HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs is expanding the City’s service area and provide water and wastewater services along County Road 236 up to the Interstate 75/CR 236 interchange — an area just outside the city limits. The City Commission approved an ordinance creating a Utility District at the March 9 City Commission meeting.

“Extending services to the interchange will help support water and wastewater services in High Springs and may lower costs for residents,” said City Manager Ashley Stathatos. In addition, it will encourage development of the interchange area.

Prompting discussion was a $2.4 million wastewater grant obtained through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to construct a wastewater service line along the three-mile section of CR 236.

High Springs is also working on a second grant submittal that could piggy-back onto the first project. This grant application is through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and would allow the City to lay water service lines along the same pipeline. “The cost savings of laying both lines at the same time is significant,” said Stathatos.

Should the application be successful, it would allow the City to provide regional water and wastewater services to existing and future commercial businesses and residential homeowners. The project would also provide water and wastewater revenue to the City. As property owners routinely use septic tanks for waste disposal in this area, the state is attempting to get as many properties onto wastewater services as possible to reduce the chance of septic tanks leaching nitrogen and phosphorus into the aquifer.

A few citizens living in the area impacted by the path of the lines expressed concern that the City would force them to hook up to City water and sewer services whether they wanted to hook up or not.

Although the ordinance was passed on first reading with the caveat that property owners within 250 feet of the lines would be required to hook up, Commissioners discussed modifying that requirement if the grant is awarded to High Springs.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said there are large businesses that have inquired about developing in the I-75/CR 236 interchange area, but have been deterred by the lack of municipal services available in the area. He said provision of these services will greatly enhance opportunities for development and job growth.

This matter is expected to be heard on second reading at a City Commission meeting in April.

In other City business, the Commission appointed Commissioner Tristan Grunder to serve as liaison between the City and the Opioid Task Force. Grunder is a 15-year law enforcement officer with expertise in handling drug-related issues.

This appointment follows the Commission’s earlier approval of an interlocal agreement between High Springs and other Alachua County municipalities to create an awareness campaign regarding the opioid crisis and educate the public on opioid addiction and treatment. As part of the interlocal agreement, each city appoints one person to sit on an awareness campaign committee.

On another matter, Grunder expressed concern that the High Springs Police Department is using Vietnam War-era rifles and suggested the City expend $35,000 of the remaining nearly $370,000 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to upgrade their weaponry. The Commission tasked Police Chief Antoine Sheppard with providing an updated quote by the next meeting on the cost of replacing the Department’s weapons.

In other City business, the Commission unanimously voted to accept the 2020-21 fiscal year audit. “The independent accountants’ examination report concluded that the City is in compliance with Local Government Investment Policies for the year that ended Sept. 30, 2021,” said Stathatos. Their findings also indicated areas for improvement as staff changes occurred during the fiscal year.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On March 25, 10 bands will lend their musical talents to help raise money for the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB) at the High Springs Lions Club. The High Springs Lions Club, located at 26900 W. U.S. Highway 27, has a long history of over 50 years helping those in need and sponsoring events to raise money for charitable causes.

Internationally, Lions Clubs provide funding for research and medical or disaster needs throughout the world. The High Springs Lions Club works both locally and nationally to help those in need. They use the motto “In Service to Others and When there's a need there's a Lion.”

One of the ways the High Springs Lions Club raises money is by hosting concerts at their large outdoor stage on the Club's grounds, Santa Fe Festival Field. Over the years they have hosted concerts for hurricane relief and veterans’ organizations, among others. On March 25, the Club is sponsoring Feel the Music concert to benefit the FSDB. Striving to keep admission affordable, the club set $10 for an entire day of music.

Based in St. Augustine, Florida, the FSDB was founded in 1885. It is the only school of its kind in Florida and is considered one of the best in the nation. The school provides free public education and life skills for sensory impaired children of all ages.

And since FSDB is a public school, education is provided at no cost to the families, as well as housing for those students living outside the local area. Students living locally ride a bus home each day. The school is 93 percent state funded with private donations adding the remaining seven percent. Those donations supply some of the extras such as life skill classes, tutoring, books in Braille, playgrounds, music and performing arts. Seventy-five percent of the students at the FSDB qualify for free and reduced cost lunches. The Lions Club is raising funds for expenses that state funding does not cover.

