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ALACHUA – The Alachua City Commission has approved funds to update and strengthen firearms used by the Alachua Police Department’s School Resource Officers.

Updated weapons will ensure that officers are armed with a rifle of equal or better firepower and range than the civilian AR 15 or similar semi-automatic rifles used by gunmen in recent shootings. These rifles have a clip that holds 30 or more rounds and is easily changeable, which may leave officers outgunned by superior firepower. Law enforcement staff determined that the Sig Sauer MCX rifle is most suitable for the school environment as it is compact, collapsible and may be quickly deployed for rapid response during a critical incident. These rifles can be carried discretely in a case worn by the officer.

Alachua Police Department Chief Chad Scott said that the new rifles will be in the officer’s possession at all times. Putting them in a safe or car trunks until needed loses critical moments and may not allow the officer to get to the weapon in a critical situation. Seconds matter when an active shooter has a semi-automatic assault rifle and the officer has to be able engage the shooter quickly to minimize casualties. The recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School only lasted six minutes in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded.

Scott said that not only would the rifles give the officer the firepower and the ability to react quickly to an active shooter, but would also deter attacks before they happen. “Most of these shooters have surveyed their target prior to the incident and planned it out to create the most damage. They are after easy targets. If they know the school has a well-armed Resource Officer they are less likely to attack,” Scott stated.

The commission also approved the cost of DNA analysis for investigations as well as the purchase of the four new rifles. The purchases will be paid for from the City’s Forfeiture Fund. Scott requested a total transfer of $10,450 of which $6,760 would be for the cost for DNA analysis related to applicable investigations and $5,718 would be for the purchase of four rifles for School Resource Officers.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (FCFA) allows law enforcement agencies to use proceeds collected under this act as supplemental funding for authorized purposes. The FCFA provides for the seizure and civil forfeiture of property related to criminal and non-criminal violations of law. Contraband and other property may be seized when utilized during a crime or when the property was gotten either illegally or obtained by profits from illegal activity.

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                                                  Email:rcarson@alachuatoday.com

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RAY CARSON/The High Springs police and fire departments delivered gifts to seven different locations for the annual Operation Holiday Cheer giveaway. Since 2008, High Springs first responders have been delivering presents to selected families who may be having financial difficulties during the holiday season.

HIGH SPRINGS – On the morning of Dec. 21 a convoy of emergency vehicles gathered in front  of the High Springs Police station. They were on a special mission called Operation Holiday Cheer. At 9:30 a.m., a convoy of four police cars and a fire truck left the parking lot with emergency lights flashing and a police siren to alert traffic at crossroads. One police vehicle towed a trailer full of presents. These first responders were on a mission to make Christmas special for kids that might otherwise receive little. It’s a chance to give to others and help keep the excitement and joy in a child’s heart for this special time of year.

Since 2008, the High Springs police and fire departments have asked for donations of new toys, pajamas and books from the community so they can provide them to local children. Several local businesses, the Rotary Club and the High Springs Community School are also involved in the effort.

The High Springs Community School notifies the police department of families they feel could use the help, and the police department then contacts the child’s parents to get approval for a delivery and find out if there are other children in the house. They don’t want anyone to feel left out, so if there are other children in the house they are also added to the list. This also gives the police an opportunity to see what the children want and they try to match the gifts to the children.

Once the visit is approved by the parents, the families are added to the list. For some families, the delivery date did not work, so they were able to pick up the gifts at the police station or a day care center. However, part of the total experience for the children is the delivery. It’s not often that a child has a convoy of police and fire vehicles come to their home with lights flashing and a trailer full of wrapped presents.

The event is organized by High Springs Police Officer Jason Taylor and on the morning of Dec. 21, Officer Taylor, his son Jason Jr. and friend Noah Brock were joined by fellow officers James Yakubish, Tony Pakala, Assistant Chief Antione Sheppard and Chief Joel DeCoursey. Lieutenant Kevin Pearson also arrived with the fire truck and crew.

The first delivery was to a boy living with his mother and grandmother. They both knew what was to happen, but the boy did not. As the convoy pulled into the apartment parking lot the boy had a surprised look on his face, which only grew as Jason Jr. and his friend Noah brought a large box of wrapped presents to him. As his mother and grandmother looked on, he excitedly began opening the presents one by one. After all were opened, he thanked everyone and shook hands with Chief DeCoursey and Lt. Sheppard.

