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NEWBERRY – After several weeks of discussion, the Newberry City Commission has set new rental fees for use of the Newberry Municipal Building.

To reserve the building, located at 25439 West Newberry Road in downtown Newberry, the renter has to put down a $100 security deposit.  The deposit will be returned within 72 hours after a satisfactory inspection and key return, according to the resolution.  A $350 fee plus tax was set as the daily rental rate, and adding extra time will be assessed at $175 per day. The rental fee will be waived for all city-related organizations, groups and committees.  The City will require a 24-hour cancellation notice for refund of the deposit.

A nonrefundable cleaning fee has also been added.  The fee, originally required for all groups and events, even those city-related ones, was changed and will be levied at the City’s discretion. Commissioner Lois Forte had argued against the fee for all groups, noting that senior citizen activities are held at the building weekly and that they always clean after themselves.

Commissioner Alena Lawson agreed that some groups familiar to the City and known for being tidy should not be required to pay. She added that if food is being served then it may be necessary to impose the fee.

Commissioner Robert Fillyaw suggested that the City should use its discretion when deciding who must pay the cleaning fee at the time of the rental.

The fee structure also provides for the City to impose an extra $500 for high-impact functions. Sondra Randon, city attorney assistant, explained that the charge would not be a fee, but a deposit for events that might cause damage to the building.

“It’s a security deposit that would be refundable if damage is not done,” Randon said.

The City is also making Internet access available for a $25 daily fee.

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HAWTHORNE – The Hawthorne City Commission worked to amend the city’s water and sewer regulations on Tuesday in an attempt to add money to the city’s depleted enterprise fund.

The Florida Rural Water Association, a professional association that aids small cities with their water rates, conducted a free rate study for the City of Hawthorne.  The study took over six months to complete and recommended water and sewer rates with a 15 percent profit margin to account for unforeseen circumstances and emergencies.

It was recommended that residential customers pay a base rate of $17 for water, and if they use under 3,000 gallons, they will pay $2 per 1,000 gallons used. If residents use 3,001 to 6,000 gallons, they will pay $2.50 per 1,000 gallons used. For each extra 3,000 gallons used, the water rate increases 25 cents per 1,000 gallons used.

Commercial water rates start with a base rate of $25.50, and customers who use under 3,000 gallons pay $2 per 1,000 gallons used. The same method is used where each extra 3,000 gallons result in an increase of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons used.

The water rate for irrigation is $2.75 per 1,000 gallons used.

The wastewater base rate is $38, which includes 3,000 gallons. After this amount is used the citizen would pay $5.92 per 1,000 gallons, which is based on the water usage.

There is a residential deposit fee of $200 that each residential customer must pay. The commercial deposit is $250. With the new system, there are no more surcharges.

When compared to other cities in the surrounding area, these water rates were lower than Waldo and Archer. The City of Alachua was the only city to have lower rates than Hawthorne’s projected ones.

However, Hawthorne had higher sewer rates than both the cities of Waldo and Alachua, where their base rates were $19.37 and $9.35 respectively. This compares to Hawthorne’s base rate of $38.

City Manager Ellen Vause said although it looks like a heavy increase from past water expenses, this increase is comparable with other rates in the county.

“The rates they recommended are well within the range that other cities are using around here,” she said.

Almost half of the citizens in Hawthorne use below 3,000 gallons, Vause said. The city hopes that this new rate change will be more accommodating than the one currently in use, where a citizen pays for 4,000 gallons of water, regardless if they actually use less.

Mayor Matthew Surrency said this system will help the old lady that lives alone pay less than the family of four that uses more water.

“Currently, if you are using 999 gallons, you are paying for 4,000,” he said.

The new rates provided by the Florida Rural Water Association will produce enough revenue to cover expenses and also put money into the city’s depleted reserve accounts, Vause said. Hawthorne is still in a state of financial emergency and has an unrestricted deficit of $1.2 million.

“Even with these rates, we still have yet to address our deficit,” she said.

There is no money set aside in case of an emergency, Vause added.

Dumpster fees were originally included with these rates, but commissioners amended this and opted to create a separate ordinance that will be discussed at a future meeting.

The motion to adopt the ordinance on first reading was passed with a 4-1 vote. Commissioner William Carlton provided the sole dissenting vote.

“Somewhere, I think the people need some relief if we can get it,” he said. Add a comment

AlachElemVetFor 20 years Alachua Elementary students have honored veterans at the school's Veteran's Day observance.  That tradition continued Wednesday morning as over 75 area veterans attended the school's celebration, which included speeches and patriotic songs.

ALACHUA – Carrying on a tradition than spans some 20 years, Alachua Elementary students honored veterans Wednesday at a school wide celebration.  Over 75 area veterans were recognized at the school’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.

