HIGH SPRINGS – With the deadline regarding the Alachua County Combined Communications Center (CCC) fast approaching, the City of High Springs plans to hold workshops to discuss the cost and possibility of moving emergency dispatch operations back into the city.

On July 1, the city must report to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office the decision it makes regarding the CCC. If High Springs chooses to stay with the County, the city will be required to rename its streets and change street signs to be consistent with the rest of the county.

Alachua County operates on a grid system, which is centered on Gainesville’s University Avenue and Main Street. Because street addresses in High Springs do not conform to the grid system, when a call comes into the CCC, the current street names direct emergency responders to two separate addresses, one in High Springs and one in another part of Alachua County.

The cost of returning to a city-operated dispatch may be more than the city can afford, even though the commission seems to be in favor of bringing it back. Ron Langman, City Manager Jeri Langman’s husband, worked with city employee Ginger Travers and city Finance Services Director Helen McIver to provide the commission with estimates of the additional costs High Springs may incur if the transition occurs.

Ron Langman said the city could end up paying between $104,958 and $130,486 more a year than they already pay with the Alachua County Combined Communication Center. Annually, it is estimated the city’s local dispatch could cost between $225,072 and $246,100. Currently, the City of High Springs pays an annual average of $82,111 for the CCC.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin advocates bringing the dispatch back to the city to create autonomy. She said it is a drawing point to people searching for a future hometown that High Springs has its own police department and fire department.

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Old West shootouts complete with desperadoes and smoking guns set the stage for the 36th Annual Pioneer Days in High Springs this past weekend.

 HIGH SPRINGS – Steven Warren stood armed near a house, “Come out, and no one will be hurt,” he shouted across the dirt space.

“Like I’m gonna believe that,” one man barked from the house.

More words were exchanged, but finally Warren gave orders to an armed gang surrounding the area. “Alright boys, let’s take ‘em.”

As the gang started to approach the house, a loud crack interrupted the attack. The men scrambled to take cover as a shootout between the gang and the family inside the house began.

When the gang tried to flank the house, the encroaching attacker fell to the ground with a thud.

He wasn’t really dead, though. The “gang member” was part of the “Not So Young Guns,” a team of men and women who travel around the state performing reenactments.

There were four showings of the reenactment in downtown High Springs Saturday and Sunday. It was part of the 36th Annual Pioneer Days. More than 38 vendors participated in the town’s annual return to the 19th Century time of cowboys, presented by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Ocklawaha resident Barbara W. Silagi watched a man nearby crack a whip on the dirt road. He could kill a rattlesnake with that if he wanted to, she said.

While the whip cracked back and forth, Silagi continued spinning threads of fabric into pendants. She was wearing a floral-printed bonnet and a matching long-sleeved dress that flowed down to the ground.

Silagi wasn’t the only one to dress up for the event. There was a kids costume contest on Saturday, featuring children from toddlers to 9-year-olds. Alyssa Bunkley, 4, of Gilchrist County, donned a lime green bonnet and matching long dress that her great-grandmother made for her. She tied for first place in her age division.

Wildwood resident Harry Driggers showed his enthusiasm for the pioneer days in a different way. He brought his prized covered wagon on Saturday. The wagon was originally purchased in Montana in 1912. Driggers purchased the sheep herder wagon in 2007 and restored it to look authentic.

Driggers said his interest in the pioneer era stemmed from his father, who was one of the “old Florida cracker cowboys.” His father worked the cattle near Paynes Prairie, Driggers said.

Retired from a career in law enforcement, Driggers returns to a more peaceful lifestyle in Wildwood. He said the wagon both reminds him of his heritage, but is also kind of like a toy for him.

“When you get old you gotta have something to play with,” Driggers said.

Other vendors presented their products in a more modern way. Melissa Diedricks, of Ambrosia Candies, didn’t dress up in pioneer costumes to sell peanut brittle, but enjoyed seeing the costumed visitors walk up and down the street of vendors. “We love all the costumes,” she said.

Another vendor, Shauna Lee, of High Springs, came to advertise her new business, Vintage Fudge. Lee said that the fudge shop will open on Main Street, across from The Great Outdoors Restaurant.

Visitors could enjoy live music from Cowboy Dave, Velvetta Underground, Chris Newman and other musicians at the gazebo, judge the pie contest entries at Heritage Village and then grab a seat for the shootout.

Many of the visitors said the food and atmosphere keep them coming back to the annual event, but the younger visitors were intrigued by the bounce houses and rock climbing in the Kids Korral. Kaelyn Kinney, 5, of High Springs, said her favorite part of the event was the slide.

Sandra Webb, the events manager for the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, said that although this year’s parade was cancelled, she feels like this year’s event was a success. She said the volunteers from the Criminal Justice Academy at Newberry High School ensured the event ran smoothly.