At the next stop, both parents were working and the two middle school kids were home on Christmas break. They were hesitant to open the door and come out with all the police cars there with lights flashing. A call to their parents resolved the issue and they came out to a crowd of uniformed officers in Santa hats complete with a box of presents for each of them. They opened them in a stunned silence, unable to believe it was happening, with smiles growing on their faces with each present.

The next stop was two boys living with a guardian. The initial reaction was the same as the others, a disbelief that this was happening to them. Accompanied by a friend, they opened the presents. At the end they thanked all the officers thinking it was over, but the crew had an additional surprise for them. Officer Taylor pulled two new bicycles off the trailer and presented them to the boys. As the boys climbed on the bikes, Taylor halted them and explained that as police officers they had to make sure that these two riders met the legal safety precautions and produced two helmets for them as well. After the officers put the helmets properly on the boys they were allowed to ride, with a reminder that they should always wear a helmet.

The next delivery was a house with five children. They all gathered on the front porch as the convoy pulled up. The eldest had her hands clasped together and a smile on her face. As dad looked on, she walked down the steps to greet Jason Jr. as he approached with a large box of presents. Like the previous stops, she had a look of shock and joy mixed on her face. The box was brought back to the porch and the name on each present was called out. One young boy stopped opening presents when he got a drum. It was what he wanted and nothing else mattered as he picked up the drum sticks and began hitting the drum.

The five kids were not the largest delivery. Next was a house with six children. Their excitement showed as they each opened presents leaving the yard strewn with wrapping paper. But this was still not the largest group. The final stop of the morning was a day care center, where about 15 young children gathered in the fenced yard to be handed presents by police and firemen. For one police officer, this stop had special meaning. His young son attended here.

Operation Holiday Cheer has brought happiness for nine years for children who have little  For those children, these gifts made a huge difference. Operation Holiday Cheer is well named, bringing joy and happiness by the simple act of compassion and giving to children who need it.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

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With more than 16 years at the City of Hawthorne, LaKesha McGruder is a mainstay in the local government.

HAWTHORNE – LaKesha H. Hawkins-McGruder, MMC of City of Hawthorne, has earned the designation of Master Municipal Clerk (MMC), which is awarded by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), Inc.

IIMC grants the MMC designation only to those municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state.

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Read more: Hawthorne’s LaKesha Hawkins-McGruder making her mark

1-MapSR26WtrWwtrExtension DCC Nov2016 copy

 

Map of State Road 26 corridor, east toward Northwest 202nd Street, showing the four large properties leading to Destiny Community Church at 420 S.W. 250th Street, Newberry. The City of Newberry and the four property owners, are slated to pay a share of the costs to run water lines along that route to serve the church and encourage future economic development along the corridor. (Illustration special to Alachua County Today)

 

NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners took a giant step forward in their efforts to make their city more attractive to commercial and industrial development at their Dec. 12 meeting. Commissioners voted to extend water utility lines eastward approximately 1.5 miles toward Jonesville at an estimated cost of $684,273.

Four property owners on the north side of the State Road 26 corridor have been approached to consider paying a fair share of the cost of laying water lines across their rights-of-way. “Generally speaking, they all feel this is a fair way to assess their properties,” said City Manager Mike New. “There has been no push back from those owners to indicate that they are not in favor of this project.”

According to City records, the property owners are Gary W. Weseman, who owns approximately 45 acres, Canterbury Showplace, Inc, who owns 37 acres, Norita Davis, who owns 171 acres and Glaeser Tract Investment, Inc., who owns 272 acres.

Each would pay a share, leaving $230,164 for the City's share. The “fair share” assessment for each property is the estimated cost to construct an eight-inch water main across the property, according to supporting documentation by the City. “The assessment would eventually result in $454,000 of the $684,000 project cost being refunded to the City. The $230,000 balance would be funded appropriately from development fees as system expansion. Staff notes that the $230,000 expense to the City will be recouped by future connections to the water system.”