On March 25 the gates will open at 11 a.m. and the music will start at noon. In addition to the music, the Club will also offer food and beverages for purchase with all profits from food sales going to the school. Also on tap are vendors, an auction and raffles.

The Club suggests that people bring their own lawn chairs, but no coolers and no pets except service dogs. The show will open with Ellen Bukstel and Marc Severance. After that, the schedule in order of appearance will be Cameron Wheaton, Crooked Council, Houston Keen, Black River Harvesters, Southern Burn, Steel Tumbleweed, Little Bit More, Hog Town Slayers and ending the night with Big Rascal.

Additional information can be found at the High Springs Lions Club Facebook page or by calling 386-454-4521

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Planning and Zoning Board on March 6 approved zoning requests for a future environmental park. If approved by the City Commission, the property is earmarked to be developed for expansion of the municipal wastewater treatment facility, an educational wetland exhibit and retention area, a county/regional household hazardous waste disposal facility, a firefighter training facility, a potential composting site and a small-farm meat processing facility.

The Board approved an ordinance for a large-scale amendment to the Future Land Use Plan Map on two parcels totaling 96 acres on the east side of County Road 336/Southwest 266th Street, between Southwest 18th Road and Southwest 30th Avenue and is addressed as 2105, 2429 and 2617 Southwest 266th Street. This and the next two items were brought before the Board by the City of Newberry. Upon final approval by the Commission, the ordinance will change the future land use classification from Agriculture to Public.

A second related amendment to the Future Land Use Plan Map was also approved to change the classification from Agriculture to Public on the 2.5 +/- acres, currently used as the municipal cemetery.

The Board also approved a request to rezone the total 217 +/- acres from Agricultural (A) and Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) to Public Facilities (PF). The 217 acres also encompasses the two 96-acre parcels and the existing 2.5-acre municipal cemetery.

The 217 acres includes the 96-acre site identified for the wastewater treatment facility expansion and future environmental park and the remaining 121 acres that are the existing municipal cemetery and existing wastewater treatment facility. Approval by the Planning and Zoning Board is a recommendation for approval to the City Commission.

Some citizens did voice concerns about the proposed environmental park. Comments included protecting the quality of life for neighboring properties, ensuring an adequate buffer, preserving property values, methods for meeting notifications, the size of the meat packing facility and reasons for considering it and the County’s hearing date on this issue.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the County came to the City regarding regional facilities, including the small-farm meat processing facility, due to farmers’ inability to process meat during the COVID epidemic. He said currently the County is asking for 15 acres to be set aside for the meat packing facility. Another three to five acres will be set aside for firefighter training.

In other Planning and Zoning Board business, an application by The Citadel Family Church, Inc., was considered and approved for a special exception to permit a church in a Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) zoning district. The property is located at 145 N.W. 257th Street and consists of 0.24 +/- acres.

The building was originally used as a Methodist Church, and most recently, it was used as a Masonic lodge meeting hall. The 3,348-square-foot building was constructed in 1950 and is a contributing structure for the City’s Historic District. The property fronts the westbound segment of the Florida Department of Transportation project for the two-lane, one-way pair split for State Road 26/West Newberry Road.

Some Board members expressed concerns about increased traffic, adequate parking and noise impacting residents surrounding the building. Reverend Arraelieus Garrison explained that there are only four families in the congregation, and if attendance increases, he listed two additional locations that might be suitable for parking. He said his service doesn’t begin until 11:30 a.m. so there was little chance of waking neighbors.

Following unanimous approval by the Board, this item will be heard next at the Board of Adjustment meeting scheduled for March 13.

Also approved was an application by eda consultants, Inc., agent for Tibbetts Land Holdings LLC, owners, to rezone 8.28 +/- acres from Commercial General (CG) to Commercial, Intensive (CI). The property is located on the south side of West Newberry Road/State Road 26 between Southwest 218th Street and Southwest 226th Street. The zoning change will allow for the site to be developed as a commercial center in the front and additional boat and RV storage to the south, with possibly mini storage in-between. This item will be heard by the City Commission on first reading on March 27.

Also approved was an application by the City to change the zoning designation of 4.3 +/- acres from Residential, Single-Family (RSF-2) to Public Facilities (PF). The property is located at 120 N.W. 260th Street and is the site of the existing municipal Public Works building. The change brings the zoning designation in line with its use.