“Everyone seems like they’re having a good day,” she said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Even though the City of High Springs budgeted revenue from Poe Springs Park for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, it appears that revenue will not be realized as the park will not be taken over by the city.

At the April 24 commission meeting, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas updated the commission on the status of the park. He said there has been some difficulty revolving around the installation of steps leading into the springs. When the construction company removed the dirt, water continuously seeped through, making it impossible for concrete to be poured to create the steps.

Instead, a series of pre-fabricated steps that will interlock into place will be installed. This decision means the park will have to go back to Alachua County to ask for more money. It is estimated that the project could be finished by July.

The City of High Springs is unwilling to wait that long because peak summer season would almost be over by the time Poe Springs traded hands, reducing revenues the city would receive.

“They still want us to be willing to talk in the future,” Barnas said. “But they understand we’re under no obligation to do anything now.”

Barnas said Poe Springs Park will keep the city informed of developments.

The commission agreed not to move forward until the steps are completed. Commissioner Sue Weller requested that the city write a letter to Alachua County detailing why High Springs no longer wants to take over Poe Springs this year.

The City of High Springs recently hired Parks and Recreation Coordinator Karla Carusone, at least in part, based on the assumption that her salary would be covered by funds generated by the Poe Springs venture. Carusone is paid $14 per hour, which is approximately $29,120 annually. But her position comes at a total annualized cost of some $41,400 when calculating taxes, benefits and other employment costs. There have been no discussions concerning how the city will fund the recreation position now that the acquisition of Poe Springs seems unlikely.

A related matter concerns the fate of a golf cart which the city purchased for an estimated $1,700 under the direction of Barnas for use at Poe Springs.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Residents of the City of High Springs may see a spike in their water and sewer bill in the coming months.

At the April 26 commission meeting, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas requested that the commission hold a workshop to discuss potential rate changes. That workshop has been scheduled for Thursday, May 3 at 6:30 p.m., City Manager Jeri Langman said.

While the vast majority of the estimated 1,100 sewer customers currently pay $34.41 for the first 5,000 gallons of usage each month, Barnas said the sewer rates would have to increase to $63.86 to pay for the cost of the sewer. This figure would not allow for the city to make a profit, simply cover debt and operating expenses.

Currently, commercial customers pay $46.44 for the first 5,000 gallons.  After the first 5,000 gallons, both residential and commercial customers pay $6.87 per 1,000 gallons of usage.

In early March, the commission said the city was $8.5 million in debt because of the sewer, and Barnas pointed out a $40,000 deficit on the 2011-2012 fiscal year in the sewer fund during the April 19 budget workshop. All five of the commissioners listed the sewer as one of their top priorities. In the past, the city has taken money from the water fund to cover the rising sewer debt, Barnas said.

During the April 19 workshop, Commissioner Scott Jamison expressed concern about the fact that some High Springs residents had already paid in money to the sewer when installations were being made. He paid $6,000, but other neighborhoods were covered by grant money and didn’t have to pay anything for the installation.

In December 2011, Mayor Dean Davis, Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin opposed raising water, sewer or solid waste rates, despite the fact that the increase had already been factored into the fiscal year budget. At the time, Finance Services Director Helen McIver warned the commission that not passing the rate increase could create a $70,000 shortfall in the budget.

During the April 26 meeting, the commission also discussed the possibility of refinancing the sewer debt. However, City Manager Jeri Langman said that refinancing through the government program the city had in mind would be impossible because the program was only for transportation debt.

Langman said she could continue to search for options, but felt the city would have trouble showing its ability to repay. Barnas said he would keep searching for options and report back to the commission.

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HAWTHORNE – By day, Lindsey Phillips Park is a place where people can go fishing or have picnics, but every night at dusk, the park gate is closed to prevent crime.

Now that the volunteer who closed the park every night has decided to quit, the task has been left in the hands of city staff.

At Tuesday night’s commission meeting, Parks and Recreation Manager Samuel Wynkoop presented a $10,000 proposal for an electronic gate at the Lindsey Phillips Park at 6905 SE U.S. Highway 301. This would cut down on staff time that it took to open and close the gate every day.

The gate would be paid out of the Alachua County Wild Spaces & Public Places fund, he said. City Manager Ellen Vause said the cost would offset very quickly.

For the most part, the commission agreed that the cost of the gate was not a reasonable solution.

“Why do we need the park locked in the first place?” Vice Mayor Tommie Howard asked.

Mayor Matthew Surrency responded that before locking the park, “street ladies” and other questionable characters made the park unsafe.

Residents echoed concerns about the park.

Memree Stuart said she remembers a time when the park was a great place, but now it’s a place that she’d rather not let people see.

If the park gates were left open, the park would once again become an unsafe place, she said.

Former city commissioner Eddie Martin said the issue of what to do with the park has to do with protecting the reputation of Hawthorne.

