ALACHUA – In the future, the City of Alachua may see an easier method for electric and water billing for both the consumer and the city’s public service department.

During a Tuesday workshop, the Virginia-based company Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) presented a plan for the city to implement a Smart Grid, which would bring improvements to the city’s operations and increase energy efficiency.

According to the United States Department of Energy, “Much in the way that a ‘smart’ phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means ‘computerizing’ the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid.”

If the city agrees to the company’s plan, SAIC would cover the initial costs of deploying Smart Grid technology to Alachua’s nearly 8,000 electric and water meters located throughout the city. For SAIC, this means replacing nearly 80 percent of the current meters and updating the remainder. The company would also be responsible for managing and gathering the data that the new meters would produce.

The process of considering a move to smart grid technology is still in the preliminary stages at the city. SAIC will provide a business plan for city staff to examine, and the plan would have to be approved by the Alachua City Commission. Once approved, SAIC said it would take about four months for the company to deploy the Smart Grid infrastructure, and the city to see benefits.

The city would be responsible for paying SAIC either through a five-year or a seven-year plan. Steve Root of SAIC said the Smart Grid would cost the city an estimated $3.3 million. If the city chooses to continue with the SAIC management and security after the initial contract expires, the city would pay an annual fee.

Mike New, the Public Services director, said that the plan intends to be implemented without passing any costs to consumers and without firing any current employees.

SAIC installed a Smart Grid in Lakeland, Fla., and the city experienced an estimated 14,000 ton carbon footprint savings. It is also estimated that the grid technology could save the city an estimated $400,000 a year. SAIC also provided the Smart Grid technology to four Alaskan villages, including Kipnuk.

The Smart Grid increases meter accuracy, remotely connects and disconnects electric accounts and remotely reads water and electric meters. The technology will allow the city to deploy fewer servicemen to houses for meter-related needs. Smart Grid technology provides hourly updates so a utility company can be ready to bill a customer on a day-to-day basis, unlike current systems in Alachua that require a 10- to 15- day window.

With the system, the city will be able to see instantly the moment an outage occurs. Currently, the public service department waits until a call is received to find out that an outage has happened. With the Smart Grid, cities can be proactive instead of reactive, said David Smith of SAIC. The city would also receive tilt alerts if the meter was tampered with or moved. Tilt alerts can be triggered by a person attempting to tinker with the system or a tree falling on the meter.

Concerns were raised by the City Commission about security issues. SAIC said that the security provided was top of the line, that they work with the Department of Defense and Department of Energy and employees work to ensure that no one can hack into the system. The Smart Grid system requires three forms of identification to access the program.

“I’m excited as can be because I’m a technology guy,” Mayor Gib Coerper said.

He said he firmly believes that giving the consumers the ability to go online and manage their own electricity and water usage would be a good tool to have in the community.

The Smart Grid system allows customers to access their own website that would provide hourly, daily and monthly electricity use. From this site, customers can see how different energy-saving ideas, such as cutting off all the lights or keeping the AC off, can lower daily energy use and save them money.

SAIC was established in 1969 by Dr. J. Robert Beyster and a group of scientists. The company now employs more than 40,000 people and works with the federal government and the military to create innovative solutions to a wide range of questions. SAIC is working to find cures for cancer, set up advance tsunami warning systems and build next-generation robotics that will help protect and support military troops abroad. The company aims to improve national security, health, cybersecurity and energy usage and environmental protection.

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Irby_100_6441_copyALACHUA – When life gave six-year-old Caleb the chance to save lives, he made lemonade.

For Irby Elementary School’s Jump Rope for Heart event, Caleb wanted to raise $100. Showing remarkable patience and business skills, Caleb sat outside his apartment for six hours, said Casey Ludlam, Caleb’s mother. When a particular location slowed down, Caleb would want to move.

He went through an entire container of Country Time Lemonade, but he raised $10. When he ran out of lemonade, Ludlam said Caleb asked if he could sell water.

In total, Caleb raised $140 for the cause.

But he was just one student among many at the elementary school trying to help those with sick hearts for the Jump Rope for Heart event that occurred on Feb. 15.  Overall, the school is working toward a goal of $8,000, although an actual total was unavailable as of press time. Last year, the school raised $8,787. The goal had been $7,000.

