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WaldoPDWaldo Police Officer Tim Logan checks speeds of passing vehicles along State Road 24 Tuesday morning.  The department recently won $44,000 to spend on new equipment.

The Waldo Police Department (WPD) was a big winner in the latest ‘Click it or Ticket’ challenge, taking home points totaling $44,000 to be used toward equipment.

In a recent awards ceremony in Orlando, WPD was recognized for its efforts in traffic safety.  The small department, with just five officers, took first place in the Championship class. Hallandale Beach took second place and Biscayne Park went home with third.

WPD Chief Mike Szabo said the winnings are important in providing equipment for his department.  With a budget of about $480,000, a $44,000 influx of funds for equipment has a significant impact.

“The types of equipment we buy with these points is the kind of stuff a small department like ours couldn’t afford,” he said.  “We were able to buy a roadside message board with points won in the previous campaign.”

With the $44,000 WPD will be able to spend this year, Szabo said he plans to purchase a lighted directional sign, additional in-car video cameras, portable breath test machines, flashlights, emergency lights and more.

“We try to buy equipment that will help us alert motorists to speed zone changes and school zones,” said Szabo.  “Unfortunately, too many drivers are distracted and aren’t paying attention to the roadway.”

Although Waldo has a reputation as strictly enforcing the speed limits, Szabo said his department is often mischaracterized.  AAA Auto Club South has labeled Waldo as a speed trap and has even purchased billboards to warn motorists as they enter the city.

“People are going from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and they aren’t necessarily aware of their surroundings,” said Szabo.  “What we’ve tried to do is to alert motorists about speed changes by placing visual stimulants and warnings that the State wouldn’t.”

“If this were about money, we could sit outside and write tickets all day long for people traveling 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, but we’re not doing that,” Szabo said, adding that his officers don’t generally write more than a dozen tickets in a 12-hour shift.

Whether some motorists like it or not, Szabo said his department would continue participating in campaigns like ‘Click it or Ticket.’  “Statistics show that a strong law enforcement presence in a community deters crimes of all types,” said Szabo.

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Lefkowitzes signed over ownership of cats last week

catsOn June 7, nearly 700 cats were seized from Haven Acres cat sanctuary in High Springs.  Alachua County Animal Services will be conducting adoptions for about 620 cats on Aug. 27 and 28.

The hundreds of furry and fluffy cats and kittens seized from a High Springs sanctuary in June will soon be available for adoption, Alachua County Animal Services Director David Flagler said.   The seizure caught the attention of national news media, resulting in a slew of stories about the felines and Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary, which was reported to have been keeping the cats in poor conditions.

Alachua County Animal Services seized 697 cats on June 7, from Haven Acres.  The removal was the largest of its type in county history and required the assistance of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which both took lead roles in the operation.

Now that ownership of the cats has been transferred to the County, Flagler said his office is planning an upcoming adoption event to place them in new homes.

Of the original 697 cats taken from the sanctuary, he said about 620 remain. More than 70 of the felines died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond treatment, he said.

An adoption event is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 27 and 28 at the warehouse where they are being kept.  Flagler said his office is working with other agencies to potentially handle some of the cats. “Arrangements are being made to disperse the animals that do not find a home at the adoption event.”

Before being adopted into a new home, Flagler said the cats will meet Alachua County Animal Services adoption standards, unless special arrangements are made.  Those standards include each pet having all of its vaccinations, a microchip and being spayed or neutered.

More firm plans on the adoption event will be available in the coming days on the Alachua County Animal Services Web site at www.alachuapets.com, Flagler said.

In July, Alachua County revoked a special exception permit that allowed Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary to operate.

In a June interview, Alachua County Code Enforcement Director Rick Wolf said, “The basis for requesting revocation is because of failure to comply with numerous conditions.”

One such violation was the keeping of nearly 700 cats, well beyond the 200-cat limit placed on the facility.

Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, who operated Haven Acres, apparently did not publicly object to the revocation.

Wolf said occasional odor complaints from neighboring homeowners in the Edgemoor neighborhood would prompt a closer look.  But after he and other code enforcement officers visited the site in February, Wolf said his office was unable to substantiate complaints that would have violated the odor management plan.

The feline population at the sanctuary reportedly ballooned between February and June, in part because organizations from as far away as Orlando were sending cats to the sanctuary according to Flagler.

Flagler estimates the cost to the County for the seizure operation and caring for the felines will be about $35,000.  Most of that cost accounts for the overtime involved with operating two separate animal shelters.  He said the operation has cost the HSUS an estimated $400,000.

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Members of United State Senator Marco Rubio’s office will be visiting Newberry next week.

The senator’s office will be holding mobile office hours at Newberry City Hall Tuesday, Aug. 16 from 2:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Rubio’s staff will be available to meet and assist the general public with federal issues, his office said in a release Monday.

Newberry City Hall is located at 25440 West Newberry Road, Newberry, Fla. 32669.  Rubio’s regional office in Jacksonville may be reached at 904-398-8586.

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Alachua to continue four-day work week

It came with a unanimous approval Monday as commissioners gave the go ahead to keep official City hours Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.  The move came as Deputy City Clerk Alan Henderson delivered a report to the commission that the four-day work week instituted last year has resulted in a measurable savings.