Invited as personal guests of students, staff and teachers, school principal Eva Copeland welcomed each veteran by name to Wednesday’s service held in their honor.

The annual ceremony dates back 20 years, and became a reality at the urging of longtime Alachua resident and D-Day veteran, the late Glynn Markham.  Markham died in May 2007, but his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

One of the reasons the ceremony is held is to make sure the students know why they have the day off, Copeland said.  “We are glad we can do this to help our students understand what Veteran’s Day means, who our veterans are, and why they are important to all of us.  We look at this as a teachable moment,” she said.

Three weeks prior to the ceremony, students took home a newsletter notifying parents about the ceremony.  Students invited their “veteran” to the ceremony and each student was introduced along with the sponsored veteran.  The 75-plus veterans attending the ceremony represented service from the 1940s through 2000 and were the mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, spouse or friend of a student, teacher or staff member of the school.  As each veteran’s name was called, he or she received a rousing round of applause thanking them for their service.

Getting into the patriotic spirit, many students were decked out in red, white and blue, while some boys wore their Boy Scout uniforms and several girls wore Girl Scout uniforms.

Officially kicking off the ceremony was the University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard, conducting presentation of colors, which was followed by the pledge of allegiance.

Leading up to the event, the school conducted an essay contest with a patriotic theme.  Kayla Tyndall’s essay, “Proud to be an American,” was the winning essay, and she recited it Wednesday for the 500-plus students in 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, staff and guests.

Colonel Jack Paschal, Commander of the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron, Florida Air National Guard, shared information about the Guard’s mission of providing homeland defense and hurricane recovery for the State. He also brought oversized plaques displaying photos of actual projects the Guard conducted, and asked student volunteers to carry the plaques throughout the audience so they could better see the photos.

Shane Moore led the students in singing “God bless the USA” and the enthusiastic youngsters waved miniature flags in the air.

The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps” in honor and remembrance of the many veterans who served.

After the ceremony, Copeland invited veterans and their hosts to join her in the school’s cafeteria for a reception sponsored by the school’s Safety Patrols.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Newly elected High Springs commissioners will be sworn in on Thursday, Nov. 17. The commission will also elect the city’s mayor and vice mayor.

Political newcomers Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin defeated incumbents Larry Travis and Byran Williams in the Nov. 8 general election. Neither have held political office,although they both ran unsuccessfully for commission seats in 2010.

Travis had been serving as mayor and had not been defeated since his election to the commission in 2005. Vice Mayor Williams had served on the commission for six years, though he briefly lost his seat in 2009.

After a heated campaign, Gestrin said now it is “time to get down to business.” Both commissioner elects have called for a new direction and have said they will be making policy decisions soon.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, the new commission will discuss a variety of topics affecting the City of High Springs including appointing members to various commission boards, discussing possible management of Poe Springs Park and exploring the option of extending the City’s sewer line along the U.S. Highway 441 corridor as a joint project with the City of Alachua.

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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs may lose $1.6 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, backing up the city’s five-phase sewer project for the foreseeable future.

In a letter received Oct. 24, USDA Area Director R.C. Quainton II informed the city that it plans to de-obligate, or take back, money granted in 2005 for the second and third phases of the High Springs’ sewage system. While the project was originally assessed at a cost of $10 million, the expansion actually cost about $8 million.

“The Phases Two and Three project has been fully completed at a cost significantly less than originally estimated by the project engineer,” Quainton said in the letter. “When there is a significant reduction in project cost, the applicant’s funding needs to be reassessed.”

The city planned to use the extra money to pay the costs of hooking up residents to the sewage system. However, the letter explained that grant funds must be used within five years of issuance, a timeframe the city failed to meet.

Then city commission candidate, and newly elected commissioner Bob Barnas said at the Nov. 3 commission meeting that he contacted United States Senator Bill Nelson about the sewage system, concerned that “waste and mismanagement” had occurred in the commission’s handling of the project.

The USDA said upon reviewing the information, “We found that the allegations are not substantiated.”

Barnas also said High Springs staff members knew about the possible loss of funding in September, before they received the USDA letter. He said Mayor Larry Travis secretly planned to meet with Nelson about the issue at the President’s Box at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during a football game.

Travis said contact had been made with Nelson’s office to set up a meeting to discuss options, but it never occurred. He said they also discussed meeting in Washington D.C., a trip Travis would have undertaken at his own cost.

“There were no secret meetings,” he said. “I go to the President’s Box because I’m invited there. I have a pretty good reputation at the university. I haven’t seen Mr. Barnas there.”

Interim City Manager Jenny Parham admitted that the Rural Development agency requested one meeting at the end of August about the issue with her, Travis and City Attorney Thomas DePeter. However, she said that at thes Sept. 12 meeting they were told no action should be taken until official notification was received.