The school will honor the top individual in each grade with lunch at Moe’s with Ray Crone, Irby’s physical education teacher. The top class will be awarded a Planet Smoothie party. If the school meets its goal, the top five students from each grade will get a chance to dunk Coach Crone by throwing balls at a target.

The Jump Rope for Heart event is sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Since Irby started participating in the fundraising event, the school has raised over $100,000. For every $2,000 the school raises, Crone said the school gets $100 in physical education equipment. Lately, he said the school has been averaging $400 worth of equipment.

This year, the school has gained significant online support, said Aimee Pricher, Behavior Resource Teacher. Jump Rope for Heart has always had an online element, but this year’s superhero e-card increased internet donations, she said. Children were given a chance to place their face on the body of a superhero in the e-card for the theme “Be a Heart Hero” and then e-mail the card to long-distance relatives and friends.

“We’re extremely proud of our students for any amount that they contribute to the American Heart Association,” Pricher said. “The envelopes that are just 38 cents are important because that means the student went into his or her piggy bank or allowance.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – In an unannounced move Feb. 9, the High Springs Commission appointed Jeri Langman to the permanent position of City Manager.  Although it was not on the agenda, commissioners made the appointment during the final moments of the meeting, raising concerns among several people in attendance that the matter should have been deferred and taken up after being advertised to the public.

Despite harsh criticism from some, on a motion placed on the floor by Vice Mayor Barnas and seconded by Commissioner Linda Gestrin, commissioners approved the measure in a 3-1 vote.  Mayor Dean Davis also supported the appointed while Commissioner Sue Weller cast the only vote against it.

“I’m not happy with the way this is going,” Weller said during a workshop prior to the meeting.  “I’m not happy with the fact that we have a manager in here that, in my belief, does not have the experience or the knowledge as a city manager to bring us forward,” she said.

It was during that workshop before the regularly scheduled commission meeting that it was reported that the only remaining candidate in the running for the job, W.D. Higginbotham, Jr., withdrew from the process.

Langman was hired as the interim city manager in December at a salary of $4,000 monthly without benefits.  She replaced Jenny Parham, who served as interim city manager and was compensated about $1,500 monthly in addition to her role as city clerk.  Langman will drop the interim from her title, but will see a marked increase in compensation.  In approving the change, commissioners also gave Langman an annual salary of $55,000 plus benefits.

The appointment did not come without heated criticism from several people calling on the commission to reconsider the action.  Most of those speaking out in opposition to the appointment urged the commission to restart the city manager selection process.  Others, however, lauded the commission and encouraged their fellow residents to stand behind Langman and the city.

Barnas said he was pleased with Langman and didn’t want to search for another city manager.  “I have no other process to start,” Barnas said.  “I wouldn’t do another process until…the upcoming election in November,” he added.

But numerous people spoke out against aborting the search for a city manager, including resident Laura Graetz who said the city needs a city manager with the proper qualifications to run a city.

Graetz referenced an employment advertisement for the city manager position, in which the desired qualifications are outlined.  Among them are 3-5 years of responsible municipal government experience, professional management experience and economic development experience.  “I asked for a public records request for Mr. Langman’s qualifications that were submitted for this and there is none of that on here,” she said.

“She may have many good qualities, but not those that are required for city manager,” Graetz said.

Linda Jones said she voted for Barnas and Gestrin but accused the duo of switching their positions.

“I’m sorry to see they’re taking a different position,” said Jones, adding, “I think this has come up as a payback.”

“That’s the way it appears, and I’m very disappointed,” she said.

Other residents, including Bob Hallman, supported the commission’s move and blamed the city’s prior administration for harming its financial position.

Hallman also said unrest in the community might be explained by what he considers inaccurate news reporting.  “You’re going through an experience where it’s not unusual for the people in the community to come up because, well, the information they’re getting is through the newspaper, and the information may not be accurate.”

Hallman did tell the commission that he thought there was some “serious staff problems” at the City.  But he supported the appointment of Langman saying, “I think you have a good situation.  You should hang on to it.”

Resident and employee Don Alderman said he was pleased with the direction of the City, but warned that the commission’s swift actions on Thursday might not be perceived by the public in a positive light, and therefore, motivate people to replace commissioners.  “Most of you have your positions up there due to the perceptions,” Aldermand said.

