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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry Commission authorized Scott Modeset of Summit Professional Services to proceed with an application for $1,250,000 in grant funds to be used for economic development in Newberry.  Authorization was granted following a second public hearing on the issue held just prior to the Aug. 27, 2012 City Commission meeting.

Modesett said the funds will provide necessary wastewater and water infrastructure as well as storm water management and transportation improvements to serve Newberry Town Center, a proposed multi-use commercial development.  The town center will be located on the east side of SW SR 45, between SW 15th Avenue and SW 30th Avenue.

The new facility is planned to be 36,000 sq. ft. of retail space and will include four new business entities that will combine to create at least 35 new jobs, 51 percent of which will be made available to low- to moderate-income persons as stipulated in the grant.

According to the supporting agenda documents, Norfleet Construction Group, LLC (NCG) will be one business to take up residence in the town center.  NCG will construct residential and commercial buildings and offer property management services for the same in the city and throughout the north central Florida area.  NCG will utilize 1,200 sq. ft. in the commercial/mixed-use development and has committed to create a minimum of 10 full-time equivalent new jobs.

Norfleet Grain Company, LLC (NGC), a second company also committed to the creation of 10 full-time equivalent new jobs, intends to occupy approximately 1,000 sq. ft. of office space.  NGC will market and distribute SUKUP Manufacturing’s brand of commodity handling equipment throughout the north central Florida region and will produce and sell quality grain products.

Thurmond-Norfleet Realty, LLC (TNR) intends to occupy 1,000 sq. ft. of space.  TNR Partners Lou Thurmond and Edward “Tripp” Norfleet have extensive real estate and building experience in the area and have committed to create a minimum of six full-time equivalent new jobs to satisfy the CDBG application.

Green & Reese, LLC (G&R) intends to occupy 1,000 sq. ft. of office space and will market and sell their own agricultural products, both locally and nationwide, and offer agricultural services to farms throughout north central Florida.  Partners Don Green and Joey Langford committed to create 10 new jobs to help the city qualify for the grant.

All four companies must create the jobs within the first two years of operation to be in compliance with grant terms.

In the past, the City has been limited to $700,000 in grant funding for this program.  In an effort to stimulate job growth, the State of Florida has been allowing waivers to be requested for projects that create a greater number of jobs than the minimum required for a full grant request.  Based upon the projected job numbers, the City is submitting a grant ceiling waiver request to obtain a grant amount of up to $1,250,000.

All paperwork for this grant will be submitted on or before Oct. 1, 2012.

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“There are too many bullets flying,” Ivey said

HIGH SPRINGS – More than a month after High Springs City Attorney Ray Ivey resigned on July 11, the City still has not had any applicants for the open position.  Ivey previously agreed to stay on until the City could find a replacement, but candidly told the commission during an Aug. 23 meeting that he had concerns about the City’s ability to attract another attorney.  And Ivey may be correct.

An advertisement earlier this month, which called for proposals to be submitted by 2 p.m. on Aug. 17, didn’t net any results.  Commissioners decided to place the ad once again in hopes that a second round will bring in applications, but Ivey didn’t sound hopeful.

Ivey said he was doubtful that running the ad would actually generate new interest.  He noted that he spoke with several attorneys who were aware of the open position, but were not applying.

Ivey said that is a “result of the things that are occurring [in High Springs] causes an attorney here considerable indigestion….the activities generating lawsuits.

“And when these meetings go far astray, it’s hard for an attorney to be prepared,” Ivey said.

“What I’m picking up is that attorneys are real uneasy… because of all of these problems.  There are too many bullets flying,” Ivey said, referring to impending lawsuits, among other concerns

He said one attorney who had previously applied for the position said he was intentionally not going to apply due the “hotbed that this is.”

Another attorney reportedly told Ivey that he couldn’t attend the frequent and numerous meetings called by the City of High Springs, because it would compromise his practice.

Although Ivey is working at a rate well below that of other previous applicants, he said he didn’t believe increasing the rates would attract attorneys.

“The attitude [among attorneys] is ‘I don’t want [the job], even at my regular rate,’” Ivey said.

Speaking about his conversations with attorneys who might be interested in the position, Ivey added, “One of the attorneys said, ‘I don’t want to go under the microscope.’”

Commissioner Sue Weller suggested the advertisement language include specifically how many meetings per month the attorney would be expected to attend.  Commissioner Linda Gestrin meanwhile said she wanted to simplify the ad instead of running it as a request for proposals.

Ivey resigned on July 11, after less than six months on the job.  In an email regarding his resignation, Ivey seemed to point to the City’s scheduling of frequent meetings as a chief reason for stepping down.

