HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Robots, art and music will descend on the lawn of the High Springs Brewing Company, 18562 N.W. 237th Street, High Springs, on Sunday, Oct. 15 from 2 – 5 p.m. to raise funds and awareness for these great programs.

Parents and kids alike can take an opportunity to learn about the Swampbots robotics program and meet members of the Frogmen, the Byte Squad, Innogators, Tadpoles and the Turtlebots teams.

The middle and high school robotics teams will race and display their best, including a large robot built and controlled by the high school team. The teams, which span grades 1 – 12 will also be selling pizza by the slice from Prohibition Pizza as well as kid-friendly drinks, with proceeds to benefit both Swampbots and Good News Arts.

Good News Arts (GNA) will have complementary hands-on art experiences for all ages to create and play. Donations are welcome. In addition, a silent auction will be held for five quilts made this summer by students at GNA’s Summer Arts Camp. All proceeds support GNA’s educational programs.

To complement these great organizations, Santa Fe High School student Trevor Ellis will be providing live music featuring favorites in southern rock, reggae and country. Only 15 years old, Ellis already has quite a resume including an appearance on PBS. He excels at the drums, piano and guitar challenging himself with the most intricate compositions of John Mayer and Zach Brown on guitar and Vince Guaraldi on piano. 

“Investment in our kids is an investment in our whole community. In just a few years, these two programs have provided solid success for our kids,” said Ross Ambrose, who has supported both programs since they were launched.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Two High Springs’ residents were involved in a crash at 9:24 a.m., Friday, Sept. 29. The incident occurred on U.S. Highway 441 at Northwest 232nd Street in High Springs.

A 67-year-old man driving a 2009 BMW was attempting to cross North U.S. Hwy. 441 at the break in the median when his car hit and overturned a 2016 black Jeep with a 30-year-old female driver inside, pinning her in the Jeep.

According to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), the female driver said when the crash occurred, she was “driving in the outside lane heading southbound on North U.S. Highway 441”. The woman said she saw the BMW on the side road, but assumed he would stop as he pulled into the median. She told the investigating officer that she realized too late that the BMW was not stopping. Upon impact, her Jeep was pushed to the side of the road where her vehicle overturned.

Impact damage was found on the driver`s side of the Jeep, where it is believed the BMW collided with the Jeep. The female driver was extracted from her vehicle and sent to the hospital.

The front bumper of the BMW was torn off and was found along Northwest 232nd Street facing south.

The driver of the BMW was issued a citation for failing to yield to the Jeep, after stopping at the stop sign on Northwest 232nd Street, which was the cause of the accident.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission on Sept. 25 finalized the City’s new fiscal year budget as well as denying a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a vape shop.

The City’s budget was approved at $17,538,592 while the City’s millage rate was set at 6.99 mills, which is expected to provide $3,091,315 in revenues. “This amount will mean that homeowners will be charged $100 annually per $100,000 of their homes’ taxable value,” said Finance Director Diane Wilson.

Although some residents expressed concern about the millage rate hike, City officials say this is only the second time in the past 10 years that the millage rate has been increased.

Wilson said the High Springs Police Department has the largest percent of the General Fund at $2,769,547. Public Works came in at $900,145, IT at $404,622, Parks and Recreation at $395,864 and the City Manager’s Office at $382,079.

The Commission voted unanimously to retain their monthly salaries with no increase from last year’s budgeted amount. Those amounts are $927 per month for each City Commissioner and the Vice Mayor and $1,030 per month for the Mayor.

In other business, a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for family-owned Vape Dimensions was denied based primarily on health and safety concerns and the intended location across a divided highway from a city park. The proposed location was 19358 N.W. U.S. Highway 441, formerly known as Alice’s Parkside Restaurant. Although Vape Dimensions owners expressed their willingness to modify their signage and landscaping to reduce the visual impact of the property to anyone at the park, it was not enough of a concession to assuage Commissioners’ concerns that the property would pose an attraction to children.

A second Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a tobacco and vape shop located at 18467 N.W. U.S. Highway 441 was tabled to the Oct. 26 City Commission meeting to allow time for the Planning and Zoning Board to hear this item and make a recommendation on their hearing.