After Barnas made the motion during the City Commissioner Comments portion of the meeting to appoint Langman, former City Attorney and High Springs resident Thomas DePeter sharply criticized the move.

“Commissioners comments is the point where you choose to make the most important decision that this commission can make, the person who is going to run this city, be the most powerful person in the whole city.  No interview process.  No vetting,” DePeter asked of the commission.

“Your vice mayor didn’t want to interview anybody from your list of candidates until the person has been vetted,” DePeter said of Barnas.  “My question is, what vetting having you done for the current person you’re going to name as your city manager?”

“You haven’t even allowed an interview for this person.  No public interview. No demonstration of the qualifications.”

“You can’t wait two weeks, put this on the agenda, so at least people can come and know that the most important position in their city is going to be filled permanently by somebody?” he asked.

“Just put it on agenda for the next meeting; then you can get some feedback.”

Noting that the motion was made at the end of the meeting, DePeter said, “Wait until people actually leave the meeting, then at the last minute, make a motion to appoint the city manager.”

In perhaps his most harsh criticism on the matter, he said, “I’m just not sure whether you don’t realize what you’re doing, or you realize what you’re doing and you just don’t care.”

Barnas responded, saying DePeter did similar things while sitting on the dais as the city attorney.  Standing by his motion, Barnas said, “This has to be done for the city, and we’ve been elected to do it.”

Another criticism came online as former commissioner Eric May noted on his blog site that in making the appointment during commission comments, they violated the city’s own rules.  According to section 4(L) of the city commission’s Rules of Procedures, “Final action can only be taken if the City Commission waives its Rules of Procedures.”  That waiver never occurred.  Although there appears to be a violation of the city’s own rules, the appointment of Langman is unlikely to be successfully contested as the rules are not state law.

Langman’s appointment was effective immediately.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Fire Department is expected to get a new fire by year end.  That came as news during a Feb. 16 special meeting in which City Manager Jeri Langman informed commissioners that the $283,000 fire truck could be placed into the budget through a budget amendment, which has already been set for a final hearing on Thursday, Feb. 23.

The new truck would become the department’s primary engine.  The department currently uses a 1991 model year engine as its primary truck while a model year 1985 truck is secondary.  After delivery later this year, the new truck would become the primary engine with the 1991model year truck serving as a secondary.  The department would decommission the 1985 model year truck.

The first annual payment on the truck would not come until 2013.  It would be financed over several years.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An agreement negotiated between the City of High Springs and the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) raised concerns at a Feb. 9 meeting when commissioners were set to approve the contract.

The PBA, which represents the unionized police officers at the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), apparently negotiated with city officials terms that would give up to 48 hours of vacation time to officers who don’t use sick leave for an entire year.

The move was presented as an incentive for officers to not abuse sick leave and in lieu of a wage increase.

Commissioner Sue Weller said she was under the impression the 48 hours was not what was originally decided upon. During the executive meeting, Weller said it was agreed to give the police department 28 hours of annual vacation time, not 48.

“It’s not a concession that they get this because they didn’t get an increase in wages,” Weller said. “They had no right to wages; they had no right to the sick leave. It’s something that you negotiate. The city didn’t get anything back for this, and generally, in negotiations, there’s a give and take.”

City Manager Jeri Langman said the agreement had already been voted on by the High Springs Police Department.

Mayor Dean Davis agreed with Weller.

“I find that a little bit high to give six days vacation time just because you don’t get sick,” Davis said. “It’s not that we don’t think they deserve it. It’s can we afford it?”

City Clerk Jenny Parham said the proposed vacation time is three times what employees in other city departments receive.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas made a motion to approve the contract as it was written, and Gestrin seconded. The motion failed by a vote of 2-2 with both Weller and Davis opposing it.

Davis said the contract needed to go back to the negotiation board.

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Irby_Jump_Rope_Heart_IMG_3241_copyIrby Elementary students were joined by University of Florida cheerleaders and Albert and Alberta to help raise funds for the American Heart Association’s annual Jump Rope for Heart held at the school Wednesday.

ALACHUA – Facing a mid-life crisis, Gainesville Police Department Sergeant Donald Geelhoed left the fancy new convertible at the dealership and challenged himself to run a marathon.

He didn’t make it. Instead, he had heart surgery for a genetic defect in his aorta valve.