“Because I am concerned about my ability to attend all of the additional meetings that are necessary to accomplish City business, as well as the volume of work (which exceeds what I anticipated) as a result of the meetings, I must regretfully resign as City Attorney,” Ivey wrote in the email.

Although the commission’s regular commission meetings are scheduled just twice monthly, the second and fourth Thursday of each month, the commission has been meeting considerably more frequently than that.  Between commission meetings, special commission meetings, emergency commission meetings, joint commission meetings, workshops and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meetings, the commission has met as many as a dozen times in one month.  Many of those meetings have lasted as long as five hours or more.

The commission met on Aug. 23 during a regularly scheduled commission meeting, but it also has special commission meetings on Aug. 29, 30 and 31.

When pitching his firm to the commission in January, Ivey proposed a rate of $50 per hour up to 80 hours per month with no retainer or minimum required and additional time available at a negotiated rate.  Also topping the list for attorneys being considered earlier this year was Brent E. Baris, P.A. of High Springs.  Baris proposed a rate of $100 per hour with an effective retainer or minimum of $3,000 monthly for 30 hours of services.  Baris apparently did not re-apply for the recently-advertised position.

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W_-_first_Day_School_Irby_DSCF7056Irby Elementary teacher Ashley Helfrich welcomes kindergartner Taylor Mcrae and his mother Charlene Mcrae on the youngster’s second day of school Wednesday morning.

ALACHUA COUNTY – Students were back to the books, back to the buses and back to climbing the learning curve Monday morning.  But Monday wasn’t only the first day of school for hundreds of area kindergartners.

Santa Fe High School welcomed new principal Dr. Beth LeClear as she replaces former principal Bill Herschleb who recently retired.  Valde Fortner, meanwhile, stepped into her new role as Irby Elementary School’s principal.   Fortner has been welcomed by some 380 students at the school.

“Our first week of school at Irby has gone extremely well,” said Fortner said, adding that the students were practicing and learning their daily routines and procedures.

Although the school was deluged with rain in addition to students during the first two days of school, it apparently hasn’t put a damper on the start to the 2012/13 school year.

“We are all very pleased with how smoothly everything is progressing.  It takes everyone including parents and additional volunteers from within our community to make this happen, and so we appreciate each one.”

Preliminary enrollment estimates put Santa Fe High with 1,071 students at the top of the list among schools in the outlying areas of Alachua County.  Newberry High has roughly 600 students while Oak View Middle has 674 and Newberry Elementary has 478 students.

A whopping 845 students are enrolled at High Springs Community, a combined elementary and middle school.  Other enrollment estimates include:

Alachua Elementary-387

Archer Elementary-479

Hawthorne-339

Mebane Middle-396

Shell Elementary-185

Waldo Community-196

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ALACHUA – What began as discussion about a 10-cent increase in a mosquito control fee led into a debate over the chemicals used in the spraying process and its impact on Alachua’s honeybee population.

The City of Alachua uses spray trucks to provide mosquito control services for residents. Since June, there has been an increase in the concentration of mosquitos in the area, which has led the City to spray for mosquitoes more often.

The monthly mosquito control fee has been $1 a month since 1989, but will soon be increased to $1.10 a month to offset additional costs. Mike New, Alachua’s public service director, said the City provides mosquito control without a full-time staff and has been spraying for mosquitos every night for a number of weeks.

“More so than being a nuisance, mosquitos are known carriers of blood-borne pathogens,” New said.

The United States is currently experiencing its largest West Nile virus outbreak ever, according to the Center for Disease Control. There have been 13 West Nile cases reported in Florida this year, and mosquitoes are transmitters of the West Nile virus.

Some area residents voiced concerns at Monday’s commission meeting about the potential side effects of the permethrin product used to kill mosquitoes.

City commissioner Gary Hardacre stated that permethrin has been known to kill honeybees. And multiple studies have shown that permethrin is highly toxic to honeybees, which are essential for the pollination of agricultural crops.

While the City of Alachua sprays regularly, Alachua County does not spray countywide.

“Alachua County has made the decision to let nature run its course,” Alachua County Communications Coordinator Mark Sexton said.

Sexton said spraying is not countywide for health reasons and to protect organic farms and beneficial insects.

Hardacre said he would be willing to get a few mosquito bites if it led to a honeybee being saved.

“This one little unique insect has such a big part of our lives,” Hardacre said.

Hardacre said the honeybee is responsible for pollinating foods, and should be protected.

“It’s just a fantastic little insect,” he said.

Hardacre said the City will add information to its Web site to inform residents about the chemicals used and when spraying occurs.

Alachua resident Tamara Robbins expressed worry that the use of permethrin might harm an already diminishing bee population.

