W_-_Newberry_Election_IMG_9825_copyL-R: Barbara Dudley, Sandra Marin, Shanna Adams and Jason Waldrop hold campaign signs as cars pull into the parking lot to the Newberry Fire Station on Tuesday.
NEWBERRY – A crowd of over 50 people gathered around the Newberry Fire Station Tuesday night. The polls were closed, and they were waiting for the results of the general election.

Three commissioners were up for re-election on Tuesday, and all three won against their respective opponents. Incumbents Joe Hoffman, Lois Forte and Alena Lawson will serve another two years on the Newberry City Commission.

Candidates and supporters arrived at the fire station early Tuesday morning to greet voters as the polls opened at 7 a.m.

After the ballots were counted, the numbers showed that nearly 700 voters turned out and another 69 filled out absentee ballots.

In Group 1, Hoffman, a city commissioner since 2002, won against his two challengers with over 60 percent of the vote. Opponents, business owner Tim Marden and long-time Newberry resident Linda Woodcock garnered 100 and 230 votes, respectively.

Hoffman said he thinks the election results reflect a positive attitude about the city’s dealings with sports tourism.

“This is a lot of hard work by a lot of good people,” he said.

A slightly narrower gap was found between the candidates in Group 2. The two candidates were separated by only about 10 percent, or 81 votes. With 423 votes, Forte, who has served the Newberry City Commission for about 20 years, defeated Newberry Main Street Program Director Barbara Hendrix, who earned 342 votes.

In the last couple of elections, Forte has run unopposed, and her eyes filled with tears when it was announced that she had won.

“I just worked so hard this time,” she said.

Of the people that showed up to vote, Forte said, “I just thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Hendrix said she hopes to run again in a couple of years.

In Group 3, Lawson retained her seat with 449 votes. Monty Farnsworth, a former city commissioner and nurse, pulled out 311 votes.

Lawson said she learned a lot from her constituents during her door-to-door campaign.

“I’m elated that I was elected for a sixth term, but I don’t take constituents for granted,” she said.

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GAINESVILLE – Roberta Lopez, former Archer mayor and city commissioner, has filed to run for the Alachua County Commission District One seat.

Lopez was born in Archer, and in 2000, returned to the town after living in Washington, D.C. and Tampa.

In a statement, Lopez said she returned to her birthplace to give back to the community that raised her. Her first tasks as a community leader included registering unregistered voters and co-founding the Northwest Archer Community Association which developed a plan that beautified Archer neighborhoods and provided home repair assistance to the elderly.

Lopez, a lifelong Democrat, said she hopes to include a wide coalition of progressive voices in her campaign. “I know from experience that as an elected official the most important part of the job is listening to the community.”

Lopez says her goals include bringing a range of issues to the forefront of the campaign, including an expansion of economic opportunity and a return to responsive government. “I am excited and energized by the opportunity to talk with the voters of Alachua County, and to truly hear what they have to say,” Lopez said, adding, “Together, I believe that we can make Alachua County better.”

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NEWBERRY – Election results in the City of Newberry commission race show incumbents Joe Hoffman, Lois Forte and Alena King Lawson retain their seats over challengers Tim Marden, Linda Woodcock, Barbara Hendrix and Monty Farnsworth.

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W_-_Nations_Park_IMG_9808_copyNEWBERRY – In the early days of American baseball, fans who didn’t want to pay the quarter to get in, would look through the cracks and knotholes of the outfield wall to check out the game.

Though it is now 2012, as Newberry’s Nations Baseball Park falls slightly behind schedule, some are wondering what exactly lies beyond that outfield wall.

Lou Presutti, who has worked closely with the City of Newberry to bring the magic from his Cooperstown Dreams Park in New York to Newberry, has a positive attitude about the park. He said the youth baseball park is about 80 or 85 percent complete.

The groundbreaking for the $7 million project was held in March of last year. The 16-field park on the corner of Southwest 30th Avenue and State Road 41 has lighted fields and a turf-grass combination that will allow kids to be able to play even when the weather isn’t ideal.

A dark green outfield wall encloses each field, and there is a section partitioned off in the corner of each field for parents to sit in chairs. Presutti said the 1920s Americana feel inspired the design for the park.

While Presutti admitted that the project has had some unanticipated construction delays, he said these were minor in the big picture.

Part of these issues had to do with a $25,000 relocation of endangered gopher tortoises at the site. Other charges came from sinkhole problems.

According to City Manager Keith Ashby, available funding should be able to pay for these charges, including a combination of revenues from Alachua County’s Tourism Development Tax and contributions from the City of Newberry and Presutti.

