Last updateThu, 20 Nov 2014 12am


Cancer-stricken boy gets motorcycle dream ride

W - Motorcycle 1Marc Okes, 8, who has brain cancer, had a wish to go on a motorcycle ride. When he and his mother arrived at the Harley-Davidson shop in Gainesville, a crowd of riders ande police officers were there to take them on a motorcycle ride. Pictired are Marc and his mother as they ride through Alachua on Monday,March 10.  The local Make-A-Wish foundation helped make the dream come true for Marc as he was accompanied by over 100 riders.

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City may restructure police force

HIGH SPRINGS – A workshop on Thursday, March 6, scheduled as the first of two on the reorganizational needs of the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) got off to a rocky start as audience members and some commissioners expressed concern over the continued absence of High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley.

According to earlier comments from City Manager Ed Booth, Holley had vacation time coming to him and requested 30 days leave, which he was granted on Monday, Jan. 27. Although those 30 days have passed, Holley has not returned to active duty. Antoine Sheppard remains acting police chief until either Holley returns to his position or a new chief of police is named.

While speculation as to his continued absence is rampant, city staff are tight-lipped about the details. City Attorney Scott Walker said Holley's attorney had contacted him. Although he did not reveal their conversation, Walker did say he had assured Holley's attorney that his client was not the topic of the workshop. He stressed several times during the workshop, as questions kept cropping up about Holley, that it was not fair to Holley to discuss his position, which he termed a “personnel issue,” without Holley or his attorney being present.

Booth said he had not spoken with Holley or his attorney so had nothing to add, but redirected the topic to the needs of the police department. Pointing to this workshop as one of several leading up to the budgeting process in a few months, Booth said he wanted to make the commissioners aware of the city's needs prior to asking them to make decisions about next year's budget.

Booth said when he was hired that he would see how the departments worked, but would make no substantive changes to the running of the departments until he had been with the city for at least a year. Having recently passed the one-year point, and consulting with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and others on the structure of police departments in other cities of the same size, he recommended the addition of a detective and lieutenant.

He said he wanted to share his findings with the commission prior to the budgeting process. The cost of adding the two positions would be approximately $150,000. An increase in the millage rate from 6.15 to 6.85 would be required to make up those salaries, he said.

Pointing to too much work on the police officers because they were having to take on the detective duties in addition to their regular duties, Booth said officers are not able to complete their reports in a timely manner and morale is not as good as it could be.

The addition of a lieutenant's position would provide some added structure and support to younger officers, especially on the night shift, he said.

The installation of emergency dispatch services returning to High Springs cost the city $300,000, Booth said. He compared that with $85,000, the cost of having the Alachua County Communications Center handle all 911 calls. “I am just presenting the facts,” he said. Although it is up to the commissioners as to how they want to proceed, he indicated he wanted them to be aware of the facts and figures when they make their decisions.

A few audience members and Commissioners Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin expressed concern, saying that they had never heard there was any problem with the way the police department was being run. Commissioner Barnas said the money, if it was budgeted, would probably end up in the sewer fund instead.

Walker said he would be happy to meet with the commissioners on a one-to-one basis to discuss the situation further, but reiterated that it was not fair to Holley to discuss issues associated with his position in an open meeting.

Another workshop discussing the needs of the police department will be held on Thursday, March 20.

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Company moves to purchase rail line

HIGH SPRINGS – Although it appears the railroad line between High Springs and Newberry may soon be formally abandoned by CSX Transportation, Inc., another company appears to be stepping up to the plate to continue service on that short line.

Seaside Holdings, Inc., of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has formally expressed its intent to file an offer of financial assistance by purchasing the 11.62-mile section of rail line.

CSX and Florida Northern Railroad Company, Inc., the company that has been running the line between the two cities since 2005, have jointly filed a request with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington, D.C. to abandon the line and discontinue service.

“Abandonment is the last step railroad companies must go through when they have exhausted all other means of making the line profitable, “said Jo Ann Burroughs, manager of network services for CSX. Last August, CSX began writing letters to a number of different government and local entities after Florida Northern embargoed the line in 2011.

“In the abandonment/discontinuation of service process, someone else can make an offer of financial assistance to purchase the line under consideration,” Burroughs said. The Surface Transportation Board investigates the company making the offer and determines whether they are financially responsible. Seaside Holdings had to pay a filing fee, typically a couple of thousand dollars, to submit a notice of intent to file an offer of financial assistance with the Surface Transportation Board.

CSX is in the process of gathering information to help them determine the value of the property. If CSX submits an amount that the purchaser doesn't agree to, they can negotiate. If they cannot come to terms, the STB can determine the value, Burroughs said.

CSX's attorney, Louis Gitomer, will present the estimated value to the STB in Washington on or near March 17.

