Alachua to host additional tournaments next year

W_-_Babe_ruth_Champts_Hal_DSCF6806_copyCity of Alachua Recreation Director Hal Brady displays one of the 2012 Babe Ruth World Series pink commemorative helmets.  Area merchants purchased a helmet for each girl to collect signatures from other teams as well as Babe Ruth officials and World Series volunteers.





ALACHUA – The Babe Ruth Softball World Series has once again brought business and pleasure to the city of Alachua.

The tournament, which brought 20 aged 12 and under softball teams to compete at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, concludes this week and has provided an influx in purchases at local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Hal Brady, recreation director for the City of Alachua, estimates that around 2,100 hotel room nights were booked in local hotels by families in town for the event.  Brady also said hotel rooms were not the only things purchased by visitors.

“A lot of families from out of town had to get rental cars,” Brady said.  “And there were many meals purchased this week.”

Babe Ruth League President Rob Connor said he is already working to arrange dates for next year’s tournament in Alachua and said the city is likely in line for a few additional tournaments next year.

Connor and the Babe Ruth League are holding the inaugural World Series for their new “Xtreme Fastpitch” softball leagues next year, and Connor said he aims to have Alachua host the championship tournaments for both the under 16 and under 14 Xtreme Fastpich leagues.

“We’re looking to add two more weekends of tournaments in Alachua,” Connor said.  “We would stagger the tournaments around the end of July and beginning of August.”

Connor said the new tournaments would also be held at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, and he estimates the championships would bring a 200 percent increase in revenue from what the Babe Ruth World Series currently brings.

The Babe Ruth Softball World Series began Friday with an opening ceremony attended by over 2,000 people, highlighted by a fireworks display and an impromptu dance competition among the many young softball players.

Brady said the fireworks were paid for primarily with $2,500 donations from both Cox Communications and the Alachua Detonators and noted that the tournament was aided largely by contributions from local merchants.

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W_-_Feature_Babe_ruth_Champs_Pitt_NC_DSCF6652_copyPitt County North Carolina takes Babe Ruth World Series Championship

ALACHUA – After a long road to the end, a team from Pitt County, North Carolina took the championship in the 2012 12U Babe Ruth Softball World Series that wrapped up Wednesday evening.  After a big 16-3 win against Marshall County, Tennessee Tuesday evening, Pitt County rode the wave into the championship games.  Having been dealt their only loss by Lodi, California in a Monday evening game, Pitt County could not afford another loss.  And it was the undefeated girls from Lodi who Pitt County would face off against in the Championship games.

Pitt County pulled out a 6-5 win in the 11:30 a.m. game against Lodi Wednesday.  With both teams having suffered a loss to each other, the two battled it out in a winner-take-all game Wednesday afternoon.  And the winner was the Pitt County team, which knocked in a 6-0 shutout to clinch the championship title.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs proposed an increase in ad valorem taxes from 6.15 mills to 6.39 mills after the motion passed 3-2 during the Thursday, Aug. 2, special budget meeting at City Hall.

“We have to find quite a bit of money to meet our budget needs,” Commissioner Sue Weller said during a Tuesday phone interview. “Until we can go through the budget and determine where cuts can be made or how different operations can be handled to come up with the money that we need, I think it’s at least better to have that higher millage rate. We can always go down, but we can’t go up.”

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made the motion to raise the tax rate to 6.39 mills after a previous motion failed.  Commissioners Scott Jamison and Weller voted with Barnas to raise the rate, while Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voted against the increase.

Weller said it is the goal of the commission to keep the rates at the current level.

“I ran on a platform of reduced taxes and listening to the people,” Mayor Dean Davis said. “I haven’t found anyone yet who wants to raise taxes.”

High Springs residents should expect to receive a notice in the mail from the Alachua County Property Appraisers Office informing them of the public hearing set for Sept. 13.

On Thursday, Aug. 2, City Manager Jeri Langman suggested raising the millage rate to 6.9 mills after she planned the 2012-2013 budget with the higher rate.

At the proposed 6.39, the City will see a decrease in the amount of ad valorem taxes it brings in. Due to falling property values, to keep the taxes level with what High Springs received this year, the commission would have to raise millage rates to 6.5849 mills.

At the meeting following the public hearing, the commission can reduce the millage rate from 6.39, but in accordance with state law, they will not be allowed to increase it. At Thursday’s meeting Barnas said he intends to suggest several cuts that would allow the City to return to the 6.15 percent rate.

The decrease in ad valorem taxes is juxtaposed against a substantial increase in City expenses, with much of the increase due to the City’s decision to operate their own emergency dispatch center, and ceasing to contract with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office for those services.  High Springs has increased the High Springs Police Department communications budget from $85,000 to $281,050.

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Agency says former planner due $8.2K

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs convened in a shade meeting on Aug. 2 to discuss an ongoing lawsuit with former city planner Christian Popoli.  In July, the City was notified by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) that the department had ruled in Popoli’s favor concerning his claim to overtime pay owed him by the City.

Initially, the DOL ruled that Popoli was due $2,057 for unpaid compensation and flex time. However, after the former city planner contested the hours, the DOL increased the amount to $8,209.

“In order to avoid a full investigation, which would be very detailed for all employees, the investigator is requesting that we pay for the uncompensated time immediately,” High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman wrote in an email to commissioners.

In addition to Popoli’s unpaid wages, the investigator suggested the City pay back wages or compensation time to current salaried employees or past employees as far back as two and a half years if they have earned it.