These delays set construction back several weeks, Presutti said. There may be a “soft” opening celebration in June and a tournament in the late summer, but it will probably be November before the park is fully operational, according to Presutti.

Despite this, he believes the economic benefits of the park will make up for these delays, and that the park’s website is an indicator of the enthusiasm for the park around the country.

The web site, which features the score from the classic western film “The Magnificent Seven,” is averaging over 10,000 hits per day, Presutti said.

Ashby also sees the value of the park to the city. “It’s just as much of an economic development project as it is a recreation project,” he said.

The park has already begun to spur other businesses to take a closer look at Newberry. Firefly and the Red Wok are two restaurants that opened this year. A new commercial and residential complex just south of Oak View Middle School has also been approved.

As far as perspective goes, Presutti said his enthusiasm is beyond optimistic. “It’s not a glass half-full kind of thing, it’s spilling all over the place.”

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HS_Candidate_forum_3-27-12_DSCF5800_copyEarly reports from the City of High Springs commission election show Scott Jamison with a solid lead over opponent Ann Carter.  More than 500 voters are said to have cast ballots in the municipal election where Carter and Jamison squared off to win a spot on the commission, filling a vacancy left when Eric May resigned from the commission.

Jamison won with 295 votes or 58.5 percent of the total while Carter picked up 209 ballots.

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ALACHUA – Election results are in for the City of Alachua in a three-way race for one seat on the city commission.

Shirley Green Brown won by a narrow margin to edge out Patricia Lee and Billy Rogers.  Brown is a speech and language pathologist with the School Board of Alachua County and will assume the seat held by Commissioner Orien Hills who decided not to seek re-election after serving five terms.

Commissioner Gary Hardacre ran unopposed for his seat on the commission.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Based on current trends, the City of High Springs could find revenues falling short for the 2011-2012 year, stated finance personnel during a budget workshop held Thursday, March 29.

City finance director Helen McIver warned that the city’s general fund could come in $75,000 short if the revenue inflow continues at the current pace. The budget report reflects some revenue items being reported at 50 to 97.12 percent uncollected.

She said the some of the concerns stemmed from franchise fees, tag agency and state revenue sharing. In franchise fees, the city could miss the anticipated budget target by $40,000, in large part because a 25-year contract with Clay Electric sunset earlier in the fiscal year.

The tag agency has seen declining revenues because people can now renew their tags online, said McIver. The tag agency has currently collected only 28 percent of the anticipated $65,000 of revenue budgeted for the year.

The inflow of tax revenues will increase during the next couple months, said McIver. But it will probably not increase enough to cover the entire $75,000 deficit predicted at the current time.

Although the city’s fiscal year budget is on an October through September annual cycle, both McIver and City Manager Jeri Langman said it is too early to predict how the city stands in terms of its yearly revenue.  Usually, Langman said, the budget process is not started until around June.

The city is working to ensure that the General Revenue Fund stays on par with the budget by cutting back on spending. McIver said the city can warn departments that funding for certain projects is no longer available. For example, if a city vehicle breaks down, it will have to be parked instead of repaired.

Staff said the city could determine if there are unspent, undedicated funds elsewhere that could be transferred to the General Revenue Fund, and there is money remaining in contingency that could be transferred if necessary. As a last resort, the city has money set aside in savings, part of which covers two months’ operating costs in case of emergency, staff reported.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas said he would prefer that the money set aside in savings remain untouched.

Barnas warned during the budget workshop that the city may see layoffs, pay cuts and department consolidation. He said if the city was a business, it would have no choice but to lay off, cut back and consolidate in such a situation.

However, Langman said that over the last three years, there has been a tremendous amount of layoffs and cutbacks.

The city identified other departments falling short on budgeted revenue as well. The wastewater system’s total revenue is currently at 75 percent unearned as of a recent monthly recap report.

McIver states that the sewer account is in the current situation because rates were budgeted to be increased, but the current commission voted in December to not raise them. Also, additional users who would create addition revenue were expected to be added on to the sewer system, but implementation of Phases 4 and 5 were halted due to the USDA withdrawing the $1.6 million needed to complete the work.

The current budget report accounts for six month’s of revenue from the projected additional users at approximately $38,000. That money will remain uncollected. McIver said if the $38,000 in projected revenue and the anticipated gain from a rate increase were to be removed from the budget, the sewer account would be on par with where it was last year at this time.

Langman said the city is working on coming up with solutions to the budget shortfall. She said in the near future, the commission will be looking at capacity fees on vacant lots and a sliding scale for the sewer bills. Currently, water rates are tied to the sewer, and the city sees a decrease in the amount of water used as a result of customer concerns of high bills. The commission will discuss the possibility of adjusting that system.

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