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HIGH SPRINGS – Residents of the City of High Springs may see a spike in their water and sewer bill in the coming months.

At the April 26 commission meeting, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas requested that the commission hold a workshop to discuss potential rate changes. That workshop has been scheduled for Thursday, May 3 at 6:30 p.m., City Manager Jeri Langman said.

While the vast majority of the estimated 1,100 sewer customers currently pay $34.41 for the first 5,000 gallons of usage each month, Barnas said the sewer rates would have to increase to $63.86 to pay for the cost of the sewer. This figure would not allow for the city to make a profit, simply cover debt and operating expenses.

Currently, commercial customers pay $46.44 for the first 5,000 gallons.  After the first 5,000 gallons, both residential and commercial customers pay $6.87 per 1,000 gallons of usage.

In early March, the commission said the city was $8.5 million in debt because of the sewer, and Barnas pointed out a $40,000 deficit on the 2011-2012 fiscal year in the sewer fund during the April 19 budget workshop. All five of the commissioners listed the sewer as one of their top priorities. In the past, the city has taken money from the water fund to cover the rising sewer debt, Barnas said.

During the April 19 workshop, Commissioner Scott Jamison expressed concern about the fact that some High Springs residents had already paid in money to the sewer when installations were being made. He paid $6,000, but other neighborhoods were covered by grant money and didn’t have to pay anything for the installation.

In December 2011, Mayor Dean Davis, Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin opposed raising water, sewer or solid waste rates, despite the fact that the increase had already been factored into the fiscal year budget. At the time, Finance Services Director Helen McIver warned the commission that not passing the rate increase could create a $70,000 shortfall in the budget.

During the April 26 meeting, the commission also discussed the possibility of refinancing the sewer debt. However, City Manager Jeri Langman said that refinancing through the government program the city had in mind would be impossible because the program was only for transportation debt.

Langman said she could continue to search for options, but felt the city would have trouble showing its ability to repay. Barnas said he would keep searching for options and report back to the commission.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City of High Springs and Police Chief Steve Holley was sent back to the drawing board at the Thursday, April 26, commission meeting after sparking a debate between commissioners.

“I’d like to express my reservations about the process of granting an MOU, which guarantees future employment to an individual employee. Let me emphasize, my concern is with the process, not the individual,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “This is a slippery slope we do not want to go down.”

Police Chief Holley sought a MOU to ensure that he would return to his previous job as police sergeant if he was fired from the police chief position. Jamison felt management was attempting to protect an employee, but he wondered why Holley was the focus of the MOU. Other employees, such as the city’s fire chief, do not have an MOU guaranteeing a job with the city should they be removed from a department head position.

Jamison expressed two issues focused around the MOU, one a legal issue and the other a fairness issue.  He stated that legally the commission, under Charter Section 206, had no authority to promise a position of a city employee, especially being that Holley is not a Charter officer. By approving the MOU, the City of High Springs would be inserting politics into the hiring process of city employees.

It was also a matter of fairness that caused Jamison to have concerns. He said the MOU would send a message to other employees that Holley was a favorite of the commission, adding that every employee should be treated fairly and equitably.

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas supported the MOU as a way for the city to avoid a contract that might contain a hefty severance package, referencing $77,000 plus benefits paid to former Police Chief Jim Troiano.

The MOU “was done to be good to a man who had devoted his life to the city and done more than any previous Police Chief had done,” Barnas said referring to Holley.

In response to comments made by Jamison, Barnas said the MOU should be discarded and Holley should seek an iron-clad contract similar to contracts held by the former police chief and city manager.

Previous Police Chief Troiano had a contract with the city allowing for his termination with or without any reason or cause. In return, he received six months’ severance. His contract, or MOU, also didn’t allow for him take a patrol officer position should he be removed as chief. He was dismissed, as cited by a city press release, due to possible structural changes.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said that City Clerk Jenny Parham has an MOU with the city commission that guaranteed her job as city clerk after her time as interim city manager was over. Jamison countered that Parham is different because she is a Charter member.

After a debate, the commission tabled the agenda item concerning a MOU with Holley until the next meeting. They directed City Attorney Raymond Ivey to return with options about how the city could proceed, including a potential employment contract.

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Irby Elementary’s outgoing principal, Lina Burklew, third from left, was honored during a recent farewell celebration at the school

ALACHUA – Amid friends and coworkers, Irby Elementary Principal Lina Burklew celebrated the end of her time at the Alachua elementary school and the beginning of a new adventure at Gainesville’s Talbot Elementary.

On Wednesday, April 18, Irby staff and PTA members decorated the school’s media center to look like paradise, complete with hibiscus blooms, colorful beads and tropical-themed party favors. Adding to the festivities were the tables sprinkled with flowers and miniature flip flops.

In keeping with the theme, Burklew said after five and a half years, she saw each day at Irby as “another day in paradise.”

Burklew’s husband, Brad, had served as the principal of Talbot, but he will be moving to Gainesville’s newest elementary school, which is scheduled to open this coming fall.  Effective April 23, Lina Burklew moved to Talbot to cover the vacancy being left by her husband.  Brad Burklew worked as Talbot’s principal for five years before being assigned to the new Meadowbrook Elementary on NW 39th Avenue in Gainesville.