According to Langman, the decision will affect the following employees: Jenny Parham, Helen McIver, Bruce Gillingham, John Morrison, Steve Holley and Jeri Langman, as well as former employees James Drumm, Verne Riggal, James Troiano and William Benck.

For current employees, she recommended paying each employee on a bi-weekly basis so the City does not accumulate an outstanding balance year’s end.

In order to cover the costs associated with the DOL’s finding, the City’s contingency fund for this fiscal year will be affected, as well as departmental budgets in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Due to the ongoing litigation, the city commission has not discussed this issue during an open public meeting.

However, in an email, Commissioner Linda Gestrin advised Langman to seek a second opinion from an attorney before any direction is given regarding paying employees.

City Clerk Jenny Parham responded to Gestrin’s inquiry by stating Langman intended to contact an employment attorney and inform the commission prior to paying the compensation time.

As of Aug. 8, Popoli still had not received the money.  Based on the shade meeting, Popoli said he believes the City will try to fight the ruling.

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “But I rather hoped that once the DOL made the recommendation that they [the City] would follow through.”

In lieu of suing the City, Popoli had earlier requested a $147,000 severance package. The City denied his request.

After working for the City of High Springs for six years, Popoli was laid off, with his salary savings earmarked to fund a newly created city engineer position.  Popoli applied for the job, but during an April 12 commission meeting Mayor Dean Davis raised doubts about Popoli’s qualifications as a city engineer.

Popoli expects that his attorney Linda Chapman will be filing a lawsuit against the City in the coming weeks.

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HIGH SPRINGS – After discussing the High Springs fire department budget, the High Springs City Commission set the preliminary fire assessment fee at $99 in a 3-2 vote during a July 31 special meeting.

On Aug. 23, a public hearing will be held to allow comments from the residents regarding the decision. The City still has the option to return the fee to the current year rate of $73.

The fire department 2012-2013fiscal year budget reflects shortfalls, which the higher assessment fee will help reduce. But even accounting for the increased fee, the department will still be in a deficit situation, requiring transfers from the City’s general fund to cover all the costs.

“I don’t know if we truly appreciate how much we are going to have to come up with in the next budget to pay for stuff,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “I want to have the option to do what needs to be done.”

Earlier, Commissioner Sue Weller attempted to raise the fee to $112, but the motion died in a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin voting against it and Weller and Commissioner Jamison in favor.

“I’m not really interested in raising taxes or fees,” Gestrin said.

Gestrin is in favor of rolling the fire department budget over from this year to next fiscal year, as well as keeping all fees the same.

For the proposed 2012-2013 budget, the fire department budget weighs in at a proposed $1.321 million, up from last year’s $1.286 million.  With the proposed fire assessment fee set at $99, the City can expect to see approximately $60,000 in revenues from that fee alone.

According to Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham, the budget increased because of several required upgrades. One request includes $20,000 to buy new gear for current staff and incoming volunteer firemen.

“Can we exist within our operating realms and get by? Of course we can, we will make do,” Gillingham said. “But there’s some areas that if we want to keep expanding, like the volunteer program, that we’re going to have to commit a little money to this year.”

Gillingham hopes to move forward with the volunteer program and has already added nine new volunteer staff members.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In what may be a series of legal missteps, the High Springs City Commission passed an ordinance at the July 31 meeting, and then quickly rescinded the motion and passed a subsequent one placing a charter amendment on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would limit the Commission’s borrowing authority to $1 million.

During the July 31 public hearing, the Commission initially passed Ordinance 2012-13, proposing a charter amendment to limit the borrowing authority to $2 million, although the public hearing notice had been advertised with a $1 million limit.  After closing out the public hearing, the Commission then voted to change the proposed charter amendment again to reduce the “municipal borrowing” authority amount from $2 million to $1 million.

That measure passed 3-2 with Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison opposing.  Prior to the re-vote, former High Springs City Attorney Thomas Depeter informed the commission that passing the reconsideration violated the law, indicating that the ordinance would have to be advertised again to give notice to the public and that a subsequent public hearing would be necessary.

The commission voted 3-2, with Commissioners Scott Jamison and Sue Weller opposing and Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin in favor, to suspend the rules and take up the matter immediately.

“It has been brought to my attention that we may also have a procedural issue with the passing of ordinance 2012-13 by its amendment,” City Attorney Ray Ivey said later in the meeting regarding the amended ordinance.

He stated if any substantial change was made to an ordinance then the process must start anew and be advertised again. According to Ivey, the increase from $1 million to $2 million could be considered a substantial change.

“My recommendation, rather than analyze it and second guess ourselves, is just redo it,” Ivey said. “You start the process over.”

In order to have adequate time to get the ordinance on the ballot for the November election, the ordinance had to be acted upon at the July 31 meeting. However, Ivey said that returning to the original ordinance still violated the law.

Despite the warning, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas made a motion to reconsider the ordinance and return it to its advertised language. With the rules suspended, the motion passed.

In November, barring any injunctions against the ordinance, High Springs residents will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to limit the Commission’s borrowing authority to $1 million or less.

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 ALACHUA - A thunderstorm that pushed easterly through Alachua Wednesday morning not only deluged the area, but also generated intense lighting, which reportedly struck a power transformer at Rachael Boulevard and NW 126th Terrace.  For nearly three hours, much of downtown Alachua and other areas of the city were without electricity as utility crews raced to replace the damaged equipment.  Meanwhile, Alachua Police Department officers directed traffic at the busy intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 241 where traffic signals were out.

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