ALACHUA – The County Commission has approved a tax incentive for an Alachua-based company that designs high-efficiency batteries.

Encell Technology, located just outside the city limits of Alachua, will receive a little over $1 million in tax credits from the county and the state.  

The state and county will be responsible for 80 and 20 percent of the $1.1 million tax credit, respectively. The tax credit is called a qualified target industry incentive, and is based on three things: the number of jobs a company expects to bring to the county, the average wage of that company's employees compared to the average wage in the county and the amount of money the company will need to invest in new equipment that is taxable by the county.

In Encell's case, their incentive will last for six years. The company estimates over that time period, it will create 167 jobs in the area through its expanded facility located off U.S. Highway 441 in the former Energizer campus. It also expects its employees to be paid two to three times the average wage for Alachua County.

"We're bringing in everything from Ph.D level jobs down to assembly jobs," said Encell spokesman Chris Maier.

The projected annual wage for the new jobs will average about $73,000, with $15,000 in benefits, according to Encell.

Encell is considering Louisiana, Virginia and North Carolina as possible locations for an expansion. The current location will require a $7 million investment to bring it up to regulatory requirements for a production facility.

Encell is currently working on an environmentally-friendly, high-capacity battery that can be used to store energy from solar panels and wind farms, as well as provide backup power for data centers and cell towers.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Poe Springs, the County Road 236 paving project and fire protection topped the list of high priority topics at the June 13 joint meeting between the High Springs City Commission and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

Lee Pinkoson, Vice Chair for Alachua County, sat in for Mike Byerly, who was not able to attend. Pinkoson and High Springs Mayor Sue Weller took turns leading discussions on the county’s Fire Service Master Plan, as it relates to High Springs Rescue 29, the re-opening of Poe Springs Park, the County Road 236 paving project, which has been on-hold for some time, extension of the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Boundary Adjustment Act, and the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO).

A number of matters remained unresolved as both the county and city are constrained by reduced funding as compared to recent years.

Fire rescue

Currently, the City of High Springs does not have a rescue vehicle stationed in the city limits. It relies on Rescue 20, located near the dump between High Springs and Alachua, which serves both cities.

The Fire Service Master Plan calls for establishing a rescue vehicle and two people to operate it at the newly-renovated High Springs Fire Department and High Springs. Bruce Gillingham, the city’s fire chief, reported he has been contacted by the county to determine if space was available for the addition of the truck and personnel. However, county commissioners seemed reluctant to make a commitment regarding additional equipment or manpower.

After the meeting, Gillingham said the county was unable to provide specific information to the city as to whether he needs to include the vehicle and two people in their space allocation. Gillingham is currently allocating space in the new addition to the fire station, which is nearing completion. He said it would be helpful to know whether he needed to accommodate additional equipment and personnel in his planning efforts.

“It appears funding is a major issue for them as it is for everyone right now. We will proceed as usual as far as our planning is concerned,” Gillingham said. “If things change in the near future, we’ll back up and reconfigure our plans.”

Poe Springs

A couple of years ago, the county asked if High Springs might consider managing the Poe Springs recreational park. Renovations and improvements to the property by the county are nearing completion. According to the county, the park should be reopening soon.

City Manager Ed Booth said the city currently does not have funding for that type of undertaking. The city is in the early stages of considering budgeting for a part-time recreation director as the new fiscal year draws closer. A recreation director would be the likely position to manage the park.

County Road 236

The County Road 236 paving project, once listed on top of the county’s list of road paving projects, has taken a back seat to other projects in the past few years. While the road has been engineered and it is a partially funded project, the county does not have the money to proceed with the work at this time. Failed efforts to institute an additional tax for a 15-year time period in Alachua County would have brought additional funding for roads into the county’s coffers. Non-passage of the tax has limited the county’s ability to proceed with the project.

Mayor Weller said the road runs in front of a school and out to I-75, suggesting that part of the road could be paved, especially the section in front of the school, if the county didn’t have funding for the whole project.

Pinkoson indicated they were looking for grant money to handle many of the pending projects, but suggested that the possible inclusion of the smaller communities into Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO) might be the answer to funding issues related to road paving and construction in the county.

Boundary Adjustment Act

County officials agreed to consider possible changes to the Boundary Adjustment Act if the Alachua League of Cities comes forth with proposed changes that all of the cities in the county could agree upon.

The Act is the governing method by which Alachua County’s municipal governments can annex property. It was officially adopted by the state legislature in 1990, but Alachua County was the only county in Florida to adopt it.

All other counties rely on Chapter 171, Part II, Florida Statutes, Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement Act, which governs annexation or contraction of property by municipal governments.

Many people believe the law should either be revised or repealed so that Alachua County could work under the guidelines of Chapter 171 like the rest of the state.