This item will be heard by the City Commission at the March 13 meeting.

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WALDO - Alachua County Undersheriff Joel DeCoursey, Jr. and the City of Waldo Celebrated Read Across America on Saturday, March 4 at the local library. DeCoursey read “Circle Rolls” and participated in various STEM related activities with youngsters.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs’ recent decision to terminate its contract with waste haulers GFL Environmental, Inc. was called into question at the Feb. 23 City Commission meeting. GFL’s Skip McCall requested that the City withdraw their notice of termination of services. The contract, which is set to expire in April 2024, has a clause that notification to terminate the contract must be made in July 2023.

McCall said he was unaware there were issues until receiving the notification to terminate the contract. Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said he should have been aware of the issues since the City has communicated the problems to GFL’s staff on numerous occasions.

Although the Commission did not retract their decision, they directed City staff to meet with GFL to discuss problems the City has had with the company and possible resolutions.

GFL and staff will meet on March 14 and staff will come back to the Commission with the results.

Wild Spaces Distribution

The Commission approved a resolution for distribution of Wild Spaces Public Places funds over the period of the new sales surtax, which runs from Jan. 1, 2023 – Dec. 31, 2032. Alachua County requested that the cities unanimously support the distribution of funds.

In October, the Alachua County League of Cities approved a $375,000 split for each of the cities excluding Gainesville. The rational was that Gainesville receives an additional $3 million from Alachua County, apart from the $3 million grant that is split among all Alachua County municipalities. Gainesville was not present at the October Alachua County League of Cities meeting.

At the Feb. 9 City Commission meeting, several options for the split were discussed. During this Feb. 23 meeting, the Commission preferred the split among the eight municipalities with the exclusion of Gainesville, which would give each city $375,000. However, should this not be acceptable to Gainesville, the Commission would split the money nine ways which would provide $333,000 to each of the cities.

The Commission was reluctant to approve a nine-way split noting that $333,000 may not be enough money for the cities to accomplish a project.

The results of this vote will be conveyed to the Alachua County League of Cities which will convey the overall results of all of the cities to Alachua County.

Blue Gem Approved

A site plan for improvements to Blue Gem Motel was unanimously approved with conditions specified by the High Springs Plan Board. The motel is proposing to add a pole barn and fencing to their existing site. At the Plan Board meeting of Sept. 13, recommendations were made to gable the pole barn, columns to have brick wrapping to match the height of the existing painted area on the main building, make the fence wrought-iron along the road facing the highway, provide a rendering, and update the site plan.

According to the City’s Planning Technician II Kristyn Adkins, Blue Gem's site plan complies with all City regulations including those associated with the highway enhancement zone and the City’s new accessory structure ordinance.

ARPA Funds Usage

Gillingham reviewed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and requested that the Commission rank the projects with the remaining $369,826 in mind. The city has set aside $1,040,000 for the sewer project. Gillingham said, “Should grant funding be found for that project, some or all of those funds may become available for the remaining projects.”

FY 2020-21 Audit

Brendan McKitrick of James Moore & Co. was on hand to review the2020-21 fiscal year audit. He reviewed the report briefly. As the audit report was not received early enough for Commissioners to review it and ask questions, McKitrick offered to meet one-on-one with each Commissioner to discuss the audit.

“Due to changes in staffing, this report has been delayed and the relevant state offices have been notified of the timeline,” said High Springs Finance Director Diane Wilson.

The second aspect of the audit report was for Commissioners to vote on accepting the report. Due to how late the report was received, this item was deferred to the next meeting for consideration.

Other Business

The City’s water tower will be off line for four to six weeks while 10-year maintenance is conducted. It is anticipated there will be workers accessing the water tower in mid-April to clean and paint. There will be no disruption in water to residents.

The City Commissioners and the Alachua County Board of Commissioners will meet in a joint session on April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

A Push-In Ceremony will be held on March 14 at 9:30 a.m. at the High Springs Fire Station, 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs. One of the new trucks is a Heavy Rescue 29 - a 2022 E-One Cyclone, built with advanced life support medical equipment, extrication tools and a host of other technical rescue equipment. The second new truck, an Engine 29 - a 2022 E-One Cyclone, is equipped with advanced life support medical equipment, extrication equipment, hoses, ladders and 1,000 gallons of water. The public is invited to the ceremony.