Commissioner Dean Davis said according to the letter received from USDA, the city has known about having to spend the extra money for a year. However, he said he was not aware about the situation until the recent controversy.

“I am as surprised as anybody about what we just went through as a city commission,” he said.

He said High Springs has missed similar government grant deadlines before and has never had leftover money de-obligated.

“They’ve never done this before,” he said. “They’ve always let us use it.”

Resident Thomas Weller said he suspected complaints about the project led to the ruling. He said he found it interesting that Barnas received a response to his letter merely three days after the city was officially informed of the de-obligation.

“You know, when you rock the boat, people get ticked off, and they just find it easier to say no,” he said.

Other citizens blamed former City Manager Jim Drumm, Parham, DePeter, Travis and engineering firm Jones Edmunds for the situation. Resident Ron Langman said both Drumm and Jones Edmunds, the city’s sole contracted engineering firm at the time, should have informed the city that time was up on the funds. However, he also said the current commission had an obligation to inform the city of the issue, calling for the resignation of Parham and DePeter.

“It’s either you guys up there are covering this up, all five of you, or four of you are clucks, sitting up there watching it happen,” he said. “It’s seamy, it’s despotic and it’s not okay.”

DePeter said the city’s options are to ask for an informal review, mediation or an appeal. He recommended the city ask for an appeal, though he thought the odds of winning the suit were “less than 50 percent.”

Former Mayor John Hill was on the commission when the sewage project was approved. He said the first three phases were essential for the city because the Santa Fe River was being intoxicated with nitrates.

The final two phases were planned based on the population increase suggested by the 1990 census, Hill said. The USDA put the fourth phase of the project on hold because the level of new development in High Springs has “significantly decreased” since projections were made in 2008.

“The City of High Springs will be required to submit to Rural Development a wastewater system rate schedule and operating budget that supports project and system financial viability,” the USDA’s October letter said.

The project was originally approved in 2001 with an expected cost of $26 million. DePeter explained that it was designed in five phases so that the city could complete the project using a funding split of 55 percent loan and 45 percent grant.

The undertaking was proposed in a redevelopment plan prepared by the University of Florida in 1986.

“Lack of a city-wide sewage plan is a severe health hazard for High Springs,” the plan read. “Due to the inevitable contamination to the water supply if a leak occurred in the septic system, the health of all High Springs residents would be at risk.”

The plan further explains that citywide septic systems may be a factor slowing the growth of High Springs because businesses do not want to open in a city without wastewater facilities.

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of requesting an appeal. Davis voted against the action.

 

 

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WALDO – As Jim Hamby’s daughter leaves to go to college, he will not worry about having an empty nest at home. In fact, his nest will be full –– of feathers.

Hamby plans to have chickens and maybe even a goat on his property. Thanks to an ordinance passed by the Waldo City commission, residents of Waldo will now be able to house two chickens, one goat and one beehive on their land.

Hamby works at Shands at the University of Florida as an IT specialist of radiation oncology, but when he gets home to his three-acre property, he will become a farmer, he said.

“I want to do a little farming, but not the 6 in the morning to the 6 at night stuff,” he said. “Raising chickens will be fun for me and my wife.”

Hamby was one of two residents to request the right to raise domestic animals on their properties. The ordinance was discussed in October, and was unanimously passed Tuesday.

“When I went to City Hall to see if I could have these chickens, they said there couldn’t be any farm animals raised in the city,” he said. “I thought to myself ‘but this is Waldo!’”

When his daughter leaves home to attend Santa Fe College, Hamby hopes to have two chickens and one goat live on his property, he said. Hamby’s wife, Stephanie Priutt, convinced him to do it.

“This house is my wife’s little castle,” he said. “She loves animals and is kind of a country girl. It just made sense to raise them.”

The ordinance mandates that chicken coops should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the rear and side property lines and a minimum of 40 feet from any residential home on adjacent properties. Chickens and goats must be kept in fenced areas, and chickens should be kept within the coop from dusk until dawn.

Beekeepers must be registered with the State of Florida and adhere to the Best Management Practices set forth by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Chickens and goats are not allowed to roam beyond their fenced areas, and no type of animal is allowed to be kept in any front yard.

Commission members said they wanted to ensure that no animals traveled on to other parcels of land. City Commissioner Rodney Estes thought of unusual methods to deter owners from letting their animals out of their properties.

“If my neighbor’s chicken roams in my yard, can I eat it?” he asked.

Hamby said the city government needs to set rules to protect the health and safety of Waldo citizens.

“We don’t want chickens running through people’s houses like they are from the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’” he said.

