists to send the officer into the water accompanied by hilarious laughter and a resounding splash.

The High Springs Lions Club had their “train” on site offering free rides to children while the Florida National Guard gave tours of a Humvee. In the middle of the field was a small kiddie pool filled with water balloons, which quickly turned into a favorite spot for the kids, as they threw water balloons at each other and at several daring police officers who became involved.

The event brought residents out for a fun evening where they could meet their neighbors and meet with police officers and firefighters who protect the public. “We want to maintain a positive environment for our residents,” said Messina. “Let them know that the City of High Springs and first responders are there for them as part of the same community.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has temporarily suspended disconnections for electric and water utility usage for customers with balances less than $500.

These relief measures are part of a broader plan to help address high utility bills due to increased fuel costs and higher consumption to combat extreme summer heat. This extended grace period will continue through Sept. 30, 2022. Costs are rising in many areas – rent, gas, groceries – for consumers throughout the United States. And utility bills typically peak in the months of July and August in North Central Florida.

Newberry is encouraging customers to do their best to stay current with their bills, as payments will be deferred, not waived. The grace period will apply to any customer – residential or business – who needs more time to pay their bill. Residents needing utility bill assistance or payment arrangements should contact Newberry’s customer service team at 352-472-2161, Ext. 1 or by email at Service@NewberryFL.gov.

“We understand the impact that these extremely high natural gas prices have had on energy costs for our residents. These increased fuel costs, coupled with high temperatures, have made this summer's utility bills extremely tough for our community,” said Assistant City Manager and CFO Dallas Lee. “We're a publicly-owned utility that exists to serve our residents. We're hopeful that these measures will alleviate some of the stress our residents are feeling.”

Customers are asked to be conscious of their electricity use at this time and take steps to try to reduce usage, if possible. Using the new tools available in the City’s online AMI dashboard can help customers understand their usage and curb their consumption. Newberry also offers free in-home energy audits, and customers can request one online or by calling 352-472-2161, Ext. 1, or use the City’s online energy auditing tool at www.MyEnergyPlanner.com to get ideas and information about lowering their bills.

“With rising energy costs across the nation, and understanding that citizens are having to make difficult choices, we felt that it was a small gesture to remove their worries of being cut off from water or power in the middle of the summer,” said Mayor Jordan Marlowe. “We know that many families have to make choices between food, health care and utilities, and we stand with our residents in these hard times, as partners. Together, we will get through this,” he said.

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