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W - Alachua Fall Festival DSC 0029 copyDowntown Alachua welcomed a bevy of activity Sunday as the 10th annual Harvest Festival was in full swing most of the day. With parking around the Main Street area at a premium, festival goers parked along Skinner Park and near Alachua City Hall, walking several blocks to the historic downtown area. Music, food, children’s activities and vendors selling a wide ranging variety of goods and services were on hand. The event, which is sponsored by the Alachua Business League with support from the City of Alachua and local businesses, enjoyed sunny skies and warm weather. This year’s festival coincided with Veteran’s Day, and local groups including Alachua’s Cub Scout Pack 88, helped in the “Veteran's Tent" in support of the Alachua County Military Support Group and their mission to send care packages to soldiers serving overseas.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry’s planning and building department has geared up to create a new business model that would foster business development and innovative product creation. The plans are in the preliminary stage, but the goal is to acquire grants to develop a new business model that assists entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in Newberry, and then to ensure they will remain in the community.

Examples provided by Lowell Garrett, planning director for the project, include two or three businesses that test electronic equipment that got their start in Newberry. These companies work with businesses nationwide from their Newberry locations. These are the types of business this innovative business model would grow said Garrett.

The vision for the model is similar to the University of Florida Innovation Hub in Gainesville in that it will provide a system for expansion for high-tech businesses through formation of a business incubator. However, Garrett said an important point to consider is that urban centers, college towns and small towns such as Newberry function differently. There will be different parameters to consider regarding how to launch such a new business model in what is considered a bedroom community of Gainesville.

The planning department and the economic development committee will collaborate to apply for a planning grant and eventually, an implementation grant at the federal level. The first grant establishes parameters of the program such as data analysis to put the plan in motion. A business plan will be developed for presentation to prospective parties that are interested in making the business incubator a reality.

The incubator will provide a location where a business can start up with the benefit of lower overhead and funding expenses. The rent, power and utilities are usually included in a bundle, and personal and general development costs are lower. The Newberry model would focus on business startups of one to two people, who would typically be the product developers.

The goal is that within six months to a year, the business exits the start-up phase and establishes itself locally, or expands to other locations. This innovative model will be designed to keep the businesses in the community.

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GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners has chosen to opt-out of the State of Florida Septic Tank Evaluation Program.

By state law, a county or municipality where a first magnitude spring is located must decide whether or not to require an evaluation program for their area by Jan. 1, 2013. All other counties may choose to adopt the state program in their area at any time. The program would require counties with first-magnitude springs to mandate septic system inspections and a pump-out every five years. The largest springs are called "first-magnitude" springs, and typically discharge around 64.6 million gallons each day. Alachua County has three first-magnitude springs: the Hornsby, Santa Fe Rise and Treehouse Springs.

The law provides the county with the option to either adopt or opt out of the program. In 2010, the Florida Legislature passed a requirement for Florida septic systems to be inspected. That requirement was eliminated and replaced by House Bill 1263, which provides codes for counties to follow once the program was adopted.

Each evaluation of the septic systems would cost homeowners from $500 to $600. Residences on a lot with one bedroom per acre would be exempt from the evaluations.

A primary concern regarding septic systems is the amount of nitrates impacting the springs. Alachua County water resource manager Gus Olmos said a study was commissioned that revealed 17 percent of nitrates entering into the springs was from septic tanks that were fully functioning.

As of Nov. 7, 2012, no Florida counties had opted in to the Septic Tank Evaluation Program, and according to the state’s website, 18 counties in addition to Alachua County had opted out.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday, Nov. 8, to formally notify USDA, the project’s funding agency, in writing of the Commission’s decision not to move ahead with phases 4 and 5 of the sewer project at this time.

The action was taken despite urging by residents suggesting the City did not need to notify USDA of a decision this early and that doing so might eliminate that possible future funding source.

City Attorney Scott Walker concurred that notification was not required, but indicated the City could choose to do so or not. Walker suggested the City would have to seek bond and grant funds later if they decide to continue with those phases after notifying USDA of their decision.

Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison provided the dissenting votes in that action with Jamison cautioning that the City was in the highest vulnerability area due to the close proximity to the aquifer.

As part of the discussion, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas suggested the City notify the 200-250 homeowners on the south side of town that there will be a fee to hook up to the system. He said residents are under the impression the City will hook them up at no cost.

Barnas also indicated that in Starke, “they are doing something better,” and referred to the possibility of “tapping into the City of Alachua,” but did not provide details on either concept.

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Archer's Jones and Zander win

W_-_Williams_Election_DSC_0022_copyA victorious Byran Williams is congratulated Tuesday evening after winning the hotly contested Commission Seat 4 race against challenger Pat Rush.

HIGH SPRINGS – In the race for High Springs City Commission Seat 4, a steady stream of 2,674 High Springs citizens cast ballots in the contest.  In the end, the count was 1,448 ballots for Byran Williams, giving him the win over Pat Rush’s 1,176 votes.  In terms of percentages, it was Williams with 55.2 percent to Rush’s 44.8 percent.

Williams, who previously served as commissioner from 2003 to 2009 and again in 2011, was clearly elated at his re-election and said he was grateful for the support he received from citizens.  “I’m always proud of the people of High Springs,” he said with a broad smile, “but I am especially proud today at the wonderful turnout we have had and that they chose me again to serve them.”  Williams will be assuming the commission seat vacated by outgoing mayor Dean Davis, who chose not to seek re-election.

Challenger Pat Rush declined to comment earlier in the evening and took a “wait and see” approach rather than predict the outcome.  Rush was not available for comment after results were announced and attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

A controversial amendment to the city’s charter, which would limit the ability of the commission to obtain loans in excess of $1 million without a citizen referendum, received 1,794 votes to approve passage versus 880 votes against.

Controversy about the amendment has revolved around allegations of failure to comply with state required public notice laws. Although the original amendment was advertised with a $1 million limit on borrowing authority, the commission initially approved a $2 million limitation during a public hearing.  The issue resurfaced later in the same meeting after the $2 million limitation was approved and the public hearing had closed.  The commission voted again and changed the approved $2 million limit to $1 million. It is alleged that the commission’s revote on the measure was made without the required legal public notice.

High Springs resident Ross Ambrose filed suit seeking emergency injunctive relief to stop the amendment from appearing on the ballot.  Last week Judge Stanley Griffis ruled that the measure should remain on the ballot, but the amendment would not go into effect immediately, if approved.  Meanwhile, the issue is expected to go to trial and will be ruled on at a later date.  A link to the complete 15-page ruling on this issue can be found at www.alachuatoday.com.

Supporters for both candidates, as well as those in support of or against the proposed amendment, created a lively atmosphere along US Highway 441 as they ushered voters into Precinct 20 at the High Springs Civic Center.  While at Precinct 60, located at Fellowship Church of High Springs, also on US Highway 441, most of the supporters created the same upbeat atmosphere.

Supporters and media waiting for election results sought the county election website on their electronic devices to try to get the complete picture as they waited for local precinct numbers.

Although many people were focused on the local election results, some were disappointed they could not also obtain High Springs’ voter choices for the national election as well.

Election Clerk Yvonne Andrews announced the local election numbers after closing the polls and working with her staff, but referred people to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office or local news media for national election results from the High Springs precincts.

Andrews said that many general election turnouts she’s seen in more than 20 years of clerking were about the size of this election, “but the 2008 election was a little larger than this,” she explained.

Precinct changes caused confusion and some frustration for voters.  Andrews said if a voter’s name was not listed in their books, it caused delays and took time to determine where they should vote.  “We were having to bombard the county to find out just what each person’s status was and where they were supposed to vote,” she said.  “People were very polite and patient during that process, which was nice.”

Because this local election coincides with the national election, the Supervisor of Elections Office in Gainesville must certify the election results prior to declaring any candidate a winner.

In past years, the winning candidate would have been sworn in at the next regular commission meeting after the election.  This year the swearing in and organizational meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

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GAINESVILLE – Costs to improve Poe Springs Park continue to rise. At the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners approved over $180,000 in funding for Poe Springs Park repairs.