“We’re happy for her,” Irby speech pathologist and Alachua City Commissioner elect Shirley Green Brown said. “I’m sure she will be a highly effective principal at Talbot as she follows in her husband’s footsteps.”

During the reception, teachers and PTA members came forward to present Burklew with gifts and stories about the memories they’ve shared over the years.

Nancy Morrison, a first grade teacher, said losing their principal was a combination of happiness and sadness.

“She’s been a wonderful administrator and friend,” Morrison said. “The basis of education is learning and growing. This is her opportunity to continue to grow professionally.”

Special education teacher Fern Gold said Burklew always supported the teachers and tried to understand any problems, whether good or bad.

Cindi Asmuth added to Gold’s observation by saying Burklew was never too busy to stop and help.

After receiving her Bachelor and Master’s degrees from the University of Florida, Burkley started her educational career at Hidden Oak Elementary, eventually finding her way to Irby.  She has worked in education for 18 years.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the people here,” Burklew said. While she will miss Irby, she is excited about the challenge awaiting her at her new school.

“Alachua is a wonderful, supportive community,” she said. When she first started at Irby, her goal was to get to know the staff, the parents and, of course, the children. Because of all the people she has worked with, Burklew believes she has become a stronger leader.

“Some schools say they are a family,” Burklew said to her friends and colleagues at Irby. “We truly are a family.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – Even though the City of High Springs budgeted revenue from Poe Springs Park for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, it appears that revenue will not be realized as the park will not be taken over by the city.

At the April 24 commission meeting, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas updated the commission on the status of the park. He said there has been some difficulty revolving around the installation of steps leading into the springs. When the construction company removed the dirt, water continuously seeped through, making it impossible for concrete to be poured to create the steps.

Instead, a series of pre-fabricated steps that will interlock into place will be installed. This decision means the park will have to go back to Alachua County to ask for more money. It is estimated that the project could be finished by July.

The City of High Springs is unwilling to wait that long because peak summer season would almost be over by the time Poe Springs traded hands, reducing revenues the city would receive.

“They still want us to be willing to talk in the future,” Barnas said. “But they understand we’re under no obligation to do anything now.”

Barnas said Poe Springs Park will keep the city informed of developments.

The commission agreed not to move forward until the steps are completed. Commissioner Sue Weller requested that the city write a letter to Alachua County detailing why High Springs no longer wants to take over Poe Springs this year.

The City of High Springs recently hired Parks and Recreation Coordinator Karla Carusone, at least in part, based on the assumption that her salary would be covered by funds generated by the Poe Springs venture. Carusone is paid $14 per hour, which is approximately $29,120 annually. But her position comes at a total annualized cost of some $41,400 when calculating taxes, benefits and other employment costs. There have been no discussions concerning how the city will fund the recreation position now that the acquisition of Poe Springs seems unlikely.

A related matter concerns the fate of a golf cart which the city purchased for an estimated $1,700 under the direction of Barnas for use at Poe Springs.

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W_-_Swamp_Dash_IMG_0120_copyBilly Neilson (right) jumps down the last few hay bales, just one of 19 obstacles faced by competitors in the Swamp Dash and Bash on Saturday, April 21.

ALACHUA – Mud stained the clothes of racers as they crossed the finish line. It was hard to tell if the stains were from crawling under barbed wire, sliding into a pond of muddy water or simply running a four-mile race through Windy Hill Farm in Alachua.

Gainesville resident Judith Bellaire, 32, said she hadn’t run anything like this race.

“This is kind of a crazy way to start,” she said as she and her fellow runners examined the wall of hay barrels they had to climb over.

Fellow runner and Gainesville resident Shane Philhower, 35, said it didn’t really matter about the time in this particular race.

“Even if we did horribly, at least we can say we did it,” he said.

The Swamp Dash and Bash featured 19 different obstacles for runners to overcome on Saturday. The obstacles ranged from balancing on a thin wooden plank above a pond to climbing over 10-foot walls.

The run was created to benefit Shand’s Children’s Miracle Network. According to event coordinator LaVonne Rembert, the benefit mud run raised $13,000.

Swamp Dash and Bash was founded by Rembert and her husband Jonathan. Jonathan Rembert also runs Start 2 Finish Race Management, which specializes in race organization and time keeping.

The first Swamp Dash took place last November, and 180 runners attended the event. This time, the number tripled in size, bringing in over 600 competitors.

At least one of those runners didn’t go completely willingly. Tanquyen Nguyen, 25, of Gainesville, and Caryn Nichol, 30, of High Springs, wore matching Elmo T-shirts. Nguyen said she went at the request of Nichol, who was, after all, the birthday girl.

“She hates me right now,” Nichol joked.

Both women finished with a time of one hour and 22 minutes.

Between dragging a cinder block across a dirt field, climbing a cargo net and climbing monkey bars, the average time for the race was well over an hour.