“Chemical warfare is not the answer. Kids are riding their bikes, people are out on walks, animals are out,” Robbins said. “My throat starts burning when that truck is out.”

Resident Jeannette Hinsdale echoed Robbins’ concerns, and said that permethrin is an irritant to the eyes, nose and lungs. Hinsdale said the City should increase public awareness about mosquito prevention instead of using pesticides.

“I think the decline of bees will be more detrimental to our health than West Nile will ever be,” Hinsdale said.

New said mosquito spraying is done after dusk to avoid killing honeybees because the honeybees are usually back in their hives and protected from the chemicals by that time.

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W_-_Santa_Fe_River_DSCF7074Recent rains have helped raise levels in area rivers and lakes, but for some businesses it’s bitter-sweet as business has suffered.

HIGH SPRINGS – At Adventure Outpost located off US Highway 441, the parking lot remains empty as dark, heavy clouds slowly brew in the sky above. Behind the festive building, decorated with colorful string lights, rows of canoes wait to be used.

As the raindrops land on the hollow shells, the deserted building sits silent, waiting for the weekend, waiting for the people to return, waiting for the storm to blow over.

“It might not be good for our business personally when it rains, but it’s good for our water, our aquifer and our springs,” said Patsy Andersen, co-owner of the Adventure Outpost. “All in all, we think the rain is wonderful.”

Despite the frequent storms, the canoe and kayak business in the area has improved, Lars Andersen said. While rainy days may not draw the people to the store, the rising water levels on the Santa Fe River have enticed visitors and locals back onto the waterways, and in effect, back into the Adventure Outpost.

“Ever since the river went down after the storm [Debby], business has been great. Better than ever, I think,” Patsy said. “We hadn’t done the stretch from the 441 boat ramp to the 27 boat ramp in over a year because it was way too low, and that’s a beautiful stretch.”

With Debby’s deluge, the water on the river is flowing again, and so is the overall business at Lars’ shop.

But despite the increase, Lars and Patsy doubt that the frequent rainfall has helped replenish the aquifer.

“As much rain as that brought us, there are still some waterways, surprisingly, that are still too dry to paddle,” Lars said. “It kind of speaks to how great our water deficit really was.”

Prairie Creek, which winds close to the city of Gainesville, remains at low water levels since the tropical storm’s flooding. Lars admits, however, that he hasn’t been out to that area in a of couple weeks.

Since Debby, the levels have slowly started to decline, although they are not as low as prior to the storm.

“People have been saying the aquifer is fine,” Patsy said. “Now that we’ve had all this rain, we can waste water again. It’s not true. We need to conserve water now – for the long run.”

However, while Lars and Patsy have seen an increase in business, other places around High Springs have not been as lucky.

“I’ve had to reschedule several classes due to the poor conditions,” said Dan Patterson, a dive instructor at Extreme Exposure Scuba Shop.

With increased surface runoff, the springs turned dark and tannin-stained, resembling a brownish tea instead of the crystalline waters normally common for springs in this area.

For divers, and cave divers especially, decreased visibility makes it hard to dive and sometimes even dangerous to train, Patterson said.

Ginnie Springs, Patterson’s favorite cave system, currently has the worst visibility he has seen since approximately 1998.

With poor conditions at the local springs, even equipment purchases have seen a decline at Extreme Exposure. After Debby, Ginnie Springs closed for three or four weeks, Patterson said, adding that some of the store’s business is from through traffic on the way to scuba dive at the spring.

Summer is normally the busiest time of the year for the High Springs scuba business, but Patterson believes he will have to continue rescheduling classes. Already, the first class in September has been pushed back a couple of weeks.

“Cave divers are a pretty tenacious group,” Patterson said. “They’re still diving.”

Even the springs, such as Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Blue Springs Park, suspended services offered during the time directly after Tropical Storm Debby. Both restricted visitation because of naturally darkened water that occurs after a flood.

However, both recovered quickly and are once again open to the public for recreational uses, such as swimming and tubing.

Jennifer Diaz, external communications manager with Ichetucknee, said the rising floodwaters that occur after a storm cause the waters to become turbid. However, since the storm, the water levels have decreased and clarity has returned to the spring.

Despite the continued rain, the park is enjoying normal visitation levels for this time of the year.

According to Gus Olmos, water resource manager at the Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Alachua County is still currently in a water shortage order as dictated by the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), even though the district has lifted the ban in other counties within its jurisdiction.

Alachua County DEP is waiting for an updated report from the SRWMD about the health of the aquifer within its district. As of last month’s report, the aquifer still had a long way to go before it was anywhere near healthy water levels. However, Olmos said the county has seen a large amount of rainfall in the past weeks that may have decreased the severity of the situation.