The Poe Springs Park budget amendment of $32,000 for the park’s retaining wall was approved with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent. Baird was concerned by the amount of costs being directed into the project.

Baird proposed seeing if there were any other sources of funds available other than general funds for the project.

The board went on to approve $148,589 in roofing, HVAC, carpet and fencing repairs to the park.

Alachua County Parks Superintendent Robert Avery said repeair costs for the park have almost more than doubled what had been expected due to natural forces such as flooding downpours caused by Tropical Storm Debby. The high water level impacted the project already in progress to renovate the steps leading into the spring. Another set of prefabricated steps are to be installed.

Avery noted that repairs to park buildings, which were built in 1991, need to be completed before management of the park is changed. Earlier this year, plans were in the works to transfer the park’s management to the City of High Springs, but those plans were delayed as a result of various issues including budget and failure of the two public bodies to reach agreement.

The Poe Springs Park repair project is expected to be completed before by next spring.

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W_-_Lee_VincentHIGH SPRINGS – At a time when the City of High Springs desperately needed a city manager with exceptional experience, excellent leadership skills and knowledge of water and wastewater issues, Lee Vincent stopped by to introduce himself and offer his services on an interim basis to the City.  Paul Sharon of Florida City/County Managers Association in Jacksonville called Vincent after being contacted by the City for assistance.

Vincent, who lives 20 minutes away in northwest Gainesville, was asked to consider the position and subsequently contracted with the City to assist for a 30-day period.

Many thought Vincent was the ideal individual to step in for High Springs given his 13 years of experience as a city manager, which would prove valuable in the city’s day-to-day operations and in assisting the commission identify potential permanent city manager candidates.  He served as city manager in Waldo, Starke and Port St. Joe, Florida, where he retired in 2008.  He is licensed as a Class C Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator and Class C Drinking Water Plant Operator, has 26 years of service in the Navy where he retired at the rank of Captain in 1994, and has post-graduate studies in public administration.

In a recent interview about the wastewater system, he said, “Once the city determines what they believe will be the cost, and follow up with discussions with our engineers and the citizens, a decision can be made whether to go with a gravity feed sewer system, where possible, or look at using low pressure grinder pumps or look at the latest available technology.”

Since becoming Interim City Manager about a month ago, Vincent said he has attempted to take on some of the administrative load from City Clerk Jenny Parham, who has been serving in a dual capacity as interim city manager and clerk.  “By taking some of the load off of her,” he said, “she can get back to her primary function as a city clerk.”

“I review anything that as a city manager I can make a decision on,” said Vincent, who slogged through paperwork the first few days of employment to determine what items needed to be tackled and by whom.

Right now, staff is currently working on the sewer system with respect to the “tweeners,” those approximately 70 residents whose homes were built after the sewer installation cutoff date for federal grant funding.

Rather than having the city clerk do all the investigation on easements and required documents for USDA Rural Development, Vincent said, “I have been working with staff and Jenny to provide the required information for submission by Mittauer & Associates,” the city’s engineering firm for this project.  “Easements for the grinder pump stations are examples of information that needs to be provided by the City,” Vincent said.

Vincent is also working to address housekeeping issues with the water and wastewater plants.  “I’ve also tried to make myself available to the citizens to answer any questions they might have, he said.  As a city manager, I think part of my job is to keep the commission as up-to-date as I can on items they should be aware of and to address citizen concerns at the city staff level rather than elevating it to the commission level.”

Vincent also gets out of the office and talks with City workers about their jobs.  “Frankly, I hear a lot of pride expressed by our employees about the jobs they are doing, and what they are able to accomplish with reduced manpower.”  Meeting business owners is another important function for Vincent.  “I am trying to walk around the city and meet various business people so they can associate a face with a job title,” he explained.

“I’m getting a kick out of this job,” he said.  “The reason I became a city manager in the first place was because I enjoy the job.”

Vincent’s 30-day contract with the city was set to expire on Tuesday, Nov. 13.  Whether the commission will retain him longer will likely depend on the status of negotiations with their choice of Edwin Booth for a permanent city manager.

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