Geelhoed was just one of the many service men and women honored at Irby Elementary School’s Jump Rope for Heart on Feb. 15 where the theme was “Be a Heart Hero.” The American Heart Association coordinates the event every year.

“I’m honored and I’m humbled,” he said. “But I think the real heroes on that stage are the military veterans.”

While Geelhoed trained for his marathon, he experienced shortness of breath and numbness. After his surgery in October 2005, he accomplished his pre-surgery goal by running two marathons – the Marine Corps Marathon and the Gainesville Five Points of Life.

He shared his story with Irby students during morning announcements and donned a gold medal during the Jump Rope for Heart event, which labeled him the Heart Ambassador.

In addition to Geelhoed, military personnel, city officials and law enforcement officers representing the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua Police Department were recognized as heroes.

Physical Education teacher Ray Crone, who organized the day’s events, was inspired to bring the service men to Jump Rope for Heart during a recent trip. While waiting at a Dallas, Texas, airport gate, he noticed military men and women boarding a plane. The people waiting at the gate started to clap for them.

“So I decided to bring that to Jump Rope for Heart to teach our students to appreciate service people,” he said.

Irby has a long history with Jump Rope for Heart, Crone said. Since starting the program, the school has raised over $100,000. This year, a new Internet e-card was available online for children to send to long-distance relatives or friends. The e-card pictured a superhero with a space for the children to place their face on the superhero. The school’s Internet fundraising increased donations from approximately $400 a year to about $1500 for this year’s event.

Megan Weinstein, representative from the American Heart Association, said the Jump Rope for Heart program has been going on for 35 years.

Using a jump rope is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, and it encourages children to see that exercise can be fun, she said.

“This school goes above and beyond in everything they do,” Weinstein said. “They put a lot of heart behind it – pun intended.”

The University of Florida’s Albert and Alberta joined in the fun, along with Gator cheerleaders and Gator Dazzlers. Jessica Prentiss was given an award for her volunteer work. Michele Faulk, Santa Fe High School’s athletic driector, was also given an award to recognize her contributions. Faulk’s Interact Club, a service organization at Santa Fe High School, participates every year in the Irby Jump Rope for Heart by helping teachers entertain the children.

First and second grade students competed in a jump-rope contest to see who could last the longest. The American Heart Association provided prizes to the first, second, third and fourth-place winners. Prizes included a sports water bottle, a speed rope and a soccer ball.

For the first-grade class, Amari Ray took first place. Nathan Kemph came in second, followed by Everett Melvin and Joanna Scott in third place. Fourth Place was awarded to Tristan Rivera.

For the second-grade class, Serenity Carrodus won first place. Anthony Rollins came in second, and Raynard Robinson won third place. Savannah Terrell won fourth place.

Crone imparts three lessons to the students of Irby during Jump Rope for Heart. First, help yourself by exercising. Second, help others by fundraising. Last, help your school. For every $2000, Irby gets $100 in P.E. equipment.

“Kids get so excited for this event,” Crone said. “What’s really rewarding is when a high school senior told me a week ago that the Irby Jump Rope for Heart event was one of her favorite memories of going to this school.”

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Poe03_copyHigh Springs may soon take over the management of Poe Springs Park in a year-long agreement with Alachua County.

GAINESVILLE – Alachua County Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday for the City of High Springs to oversee the daily operation of Alachua County’s Poe Springs Park, which is located along the Santa Fe River. Terms of the agreement include an initial one-year period, which can be renewed.

According to the agreement, the City of High Springs would take charge of the daily staffing and maintenance of the park while the county would review fees, plans, and events at the park. The county would further take charge of larger upkeep such as mowing and building repairs.

“There will be staff for the park as well as volunteers from boy scouts, the lions club and volunteers from the city,” High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman said.

Under the City of High Springs’ management, the park would be open Wednesday through Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday being free admission days. On weekends, High Springs will charge $5 to $8 per vehicle, and $2 for individuals.  High Springs has proposed to offer annual passes to local families and individuals.

Alachua County currently does not require an admission fee for entrance to the park.

“This will allows us to have something that can draw people to the city since we are one of the lesser known cities in the county,” Langman said. “It will put us on the map and promote Poe Springs to more people.”

The agreement states that after the city has covered its costs through entrance fees, additional revenue will be split between Alachua County and the City of High Springs. The agreement now awaits a final vote of approval from the Alachua County Commission.

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