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NEWBERRY – A Last-Blast-of-Summer weekend event is being hosted by the Newberry Main Street Organization at Easton Newberry Sports Complex.

A Big Splash Inflatables fun area will be set up at Easton Newberry Sports Complex on Saturday, Sept. 1.  Cost is $6 per day per child or $10 per child for both days.

Hotdogs and Hawaiian sliders will be available for $3 from 1-4 p.m.  Drinks will be available as well and fun games are scheduled throughout the day. Visit www.newberrymainstreet.org for times and events.  Prizes will be awarded for game winners.

A luau dinner is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the gym.  Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are $20 per person, $35 per couple and $6 for children 7-12 years of age. Children 6 and under eat free.

Dinner goers are encouraged to wear their best Hawaiian shirt or dress.  Competition is sure to be fierce.  Winner of the Best Shirt/Dress Contest will be announced at the luau.  MS Volunteer Awards and dancing until 9 p.m. are features of the evening.

On Sunday, Sept. 2, more fun games and a Tacky Tourist Contest will be features of the day, along with a volleyball tournament in the gym from 2-4 p.m. The Jamie Davis Band will be in concert from 4-9 p.m., and then get ready for the fireworks, which are scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.  Food vendors will be available to provide refreshments from 1-6 p.m.

Admission and parking are free.  For luau tickets, call 352-472-2112 or visit NewberryMainStreet.org.  Credit cards are accepted, but tickets are going fast.

Events are being sponsored by Newberry Main Street, City of Newberry, Holt’s Steel, Newberry Backyard BBQ, Newberry Tourism Center, Fire House Art Gallery, Alachua County Tourism Development Grant and VisitGainesville.com.

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HIGH SPRINGS – After a debate that has stretched over the course of several months, the High Springs Commission finally decided on Thursday, Aug. 16, in a 3-2 vote to begin advertisements for a new city manager.

Vice Mayor Bob Barnas previously proposed moving forward with advertising at an earlier meeting on Aug. 9. During Thursday’s discussion, the motion to advertise passed with Barnas, Commissioner Linda Gestrin and Mayor Dean Davis voting in favor of the measure.

According to the ad that will be placed in several newspapers and web sites, the City is looking for a new city manager until a closing date of Sept. 26. Applicants should have three to five years experience, as well as preferred experience in finance.

Current City Manager Jeri Langman said she does not intend to apply for the position because she doesn’t think her application would be accepted. However, she did send a letter to the commission to correct what she believes are misconceptions spoken about her on the dais.

“I have never said I wanted to retire,” she wrote. “I have done my best as a manager and I have done my job under very trying circumstances. I have made the upmost effort to steer the city in the right direction. I have earned this position.”

Langman also states that when the commission made her a permanent manager, she acquired certain rights afforded to her by the High Springs City Charter. She claims that her termination and the removal of the rights must occur pursuant to the charter guidelines.

“I have Whistleblower rights under Florida law,” she stated in her letter.

Langman wrote in her letter that the rift between her and the commission started after she issued a press release calling for Barnas to resign because of several alleged charter violations on his part. Subsequently, the vice mayor appeared on radio talk shows stating he wanted Langman terminated, as well as trying to rally support for the action, Langman said.

During the meeting on Aug. 9, Barnas announced in the final moments of the meeting that he wasn’t happy with Langman, and he claimed the memorandum of understanding, which outlines her terms of employment, stated that she was a temporary employee helping High Springs until a permanent manager could be brought on.

However, there seems to be some disagreement among the commission on that point as Davis said during Thursday’s meeting that Langman was not temporary, but had been voted in as a permanent city manager. In an unannounced move by the commission at the Feb. 9, 2012 meeting, Langman made the transition from interim to permanent city manager.

Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison take issue with the process the other three commissioners are taking to effect Langman’s removal from office, characterizing the action as unethical.  Weller has stated that the special meetings, originally scheduled as budget workshops, are not the place to discuss the future of the city manager.

The matter should instead be placed on an agenda during a regular commission meeting. Citizens do not expect the future of their city manager to be discussed during a budget meeting, Weller said.

Jamison argued that seeking a new hire for a position which an employee is currently occupying is wrong.

“Just because it’s legal to do it, doesn’t make it right. What’s going on right now is wrong,” he said during the Aug. 9 meeting.

In her letter, Langman detailed that the commission majority has left the City unable to balance the budget, especially in the face of grave economic times. The majority of the commission refuses to increase taxes, yet the City is struggling with sewer debt, the cost of bringing back a city run emergency dispatch enter and draining contingency funds.

“Why did Commissioner May resign? Why have two City Attorneys resigned?” she wrote. “It is because the Commission majority is damaging the City beyond repair.”

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