If there is a violation, neighbors of the potential offender must call City Hall to report it. A city staff member will then go to the property to assess if a violation has occurred. The property owner would then receive education on how to raise these animals correctly, city planner Laura Dedenbach said.

Residential areas with low density, medium density and in the city center are now permitted to raise these domestic animals for nonprofit use. The commercial raising of these animals is only permitted for youth projects, such as with the Future Farmers of America.

Dedenbach said agricultural properties would not be affected.

“This ordinance is really pertaining to small residential lots only,” she said.

All three types of animals are permitted to live on the same property. Hamby said he hopes to eventually get each type of animal to expand his miniature farm.

“We will treat these chickens right, and then, if my wife allows me, we will eat them,” he said. “It really just depends on how attached she becomes to these chickens.”

He said he is delighted that Waldo’s City Commission decided to pass this ordinance, and that the city is a great place to live.

Hamby will continue to build the new coop that will house his newest residents.

“I guess the older you get, the more self-sufficient you want to be,” he said. “We are not trying to live only off the land or take ourselves out of society, but I would like to come home from work, tend my garden, raise my chickens, and then just relax.”

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HS_Election_DSCN1215_copy

Only minutes prior to learning they had won election to the High Springs City Commission Tuesday night, Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin are engaged in conversation with a supporter.

HIGH SPRINGS – Two challengers beat the two incumbents in the High Springs City Commission election Tuesday night.

Linda Clark Gestrin and Bob Barnas received the two highest numbers of votes, overtaking current Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. Neither Gestrin nor Barnas have previously held political office.

Travis had not been defeated since his election in 2005. Williams has served on the commission for six years, though he briefly lost his seat in 2009.

While local resident Leda Carrero had said the election was a “cliff hanger” for the city, the final results were not close. Gestrin received 511 votes, and Barnas received 469. Williams earned 313 votes while Travis came in last with 276.

William Ross, a poll watcher, said the turnout was “better than most.” He attributed that to the tight race which was “very close and very contested.”

The election remained controversial up until the last minute, and beyond. At 7 p.m. when the polling location closed, officials locked both the public and poll watchers out of the High Springs Civic Center.

Citizens and poll watchers banged on the doors to the center, demanding they be let in. Joyce Hallman said she and the other poll watchers were supposed to be inside to watch the vote tallying.

“There’s nobody in there watching,” she said. “They could be doing anything. They could be tampering with the machines.”

Police officers spoke to the officials and escorted citizens into the building about eight minutes after the doors had been locked.

Williams, Barnas and Gestrin waited in the room with the public, speaking to supporters and carefully watching the tallying. Travis was not present for the final count.

Upon hearing the results, with a huge smile on her face, Gestrin hugged her husband. She said while she was excited and honored to be elected, there is little time to rest. The real work begins now.

“We need to assess where we’re at,” she said. “We need to re-evaluate the sewer project. We must bring economic development. We need a fresh, new direction.”

Barnas said his first priority is to find out what can be done about the sewage project. He said he wants to sit down with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Rural Development agency to discuss alternatives to get back the $1.6 million in funding that might be revoked.

High Springs staff members were informed in an Oct. 24 letter from the USDA that the agency planned to de-obligate grant funds approved in 2005 for the second and third phases of the city’s sewage system expansion. While the project was originally assessed at $10 million, it ended up costing closer to $8 million.

The city intended to use the extra funding to cover the costs of hooking up users to the system but failed to meet the five-year time limit placed on grant money.

Barnas said the commission needs to explore alternatives, including negotiating a joint venture with Alachua allowing High Springs to use pre-existing wastewater facilities.

Also on the ballot were six city charter amendments. All passed, leading to some significant changes in city policy.

From now on, commission candidates will have to run for specific seats. They also can no longer serve as contractual employees to the city in the year after their election.

City ordinances can now be proposed by citizens. An amendment passed giving them the authority to petition before the commission if they receive signatures from 50 voters.

The number of ballots tallied was 826, including absentee ballots and provisional votes. Due to four contested votes, the results will not be certified until Thursday at 5 p.m.

Interim City Manager Jenny Parham said the public is welcome to attend the meeting of the canvassing board and hear the official results.

The new commissioners will be sworn in on Nov. 17.

Local schoolteacher Billye Dowdy said before the election she went with a partner to pray at every entryway sign to High Springs, hoping for “a favorable outcome.”

“We prayed that God would show favor to this community and restore righteousness,” she said. “Righteousness, honesty, decency and wisdom. Just wisdom.”

Gestrin hopes that with her election, High Springs will be able to move forward economically. She said by finding common ground and working together, the town can do what needs to be done.

“There’s so much potential here,” she said. “I’m interested in handing off High Springs to future generations in the condition like it was given to us.”

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