Although CSX is unaware of how Seaside Holdings intends to use the line exactly, the STB's regulations indicate that the intent is to run that portion of the line as a railroad. If the line is successfully transferred, STB's regulations stipulate that the purchaser cannot transfer the line or discontinue service for two years. If they want to sell it to someone other than CSX, they will have to wait five years to do so.

The STB's process required CSX to send letters of their intention to abandon that portion of the line to the Florida Department of Transportation, Alachua County, the State of Florida Historic Preservation Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Newberry City Hall, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the National Geodetic Survey, Alachua County Office of Management and Budget and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal and Environmental Clearing House.

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County aims to put transportation tax on ballot

ALACHUA COUNTY – Inspired by the actions a county in South Carolina took in the late 1990s, Alachua County is looking to put an initiative on the ballot in November which would give communities a way to fund their priority road-improvement and transportation projects.

The idea is for each community to make a list ranking the priority of various transportation projects and submit it to the county. The highest priority project would have to be completed before the next one could be tackled. It is based on a similar course of action taken by York County, S.C. in the 1990s.

The last action the Alachua County Commission took was to decide on a length of term for the one-cent sales tax that would pay for the projects. At a Feb. 18 meeting between the county and the Alachua League of Cities, the County Commission decided the sales tax would last for eight years, said Mark Sexton, county spokesman.

By adopting an eight year term for the tax, the county can gain the citizens’ trust, said High Springs Vice-Mayor Sue Weller.

“The citizens don't trust the County Commission,” she said. The eight-year term for the tax will give the county a chance to show it will stick to the projects the cities want done. Distrust of the county was a major theme when the issue was discussed at a Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting in September of last year. Citizens were skeptical the county would stick to the list.

The initiative could give smaller communities a bigger voice in determining which roadway improvements are pursued, said Kamal Latham, vice president of public policy for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in an interview with Alachua County Today last September.

“We need to find a way to get money to repair our roads,” Vice-Mayor Weller said. “I think the small cities recognize that there is an issue.”

Every city would have to submit the list of road projects, and the money would have to be used on the list items that were approved, she said. High Springs, for instance, would get about $900,000 each year to pave roads.

Under the proposal, Alachua County would get 43 percent of the money from the sales tax, the City of Gainesville would get 43 percent, and the rest of the money would be divided up among the smaller cities. Alachua would get 3.74 percent, Newberry would get 3.67 percent and High Springs would get 3.31 percent, for example, said Jeff Hayes, from the Alachua County Department of Growth Management.

There will be another meeting on March 18, where the county staff will present the county's project list. They will also send out directions to municipalities to prepare their lists.

In order for the transportation tax initiative to come to fruition, two things need to happen, Hayes said. First, the cities need to present finalized project lists, and second, the county would have to approve the ordinance to put the initiative on the ballot as a referendum for the November election.

“It has to go to voters for the final decision,” Hayes said. The County Commission is looking to pass the ordinance to put it on the ballot sometime in the summer, he said.

Most of the cities have turned in preliminary lists, Hayes said. The county is hoping to finish up the process and get the finalized lists and the ordinance passed within the next two months, he said.

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American Legion Riders visit High Springs memorials

HIGH SPRINGS – American Legion Riders Post 16 traveled from Gainesville to High Springs on Saturday, March 8 as part of a motorcycle day trip. The purpose of their visit was to see the memorial in honor of fallen military and police service dogs, located in front of the High Springs Fire Station.

Leda Carrero, the person who spearheaded the campaign to raise funding for the memorial, met with the group to thank them for their generous donation. The High Springs memorial was placed in front of the city's fire station and unveiled Nov. 11, 2013, after Carrero and other volunteers collected $1,200 in donations.

Ten members of the 30-member American Legion group wanted to see the finished memorial.

“They are in the process of preparing a memorial of their own in Gainesville,” said Paul Slag, a member of the Gainesville American Legion and High Springs resident. “Their memorial will be totally different in design and will be placed at Kanapaha Gardens in Gainesville,” he said.

Another memorial was also the topic of discussion. The memorial honors those who have served their country in time of war. Known as the War Memorial, it was erected on Oct. 11, 1980 by American Legion Post 97. The current location of the memorial is on the grounds of St. Bartholomew's Church. The church will soon be building on that site. As Post 97 is no longer in place, the group discussed the possible relocation of the memorial. Carrero is in the process of determining costs and has vowed to assist in fund-raising any way she can if the group wishes to move the memorial.

One suggested new site may be between the Sept. 11 Memorial and the memorial to the fallen Police and Military Service Dogs. If the American Legion decides to relocate the War Memorial, the city will likely be contacted for permission to relocate to that site.

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