In other City business, City Manager Ashley Stathatos said that Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) would be rolling out in October. AMI is part of the City’s effort to upgrade the city’s water distribution system with an electronic reading capability and to replace some 2,800 meters that have served beyond their estimated useful lives. The target meter population includes all commercial and residential meters. The estimated time of completion for the entire project is two months.

“Blossoming Butterfly, Inc., a non-profit cancer awareness organization, along with Deeper Purpose Church, will be holding a 3K walk at the High Springs Civic Center from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Oct. 7, said Parks and Recreation Director Elliot Harris. The purpose of the walk is to bring awareness to testing and the benefits of early cancer detection.

Blossoming Butterfly, Inc. and the City of High Springs will also sponsor what Harris said he hopes will be an annual event at Alachua’s Legacy Park. This is an alumni basketball tournament with a $500 cash prize to the winner. He said admission to watch the tournament is $5 and proceeds will go to Blossoming Butterfly.

Harris said the organization has told him they will split the proceeds between their organization and Harris’ family. Harris’ son has cancer and part of their mission’s purpose is helping with expenses related to cancer.

Commissioners praised efforts by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in paying for the new fall banners and hanging baskets in the downtown High Springs area.

The next City Commission meeting will be held on Oct. 12.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Santa Fe High School Symphonic Band wowed the Alachua City Commission Monday, Sept. 25 with a free concert. Under the direction of Conductor Jacob Massena, the band opened the Commission meeting with an enjoyable performance that left commissioners proud of the hometown youngsters.

Alachua City Manager Mike DaRoza, an alumnus of Santa Fe High School, said he is always pleased when he sees Santa Fe students doing great things. Following the performance, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper and commissioners presented each of the performers with a certificate of appreciation from the City of Alachua.

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ALACHUA ‒ A man was injured in the San Felasco Park while working on a tractor. At 12:55 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, officers from the Alachua Police Department (APD) were dispatched to San Felasco Park after receiving a 911 call stating that the caller was working in the park on a tractor when a tree fell on him. The fallen tree left him pinned between the tree and the tractor and he was having difficulty breathing.

With the help of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Combined Communication Center, APD’s dispatch center gathered the caller’s GPS coordinates and pinpointed the location on the responding officers’ map system, which aided in locating the caller. The caller was subsequently transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

APD Public Information Officer Thomas Stanfield commented on the critical nature of teamwork during incidents such as this. “The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Combined Communications Center, Alachua County Fire Rescue, Alachua Police Department and the Alachua Police Department Communication Center demonstrated dedication in providing a service we are proud to deliver to our citizens,” said Stanfield.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ A man jailed for stalking, fraud, and extortion has new charges of criminal solicitation to commit a felony and attempted first-degree murder. Ralph Jack Waccary, 63, was served with a sworn complaint on Sept. 12, alleging that he hired a former inmate to kill an Alachua woman. An Alachua Police Department complaint specifies that Waccary hired a former inmate, which he paid to bail out of jail, in exchange for the inmate to have the opportunity to kill a woman he believed would lead to Waccary’s case being dropped.

Waccary has been in the jail since Dec. 23, 2021, charged with stalking, fraud, and extortion after allegedly filing a civil lien against a woman’s property, then telling her he would remove the lien if she had sexual intercourse with him.

An injunction had been previously issued prohibiting Waccary from having contact with the woman because he had allegedly threatened to “bury” her after she called the police about a domestic disturbance. Waccary was also charged with violating the injunction and stalking.

Michael Woulard was in jail since Nov. 10, 2022, for a series of crimes to include failure to register as a Sexual Predator. Wouldard said he had worked for Waccary when they were both employed by North Florida Hospital. Waccary agreed to bail Woulard out of jail and ultimately produced the funds to pay 10 percent of the bail amount to a bail bonds company. Woulard was released on bond on May 30.

Waccary was to pay Woulard an additional $25,000 after the victim had been murdered and Waccary’s case had been dropped. Waccary advised Woulard to make it look like a robbery, then drive her car out of state. He even told Woulard that he would be free and clear because he had a perfect alibi of being incarcerated.