Partnering with local businesses and getting recommendations from a crime survey through the Alachua County Sheriff Department’s Crime Prevention Program were also brought up in the discussion.

The commission did not come to a definite solution about how to handle the park, but agreed to volunteer closing the park until they reach a solution.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City of High Springs and Police Chief Steve Holley was sent back to the drawing board at the Thursday, April 26, commission meeting after sparking a debate between commissioners.

“I’d like to express my reservations about the process of granting an MOU, which guarantees future employment to an individual employee. Let me emphasize, my concern is with the process, not the individual,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “This is a slippery slope we do not want to go down.”

Police Chief Holley sought a MOU to ensure that he would return to his previous job as police sergeant if he was fired from the police chief position. Jamison felt management was attempting to protect an employee, but he wondered why Holley was the focus of the MOU. Other employees, such as the city’s fire chief, do not have an MOU guaranteeing a job with the city should they be removed from a department head position.

Jamison expressed two issues focused around the MOU, one a legal issue and the other a fairness issue.  He stated that legally the commission, under Charter Section 206, had no authority to promise a position of a city employee, especially being that Holley is not a Charter officer. By approving the MOU, the City of High Springs would be inserting politics into the hiring process of city employees.

It was also a matter of fairness that caused Jamison to have concerns. He said the MOU would send a message to other employees that Holley was a favorite of the commission, adding that every employee should be treated fairly and equitably.

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas supported the MOU as a way for the city to avoid a contract that might contain a hefty severance package, referencing $77,000 plus benefits paid to former Police Chief Jim Troiano.

The MOU “was done to be good to a man who had devoted his life to the city and done more than any previous Police Chief had done,” Barnas said referring to Holley.

In response to comments made by Jamison, Barnas said the MOU should be discarded and Holley should seek an iron-clad contract similar to contracts held by the former police chief and city manager.

Previous Police Chief Troiano had a contract with the city allowing for his termination with or without any reason or cause. In return, he received six months’ severance. His contract, or MOU, also didn’t allow for him take a patrol officer position should he be removed as chief. He was dismissed, as cited by a city press release, due to possible structural changes.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said that City Clerk Jenny Parham has an MOU with the city commission that guaranteed her job as city clerk after her time as interim city manager was over. Jamison countered that Parham is different because she is a Charter member.

After a debate, the commission tabled the agenda item concerning a MOU with Holley until the next meeting. They directed City Attorney Raymond Ivey to return with options about how the city could proceed, including a potential employment contract.

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Irby Elementary’s outgoing principal, Lina Burklew, third from left, was honored during a recent farewell celebration at the school

ALACHUA – Amid friends and coworkers, Irby Elementary Principal Lina Burklew celebrated the end of her time at the Alachua elementary school and the beginning of a new adventure at Gainesville’s Talbot Elementary.

On Wednesday, April 18, Irby staff and PTA members decorated the school’s media center to look like paradise, complete with hibiscus blooms, colorful beads and tropical-themed party favors. Adding to the festivities were the tables sprinkled with flowers and miniature flip flops.

In keeping with the theme, Burklew said after five and a half years, she saw each day at Irby as “another day in paradise.”

Burklew’s husband, Brad, had served as the principal of Talbot, but he will be moving to Gainesville’s newest elementary school, which is scheduled to open this coming fall.  Effective April 23, Lina Burklew moved to Talbot to cover the vacancy being left by her husband.  Brad Burklew worked as Talbot’s principal for five years before being assigned to the new Meadowbrook Elementary on NW 39th Avenue in Gainesville.

“We’re happy for her,” Irby speech pathologist and Alachua City Commissioner elect Shirley Green Brown said. “I’m sure she will be a highly effective principal at Talbot as she follows in her husband’s footsteps.”

During the reception, teachers and PTA members came forward to present Burklew with gifts and stories about the memories they’ve shared over the years.

Nancy Morrison, a first grade teacher, said losing their principal was a combination of happiness and sadness.

“She’s been a wonderful administrator and friend,” Morrison said. “The basis of education is learning and growing. This is her opportunity to continue to grow professionally.”

Special education teacher Fern Gold said Burklew always supported the teachers and tried to understand any problems, whether good or bad.

Cindi Asmuth added to Gold’s observation by saying Burklew was never too busy to stop and help.

After receiving her Bachelor and Master’s degrees from the University of Florida, Burkley started her educational career at Hidden Oak Elementary, eventually finding her way to Irby.  She has worked in education for 18 years.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the people here,” Burklew said. While she will miss Irby, she is excited about the challenge awaiting her at her new school.

“Alachua is a wonderful, supportive community,” she said. When she first started at Irby, her goal was to get to know the staff, the parents and, of course, the children. Because of all the people she has worked with, Burklew believes she has become a stronger leader.

“Some schools say they are a family,” Burklew said to her friends and colleagues at Irby. “We truly are a family.”

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