Last year, commissioners voted 4-1 to move the city from a standard Monday through Friday work week to a four-day schedule in an effort to save money.

With about three-quarters of the year under the new schedule, Henderson said the City had saved nearly $18,000 in utility costs alone.  Also saved was an estimated 1,188 gallons of fuel.

Although he originally opposed the four-day work week, Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. went along Monday with a motion from Commissioner Robert Wilford to continue the hours.

“I was somebody who voted against this last year and have not heard much citizen complaints about the hours,” Boukari said.  “I am aware of those, who have been in contact through utilities and other places, that have seen a benefit to our citizens and residents with the times being later and earlier to be able to serve our citizens.”

Though he was in favor of continuing the four-day work week, Boukari said he wanted a review of savings to continue each year.

Commissioner Gary Hardacre said, in his observations, the extra day off didn’t result in unattended emergencies.

“I haven’t had any citizens comment in the negative on this…From what I’ve seen, emergencies coming up in the off days are still being taken care of,” he said.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to continue the four-day work week with a review of savings to be delivered again in August 2012.

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 Local businesses team up for Pump Perks Program

Today more than ever, consumers are searching for ways to save money.  And shoppers at the Hitchcock’s Market in Alachua are discovering there is more to saving money at the store than using coupons and shopping sales.

In partnership with Bob’s Mobil gas station, the grocery store has launched the Pump Perks fuel reward program.  With qualified purchases, customers can earn discounts on fuel that may result in paying as low as 10.9 cents per gallon on up to 15 gallons.

The Pump Perks program is in full swing at the Hitchcock’s Markets Alachua location at 15560 NW US Hwy 441, and the fuel rewards are redeemable at Bob’s Mobil, 16091 NW US Hwy 441 in Alachua.

“Hitchcock’s Markets is very excited to offer our Alachua customers an opportunity to earn discounts on fuel with their everyday grocery purchases,” said Hitchcock’s Wayne Josleyn. “This is an excellent partnership with Mobil that will really benefit our community.”

To participate in the program, shoppers at Hitchcock’s Markets pick up their free Pump Perks rewards card at the service desk, purchase specially marked items throughout the store and have their card scanned while checking out to earn cents off a gallon of gas. Eligible products are identified with the Pump Perks symbol throughout the store, and customers receive the per gallon savings shown on the shelf tag.  There are 1,500 rotating items that are currently part of the program.

The fuel discount is redeemed locally at Bob’s Mobil and applies for up to 15 gallons of gas in a single fill up. The Pump Perks card may be scanned at the pump for the discount, or inside with the cashier. Other participating gas stations are located in Jasper and Interlachen.

For more information on the Pump Perks program and the requirements to participate, visit Hitchcock’s Alachua location.

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Two seats up for grabs

Four candidates have qualified to compete for two open seats on the High Springs City Commission.

Among the qualified candidates are current Mayor Larry Travis and Vice-Mayor Byran Williams.  Bob Barnas and Linda Gestrin Clark have also qualified to run in the 2011 election cycle.  Barnas and Clark both sought seats on the commission during the 2010 election cycle but came up short.

The election will be held Nov. 8.

The two open seats, currently occupied by Travis and Williams, have three-year terms.  Williams was elected last year to fill the remainder of a vacancy, which was left when Commissioner Diane Shupe resigned.

The top two vote winners will fill the openings.

Qualifying began Monday, Aug. 1 at 8 a.m. and closed Friday, Aug. 5 at 4:30 p.m.

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With the start of school less than a month away for Alachua County Public School students, district and school staff are urging parents who have not yet registered their children to do so as soon as possible.

Classes begin Monday, Aug. 22, and it’s expected that hundreds of families will wait until that day or even later to register their students.  That means long lines in school front offices across the county.

“By waiting until the last minute, parents will almost certainly face big crowds and very long waits,” said public information officer Jackie Johnson.  “Middle and high school students may also miss out on getting the courses they want because they’re already full.”

Complicating the situation is Florida’s class size law, which went into full effect during the last school year.  Under the law, core academic classes in grades K-3 are limited to no more than 18 students, grades 4-8 are limited to 22 students and in high school the limit is 25 students.  Districts will be fined for every student over the limit in each classroom.

“The law definitely limits the principals’ scheduling flexibility, which makes having an accurate student count before school starts that much more critical,” said Karen Clarke, the district’s director of secondary curriculum.

Even without the class size requirements, late arrivals create a major headache for schools, teachers and their fellow students.

“If principals don’t know how many students are coming, they won’t know how many teachers they’ll need or how many class sections to schedule,” said Clarke.  “When students register late, teachers and students often have to be moved around to accommodate them, and that can be very disruptive.”

Parents need to register if their child will be entering an Alachua County public school for the first time (including students entering kindergarten) or if they have moved to a different school zone within the county.  Families new to the district should go to the child’s zoned school with documents including the child’s birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of a recent physical, proof of immunizations and two proofs of primary residence.  Records from previous schools are useful, but not required.  Those who’ve moved within the district will need to take just the two proofs of residence to the new school.

Local schools are open Monday through Thursday during the summer.  Typically the best time to register a child is between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Parents who aren’t sure which school their child is zoned for or who need more information can contact the district’s zoning office at 352-955-7700.

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