According to the APD report, “Woulard said he was unaware of anyone else that may be planning the same thing, but was sure that Waccary had approached other inmates about [a] similar request.”

APD filed a sworn complaint against Waccary charging him with criminal solicitation to commit a felony and attempted first-degree murder. Bond has been set at $425,000.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission at their Sept. 25 meeting finalized their millage rate, budget, electric and water rates. The Commission approved a final budget of $43,167,065 for Fiscal Year 2023-24, a 27.6 percent increase over last year’s budget, and a millage rate of 5.9 mills for Fiscal Year 2023-24. The current 2022-23 fiscal year millage rate is 5.9244 mills.

The Commission also approved an employee compensation program giving the highest salary and cost of living increases to the lowest paid City employees with the highest paid employees receiving a flat two percent cost of living increase only.

A portion of the salary increases will come from expenses the Commission previously refused to approve. Those disapproved costs included $75,000 for a cemetery fence and another $75,000 for a wage study, freeing up $150,000 in the budget. The Commission allowed $75,000 to be used as part of the compensation program, and of the remaining $75,000, $45,000 will be placed in the Contingency Fund with the remaining $30,000 earmarked for possible use for the stormwater assessment, if needed.

Electric Rates

The Commission approved a three percent hike in electric rates for Fiscal Year 2023-24. Residential electric users can expect an average increase of $3.42 per month. Non-residential rates are proposed to be adjusted in a similar fashion.

There are also slight changes in the ordinance to the solar interconnections. There is currently a discrepancy between the City’s ordinances and the adopted tariff with the Public Service Commission. “Our tariff requires solar customers provide insurance, however our ordinance does not,” said Assistant City Manager and Finance Direcctor Dallas Lee. The adoption of this ordinance corrects that error and sets the application fee for tier one solar connections at $100, where it was previously not charged.

Water and Wastewater Increases

The Commission also approved a hike in water and wastewater rates for Fiscal Year 2023-24. Changes represent a 10 percent increase in the wastewater consumption charge with an anticipated residential hike of $4.52 per month.

Water rates were increased by seven percent in the consumption charge for water resulting in 6.7 percent in the residential customer charge for an average residential impact of $1.73.

MSBU and Alachua County

In other business, the Commission approved an ordinance providing consent for the entire corporate limits of the City to be included in a non-ad valorem assessment for Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) created by Alachua County Solid Waste Management costs. Alachua County Waste Collection and Alternatives Manager Patrick Irby was on hand to answer any questions regarding MSBU program, but there were none.

MSBU amounts are charged with property taxes and serve to provide solid waste services to the City. The MSBU rate for residential customers in Fiscal Year 2023-24 is $25.27, an increase from the prior year rate of $20.78. Rates have not been increased in the prior three years.

Gus Olmos from Alachua County was also present and said the County is still looking at a hazardous waste facility and recycling plant, which he planned to present to the County Commissioners at the second meeting in October. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the City is holding 10 acres of land for the County for the program with City Manager Mike New saying that the City would provide a long-term lease, possible 99 years, to the County so that the City would be able to provide electrical services to the project.

Olmos also indicated that a traffic study on the 337 corridor would likely be presented also at the second meeting in October.

Eden’s Garden

The Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plat and construction plans for Eden’s Garden subdivision. Sophie Lancaster, owner, proposes to place 12 single-family units on 6.95 +/- acres of land. The minimum lot size is 7,500 square feet. Open space and common areas are to be 3.5 acres.

Procurement Policy

The Commission moved to accept donations of alcohol and expenditure of funds specifically designated for the purchase of alcohol and other items for fundraising events, ensuring that public funds are not spent on alcohol, in line with the City’s purchasing policy.”

In other business, Mayor Marlowe said he had been contacted regarding the City’s sexual offender/predator code. The City of Williston has a much more stringent code as to the distance from “protected places” for sexual offenders to live.

“A list of 14 protected places occurs in Newberry,” said Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. However, in discussion it was determined that there may be no means of enforcement unless the State Attorney is willing to prosecute offenders based on a municipal ordinance.

No official action was taken on this issue at this meeting.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for Oct. 9.

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