MTPO

A discussion of a referendum to include the smaller municipal areas in the MTPO was the last agenda item for discussion. Currently, the MTPO is made up of the county commissioners and the city commissioners from Gainesville with Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper as a Florida League of Cities representative without voting rights on that board.

The county was seeking support of the smaller cities and outlying county areas to put a referendum on the ballot to include the entire county in the MTPO.

Pinkoson said the subject of how the MTPO might be reorganized later was not really the topic of his discussion. He said he thought it was crucial to get input from the smaller cities before putting something on the ballot. “Without the support of the outlying areas, we have no chance to make it work,” said Pinkoson. “We are trying to get input as to the use of the [MTPO] funds,” he said.

Projects would still be funneled through the county, but funding requests will be going through the MTPO, he explained. He said they had already received a project list from the city, but that it could be modified, if needed.

As always, funding is the sticking point for many of the decisions that depend on revenues for implementation.

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W - Poe Springs Project 05 07 13 007 copy

 Over a year later and with summer around the corner, Poe Springs remains closed as renovations and repairs have taken longer than anyone anticipated.

HIGH SPRINGS – It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to be responsible for picking up the trash in Poe Springs and making sure the restrooms work.

Last year, the City of High Springs came to the county with the idea of taking over management of the park's daily operations, a job that mainly requires keeping the location clean and maintaining the facilities. In return, the city would keep the revenue earned by the springs to pay for the cost of management, as well as the hope of attracting more visitors to High Springs to spend money in local businesses. Negotiations fell through, but the county is still willing to look at the prospect, said Mark Sexton, spokesman for Alachua County.

"The option is still out there," he said.

Currently, several members of the city government have said there are no plans at the moment to resume talks, but once the city's financial issues are addressed, that could change.

"We're just in the process of getting our budget straight," said City Manager Ed Booth. It will probably take about two years before the city would be in a position to take over, he said. Booth said the first step would be an extensive reevaluation of the costs and benefits of running the park.

Funding was the final straw that killed the original negotiations, but there were other factors, Booth said.

A major obstacle was the fact that the county had to perform heavy renovations to the park, and the completion date kept getting pushed back, said High Springs Mayor Sue Weller. When the county had estimated the renovations would be done by late last year, the city lost interest because it didn't want to operate the park for several months before it became profitable in the summer, she said.

The overhaul still isn't finished, but the current completion date is set to be within three to four weeks, said Robert Avery, Alachua County director of Parks and Recreation.    

The steps leading into the springs were breaking down, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told the county they had to remove beach sand from the area to prevent it from getting washed into the springs, Avery said. A retaining wall also needs to be replaced. The cost of the renovations was originally around $86,000 Avery said, but has swollen to nearly $147,000.

When the park opened in 1992, Alachua County contracted the day-to-day management to the YMCA. In 2009, the private company Nature Quest took it over, but that arrangement ended in late 2011. Since then, the county has managed Poe Springs.

City Commissioner Bob Barnas was the biggest proponent of the arrangement, said Damon Messina, who acted as the director of Parks and Recreation for High Springs at the time of the talks. Barnas was the one who originally took a takeover plan to the county, said Alachua County spokesman Sexton. The original plan assumed High Springs would more or less break even on the cost of running the park with the revenue it would have made, but might see more economic activity in local restaurants and businesses, said Mayor Weller. Barnas declined to comment. Weller wasn't convinced the city would even make enough money to break even, and doubted the idea that people visiting Poe Springs would come into town and spend money.

"No program that was presented shows how we would get people from Poe Springs to come into High Springs."

The idea of raising prices and expanding the number of days the park is open is one possible option.

"The admission rate would probably have to go up," said City Manager Booth.

If the city hypothetically made enough money running the springs that it was turning a large profit, the county would renegotiate the contract, said Alachua Parks and Recreation Director Avery. It is unlikely that will happen, though, he added.

"The park has always been self-sufficient," he said, but "they'd be doing pretty good to just break even."

Though Booth estimates it will be about two years before the city's budget could realistically be enough to consider taking over Poe Springs, the possibility of opening up a dialogue about the idea could start much sooner, said Mayor Weller.

The High Springs budget for next year will be presented in July, and plans to look into the viability of taking over the park could be presented then.

"I haven't heard anyone discussing it, but I suspect there is still an interest," Weller said. "If it just came to a vote just to see if in fact it would be feasible for the city to run Poe Springs, I think that would be something that would probably pass."

If High Springs decides not to pursue a management takeover, the county could keep running the springs itself, said county spokesman Sexton.

"We're prepared to operate the park as part of the county park system," he said. The county might also look to contract with another company like Nature Quest.

Because High Springs has an immediate interest in making sure Poe Springs does well, he said it makes sense for them to take the park over. Once the renovation work is done, Sexton said it is his understanding there will be a renewed conversation with the city.

"The county is certainly open to the idea," he said. "It rests in the hands of the High Springs commissioners."