Different racers had various techniques for preparing for the race. Some had run similar races before, and others had never done a 5k. Lawtey resident, Leslie Stroud, 33, said she did a P90X routine five times a week to prepare. She finished at just under one hour, placing her in 10th place in her age group.

As racers crossed the finish line, they were greeted with live music. The familiar chorus of “Tuesday’s Gone” echoed from Jamie Davis and his band.

The racers who weren’t as lucky to be at the finish line yet, didn’t hear the music, but were encouraged by fans and spectators lining the course.

Amanda Prokopi saw the thin plank above the pond, and just dove in to swim around it instead of taking her chances, as her family cheered. She finished with a time of one hour and 12 minutes, placing her 25th in the overall female competition wave.

Her 4-year-old son, Rivers, said he thinks he could do the race, but he wouldn’t have gone in the water. “I don’t like snakes,” he said. Add a comment

HAWTHORNE – By day, Lindsey Phillips Park is a place where people can go fishing or have picnics, but every night at dusk, the park gate is closed to prevent crime.

Now that the volunteer who closed the park every night has decided to quit, the task has been left in the hands of city staff.

At Tuesday night’s commission meeting, Parks and Recreation Manager Samuel Wynkoop presented a $10,000 proposal for an electronic gate at the Lindsey Phillips Park at 6905 SE U.S. Highway 301. This would cut down on staff time that it took to open and close the gate every day.

The gate would be paid out of the Alachua County Wild Spaces & Public Places fund, he said. City Manager Ellen Vause said the cost would offset very quickly.

For the most part, the commission agreed that the cost of the gate was not a reasonable solution.

“Why do we need the park locked in the first place?” Vice Mayor Tommie Howard asked.

Mayor Matthew Surrency responded that before locking the park, “street ladies” and other questionable characters made the park unsafe.

Residents echoed concerns about the park.

Memree Stuart said she remembers a time when the park was a great place, but now it’s a place that she’d rather not let people see.

If the park gates were left open, the park would once again become an unsafe place, she said.

Former city commissioner Eddie Martin said the issue of what to do with the park has to do with protecting the reputation of Hawthorne.

Partnering with local businesses and getting recommendations from a crime survey through the Alachua County Sheriff Department’s Crime Prevention Program were also brought up in the discussion.

The commission did not come to a definite solution about how to handle the park, but agreed to volunteer closing the park until they reach a solution.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs announced on Thursday that it has come up with a plan to cover the shortfall in general revenue funds predicted in late March.

On March 29, City Finance Services Director Helen McIver cautioned that the city could see revenues falling $75,000 short for the 2011-2012 fiscal year if the revenue inflow continued at the current pace.

She said the some of the concerns were due to shortfalls in budgeted franchise fees, tag agency and state revenue sharing. For the franchise fees, the city could miss the anticipated budget by $40,000, in large part because a 25-year contract with Clay Electric ended earlier this year.

During the April 19 city budget workshop, city manager Jeri Langman said city staff had pulled together some numbers to find places where each department could cut back spending. According to Langman, the city found $95,500 to cover the shortfall.

“Ms. McIver tells us last month that this is a fluid number,” Langman said. “Last month, we thought it was $75,000. It could be $63,000 or it could be nothing.”

Last month, the commission and McIver discussed projects that could be eliminated, such as repairs for city vehicles, as well as searching for unspent, undedicated funds elsewhere that could be transferred to the city’s general revenue fund.

Money remaining in contingency could be transferred, and the city has money set aside in savings, part of which covers two months’ operating costs in case of emergency, which could be used to ease revenue shortfalls.

In personnel expenses, city manager salary and benefits decreased from $75,000 to $55,000 when Langman was hired from. The city will see a $15,000 savings based on that reduction.

City clerk Jenny Parham will delay codifying the municipal code, which will save the city $4,000. Staff estimates a savings of $12,500 on the purchase of new police vehicles which were ordered in April, but were budgeted for the entire year. Another $10,000 will be recouped from funds budgeted for changing city street signs, but delays will extend the timeline.

Other areas the city will see a savings is in professional contract services, such as contracted engineers, city attorney fees, a phone system, cemetery maintenance and repair, and police contract services.

Langman hopes to use a portion of the funds to cover the cost of hiring a new assistant city clerk. Staff estimates a part-time clerk will cost $6,500, leaving the city with an estimated $81,500 remaining.

“They seem to be viable solutions,” Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas said. “But I have some concerns on some other things about the 2011-2012 budget.”

Despite finding the money to cover a shortfall in general revenue funds, McIver said that currently the sewer fund is running a $40,000 deficit.  With an estimated 1,100 current wastewater system users, the minimum bill for sewer charges should be $63.86 per user just to cover the cost of the sewer, said Barnas.

Barnas also said the city needs to examine the accumulation of vacation time by city employees. When the former city planner was recently terminated, McIver estimated the city owed him approximately $4,800 for over 100 hours of accumulated time.

Some employees, Barnas said, have huge amounts of time on the books. He said that City Attorney Raymond Ivey should examine the possibility for a cap or a “use it or lose it” policy.

Commissioner Scott Jamison said the Alachua County School Board has a policy that limits the amount of leave carried over from year to year.

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