During the meeting Stephan Davis, acting on behalf of his mother, Norita, addressed commissioners to encourage the City to move ahead with this project. He also indicated they had no plans to use their property for residential development. No other property owners attended the meeting to speak for or against approval of the planned extension.

The impetus to take this step was two-fold. The most urgent of the two reasons to move forward with this plan at this time has to do with Destiny Community Church (DCC), located at 420 S.W. 250th Street. The church petitioned for a Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board on Dec. 5, which recommended approval and sent it to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) with certain conditions.

Conditions cited had to do with provision of water and wastewater utility services and they state that the development must connect to the City's water system upon completion of their construction project, if the water line extension is approved by Commissioners, which it was. If the extension project had not been approved at this meeting, the church could have constructed an on-site well to provide water for an adequate fire suppression system until such time as water lines became available to the site by the City.

The BOA is expected to consider the Special Exception application in January. If approved, it is expected that DCC could complete construction in one year. That also means that the City's water main extension must be completed within one year as well.

Although DCC's request is more immediate, the City was already considering a plan to extend utility services eastward. Many believe the lack of water and wastewater infrastructure east of the downtown area along SR 26 has limited development, particularly commercial and industrial development.

In 2015, a group of property owners along the SR 26 corridor commissioned a report to analyze its potential for economic development and the factors which would facilitate development. Among its findings, the State Road 26 Corridor Study identified provision of water and wastewater infrastructure as a primary driver for economic development along the five-mile corridor between the downtown area and Jonesville.

City staff had developed a conceptual plan to provide water and wastewater infrastructure along this corridor. The estimated cost for the water and wastewater utility infrastructure along the five-mile corridor totaled $10 million. In December 2015 the City transmitted a Community Based Inclusion Request (CBIR) to the Florida legislature seeking funding to further plan the infrastructure needs of the corridor. The Florida legislature allocated no funding during the 2016 legislative session.

Commissioners requested that the City Manager continue to pursue some funding avenues he mentioned at the meeting to help pay for the eventual construction of wastewater lines eastward along the same corridor at an estimated $1.5 million to complete.

In addition to the wastewater issue, changes to the City's Land Use Map and zoning categories along SR 26 also must be modified in the near future to change both to allow for commercial and industrial use.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua Branch Library was filled with candy, laughter and enough icing to fill a small pool as children of all ages were accompanied by family and friends to the Alachua Branch’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Workshop, Sunday, Dec. 18. Each person attending the event received a free pre-made gingerbread house and a cup filled with their choice of candy with which to decorate.

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Read more: Houses good enough to eat

W - HS Parade - Carson  DSC6712

A group of riders on horseback glimmer with lights adorning their outfits and their horses as they make their way down the parade route. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – Hot cocoa, miniature candy canes, festive attire, cheerful Christmas music and a pygmy goat named Matilda filled Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, on one of the coldest winter evenings so far this year.

The 19th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade, sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, attracted hundreds of area locals. Although the parade itself didn't begin until 6 p.m., people came as early as 4:30 p.m. to find a great viewing spot.

“We have more floats than usual this year,” said Eyvonne Andrews, President, High Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We’re also hoping for a grand turnout. The Chief of Police redesigned the parade route this year,” she said, “It’s coming out near the Civic Center and ending at the Christmas tree.”

Some organizations involved in this year's parade were High Rock Riders Motorcycle Club, Pampered Paws, the Woman’s Club, First Christian Academy, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Tumblemania, just to name a few.

Before the parade, Archer resident Patty Hannon walked her pet pygmy goat, Matilda, complete with pink bows and a pink sweater. Youngsters flocked around to get a better view and to pet the goat.

“I take her everywhere,” Hannon said. “She’s very friendly.”

River Run, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that opened on Main Street in March of this year, had its doors open, welcoming the public. Outside their front door they distributed free hot cocoa and cookies. Lollipops were given to the children.

The Santa Fe High School Marching Raider Regiment band glowed with bright, festive lights adorning their outfits, and Santa himself brought up the rear end of the parade in bright, shiny red High Springs fire truck. Families and children were encouraged to visit with Santa at the city’s decorated Christmas tree located near Railroad Avenue for photos.

“I love this time of year,” said Michael Loveday, event Co-Coordinator. “It’s interesting that we have over 50 floats this year. Last year we had about 44. It’s just a fun time.”

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