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W - Truck Utility Pole DSCF7905 copy

 

A tractor-trailer knocked out power in areas of Alachua Tuesday evening after clipping a power pole and downing electric lines.

ALACHUA – A tractor-trailer traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua Tuesday evening clipped a power pole in half. The truck driver was attempting to turn around and made a right hand turn onto NW 149th Place thinking it would lead back out to 441 when the truck hit the pole, breaking it in half.

Power lines were detached and electricity was knocked out in areas of the city. City of Alachua utility crews worked around the clock to restore power to residents and businesses that were affected by the outage. A majority of the power outages experienced lasted nearly six hours, but some residents were without power until 5:30 Wednesday morning due to the magnitude of the damage.

“Whenever a crash occurs involving high voltage power lines and transformers, we not only worry about injuries from the impact itself, but also secondary injuries caused by the sheer voltage contained in the downed lines,” said Alachua Police Department Officer Jesse Sandusky. “Thankfully, there were no injuries reported as a result of this crash.”

The total cost of damages is currently estimated at $20,000. The truck is registered to Stevens Transport, Inc., of Dallas, Texas. Truck driver Jamall Norman Kezwick, 28, of Mound Bayou, La., was cited for careless driving.

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W - BSA Troop 69 eagle 1Eagle Scout Seth Montgomery led a service project of constructing planter boxes at Mebane Middle School that will be used to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for student lunches.

HIGH SPRINGS – On June 4, 2013, Seth Montgomery of High Springs Boy Scout Troop 69 officially completed the requirements for obtaining his Eagle Scout rank. 

Montgomery’s Eagle Scout Service Project was to plan, develop and lead others in construction of planter boxes for Mebane Middle School in Alachua.  The planter boxes will grow strawberries and cucumbers which will be placed on Mebane students’ lunch menu.

Kathy Schmitt, Manager of Food Services at Mebane, was the local representative heading up the Eagle Scout project. On April 6, 2013 the boxes were set up on school grounds. Schmitt has accepted the boxes as complete saying they are “wonderful.”

Prior to completion of his Eagle service project, Montgomery worked his way through five ranks of Scouting, earning the rank of Life Scout.  After completion of the service project he underwent his Eagle Board of Review on June 4, 2013 and earned the rank of Eagle Scout, a rank that on average, only about 3 percent of all Scouts ever achieve. Also completing his Eagle Board of Review on June 4 was fellow Troop 69 scout Layne Bloodsworth who has officially earned scouting’s top rank.

Throughout his venture, Montgomery completed and earned numerous merit badges and provided community service hours, among other requirements, in order to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

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GAINESVILLE – The preferred candidate for the position of county manager has turned down the offer, again.

Stockton Whitten went from runner-up to top pick for the job last week when the previous first choice, James Bourey of Greenville, S.C., decided on another job outside of the county. Now, a week after Whitten took the lead, he has dropped out as well.

Whitten sent an email to County Commissioner Mike Byerly Tuesday morning, informing him of his decision. The message read:

"I trust that this correspondence reaches you in a timely fashion.  I certainly appreciate your time and willingness to discuss the proposed contract offer forwarded to my attention by the County Attorney's Office.  I have reviewed the documentation in great detail and spent the last week in consultation with my family regarding the opportunity.  I have always felt that Alachua County would be a great place to live, work, and raise a family and I am still of that opinion today.  This was bolstered by the many wonderful people I had a chance to meet during the interview process.    However, in reflecting on the totality of the circumstances, I believe at this juncture, it is in the best interest for me and my family to remain in Brevard County."

Whitten is currently the deputy county manager in Brevard County, a position he got late last year. He was an assistant county manager for 12 years before that.

The third choice for the job is Charles Oliver, CEO of Oliver & Associates in Pensacola. The county will still have to negotiate with him regarding a contract.

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W - Station BakeryDSCF7899 copy

Sonny Richards is still serving up local favorites from a menu of sandwiches and sweets at the eatery’s new Santa Fe Boulevard location.

HIGH SPRINGS – After nearly 12 years of operating out of a building near the railroad tracks, a familiar eatery has moved. The Station Bakery & Cafe moved to their new location at 201 Santa Fe Boulevard in early May.

The Station first opened its doors in 2001, after Sonny and Suzanne Richards, along with their daughter, Laura Janicki, came across the train station situated on Railroad Avenue. The family decided that it would be the ideal place to open a bakery.

As a family-run business, they came up with each of the menu items and soon became known for their assortment of sandwiches, cakes and éclairs.

Although they are no longer located in a train station, The Station will keep their name and the train theme. Railroad lanterns hang from the ceiling and model trains decorate the counter.

“We are still in the process of putting up the train pictures,” Janicki said.

The new location provides the bakery with a larger kitchen and double the seating. The family has also hired two new employees to help with the shop.

Janicki said that the new place is in a more convenient location for customers and that it provides a great opportunity for business.

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