City utility customers can expect an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system to be implemented in the June to August timeframe. The new system will allow the City to remotely collect customer water usage data in real time. AMI uses radio-based technology to read water meters, which eliminates the need for manual meter reads and also provides real time use information for property owners.

Farm Share will be distributing food in High Springs on Saturday, March 11. Volunteers are needed to help distribute the food into vehicle trunks. Anyone interested in helping should contact Commissioner Byran Williams at 352-871-7988.

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FORT WHITE ‒ The rivers and springs are an integral part of life in North Central Florida. They are the life blood of communities, providing water for plants, wildlife and people. They are also an important part of the economy as Florida leads the southeast in farm income. Tourism brings over 131 million visitors to the state, with an economic impact of $98.8 billion. And North Central Florida brings many tourists to the pristine springs and rivers for camping, kayaking and cave diving.

But periodic droughts, groundwater pumping to satisfy ever increasing residential, agricultural, and industrial water demands, as well as groundwater pollution from urban and agricultural factors impact Florida's spring systems.

Our Santa Fe River (OSFR), is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 as a grassroots educational organization to help raise awareness of the importance of the springs and aquifer. For the past 10 years the organization has sponsored the RiverFest song writing contest as a way to raise awareness of the rivers and fund projects to protect and preserve the rivers and springs. The contest is open to all songwriters, but the songs have to be original compositions about the Santa Fe River. This year there are 20 songwriters entering the contest. The top three songwriters, as chosen by a panel of judges, receive a cash prize.

The event will be held at Rum 138 in Fort White. Originally a canoe and kayak sales and rental business that offered trips down the river, Rum 138 has grown and diversified over the years, adding a stage for concerts, an art gallery, and a cafe. Rum 138 has also become the headquarters of the local Sierra Club and supporter of the OSFR.

The RiverFest event is a series of events to raise money for OSFR to fund programs, river clean ups and other events.

On Saturday March 18, 2023 the OSFR has organized a hike on the newly acquired ACT Little Awesome Springs Preserve along the Santa Fe River with guide Colette Jacono, Ph.D., a botanist and plant ecologist who has specialized in aquatic and wetland plants in Florida for over 20 years.

The following weekend on March 25, Jacono will lead another hike on the Santa Fe River through shady bottomlands protected in conservation under the Suwannee River Water Management District. The hikers will also negotiate a karst landscape, locally renowned for its unique geologic features, alligator nursery, and turkey population. Both hikes start at Rum 138, 2070 S.W. County Road 138 at 8:30 a.m. Shuttles to the hike areas will leave at 9 a.m. and cost a $25 donation to support the OSFR programs. Both hikes are limited to 25 persons. It is suggested to wear boots or hefty shoes, bring water in reusable water bottle, bug spray, and a sun hat.

Also on Saturday, March 25, from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Master Naturalist Lars Anderson will lead a guided springs paddle tour to visit the many and varied springs on the Santa Fe River from the Highway 27 boat ramp to the Hollingsworth Boat Ramp. Donation fee for this trip is $60.

On Sunday, March 26, the Riverfest song contest will be held at Rum 138 from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. with an admission fee of $10. In addition to the song contest, other music will be provided before the show by Voices Rising, a 40-member community chorus, and after the show by the Luis Ortiz Jazz Band.

Other activities include a silent auction featuring over 60 items donated by area artists, businesses, and individuals. A variety of food will be available as well as beverages from local breweries, a pop-up t-shirt printer offering this year’s RiverFest t-shirts for sale, a real live mermaid to take photos with and a 50/50 raffle.

This year’s event is dedicated to the late Rhonda Long who previously served as the Riverfest coordinator. All proceeds from the various events will go toward programs to benefit and preserve the rivers.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has cancelled its upcoming election. City Clerk Judy Rice announced that the 2023 Qualifying Period for the 2023 Municipal Election Cycle closed at noon on Feb. 23 with no one challenging the existing elected officials. Rice said, “the Newberry Municipal Election, scheduled for April 11, 2023, has been canceled.” As all three incumbents were the only ones to qualify, they will be returned to office.

Incumbents include Jordan Marlowe – Mayor, Tim Marden – Commissioner Group IV and Tony Mazon – Commissioner Group V.

For questions contact the City Clerk’s Office at 352-472-2446 or email her at CityClerk@NewberryFL.Gov.

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