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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry is one step closer to establishing a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). In 2019 after years of attempts by the City to establish a CRA, the City and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners entered into an interlocal agreement establishing criteria for formation.

The first was developing a “Finding of Necessity” to determine if this area would benefit from the creation of a CRA. A report has now been prepared to fulfill this requirement in accordance with Florida Statutes and was presented to the Newberry City Commission. The report is based on field observation and data and analysis, in order to make a determination that “slum” or “blight” exists within the study area. In addition to data and analysis, a photo documentation of the study area is also included as part of the report.

Commissioners unanimously adopted the Finding of Necessity as part of a Legislative Hearing of Resolution 2021-13 during the May 10 regular City Commission meeting. In addition, Commissioners voted to name the Commission as the Community Redevelopment Agency.

In other business, the City received an unmodified or “clean” opinion on its Annual Financial Report. Barbara Boyd and Kevin Smith of Purvis, Gray & Company, the City Commission’s independent audit firm, presented the results of the 2019-2020 fiscal year audit process.

The opinion reflects the best level an organization can receive on its financial statements. This is the fifth consecutive year of receiving this distinction. “There were no written comments or findings of non-compliance,” said Boyd.

Looking forward, the Commission approved a number of workshops during the summer to receive community input on the Fiscal Year 2022 City Budget. The workshop times are all at 6 p.m. The dates are June 16, July 21, Aug. 4 and Sept. 1. All workshops will take place at City Hall.

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ALACHUA ‒ On Tuesday, May 25, the public will be able to access Alachua County Supervisor of Elections services at Alachua City Hall.

The addition of this service is part of an ongoing effort by the Alachua City Commission to provide enhanced access to County services in-person in the city of Alachua, which stems from a high-priority initiative in the City’s FY 2021 Strategic Plan.

Services provided at this event will be assistance with new voter registration, voter registration updates, vote-by-mail requests, elections information dissemination and election worker recruitment.

The Supervisor of Elections services made available during this one-day, spring event are also available to individuals residing outside of the city of Alachua who may find this location more convenient.

“We are excited to work with the City of Alachua to bring our services to City Hall,” Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton said. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 25, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at City Hall, located at 15100 N.W. 142nd Terrace, Alachua.

A one-day fall event in Alachua with the Supervisor of Elections will be held on a date to be announced in the future. “We are proud to partner with Supervisor Barton to provide additional in-person access for voters,” Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said. “This not only makes doing County business more convenient for our residents, but also for the rest of the northwest portion of Alachua County.”

The City also successfully collaborated with the Alachua County Property Appraiser to provide an array of services by opening its Northwest Office in the City of Alachua Municipal Complex in February 2021. For more information about Supervisor of Elections services, contact the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office by calling 352-374-5252, or by visiting www.votealachua.com.

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ALACHUA ‒ After 12 years and four terms on the Alachua City Commission, Alachua City Commissioner Gary Hardacre is looking forward to putting politics behind him and spending more time with his family.  He formally stepped down from his seat on the Commission May 10.

Hardacre and his family have been residents and homeowners in Alachua since 1987. He retired from AT&T after working as a technician, engineer, and manager for nearly 43 years.  But his “retirement” was hardly idle.

During his time on the City Commission, Hardacre was selected three times by his fellow commissioners to serve as Vice Mayor.  As a citizen of Alachua, he has been involved with the community and service.

Service with Purpose

He is an active member of the Alachua Lions Club where he serves as the Treasurer of the Club. While the Lions Club may be best known for its sight and hearing programs, diabetes can be a significant factor in eye degeneration and retina damage. Hardacre initiated a program to purchase portable eye machines that check a patient for retina issues. Club members travel to various locations in the county with the machines, especially rural areas and small towns where residents don't have facilities locally.

Hardacre is also active in the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and served as the City Commission representative to the Suwannee River Water Management District. Among his community projects, he tutors 3rd graders at Alachua Elementary School during the school year, volunteers at the Cleather Hathcock, Sr. Community Center during the week and is a member of AL’Z Place Caregiver Support Group for Alzheimer’s.

In the past, he has served on the City of Alachua’s Planning & Zoning Board, Downtown Redevelopment Trust Board, and the Visions 2010 Committee.  He has been a Cub Scout Pack 88 Webelos Leader, Boy Scout Troop 88 Assistant Scout Master, and served on the Alachua District Boy Scout Leadership Training Staff.  Over the years, he also served on the Schools of the Future Task Force, Alachua County Charter Review Commission, Alachua County Improved Economic Opportunity Council, Alachua County Visions 2000 Committee, Region 5 Private Industry Council, and as a Coordinator for the United Way Campaigns. He is a USAF Vietnam Era Veteran, serving from 1968-1971.

It’s safe to say that Hardacre certainly earned another retirement as his time on the City Commission drew to a close.  “It's been a wonderful time and I feel we have accomplished a lot over the last 12 years that will also work toward the future,” Hardacre said. “One of the eight goals I set for myself when I took the office was to make this a place where our children didn't have to leave to find good jobs and to grow while still maintaining the small-town charm that makes Alachua unique” he said.

Watershed Moment

“In the late 1970s the two big businesses in town shut down. Copeland Sausage employed 40 percent of the town and many of the others worked at the battery factory south of town. It devastated Alachua employment wise and it took a long while to recover,” Hardacre said.

“Both of my kids moved elsewhere for employment and so did a lot of others,” he said.  Hardacre recalled it was then that city officials realized how much the town had relied on those two businesses and the need to diversify businesses and the local economy. “The present Commission's predecessors began moving in that direction with the establishment of Progress Park and its diverse group of high-tech companies,” Hardacre said.

“The big factor is planning ahead on multiple fronts,” he said. “Growth has to be controlled and the ability to support it has to be in the plan.”

Hardacre added that too much residential growth without the utility infrastructure or too much interest in single large employers with low paying jobs is bound to create issues. “On infrastructure, we have expanded the water and utility capability with new water systems in the western and southern edges of the city to compensate for both current and future development,” said Hardacre.  “We are one of the very few smaller cities in Florida with two electrical substations.”

“With businesses, we have a attracted a diversity of high-tech companies that are mainly located south of town, thereby keeping the center of town with that small-town charm.” Hardacre said.

“The best part of it is our financial shape while still getting all this done,” he said.  Hardacre explained that all the municipal projects completed have been paid for and that the City maintains a healthy budget. “Besides the great work by the city staff on our finances, we also apply for numerous grants, especially involving preserving the natural environment, creating park and recreation space and creating initiatives and support for new businesses and startups. Those grants have helped a lot.” Hardacre said.

On to the Future

Just because Hardacre is retiring from the Alachua City Commission, don’t expect him to fade from the community.  As far as the future, involvement in the community and the non-profit organizations he works with will top his list. As for relaxing, he enjoys fresh and salt water fishing, doing honey-dos around the house for his wife, Debbie, and following the University of Florida Gator athletic teams.

Will Hardacre miss being a City Commissioner?

“I feel it's time to move on and let someone else take us forward,” Hardacre said. “I have been proud to work with the city staff and other commissioners for over a decade. It's all those people that do the actual work.”

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GAINESVILLE – Alachua County Public Schools’ Maria Eunice has become the area’s latest celebrity. It’s her photo on the Wheaties box, but Alachua County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) director Eunice says her recent national recognition is a tribute to her entire department.

Eunice has been named a ‘Trayblazer’ by General Mills, the U.S.-based company that produces thousands of food products, including the cereal brand Wheaties in its iconic box. The company is currently recognizing school nutrition staff across the nation “who have gone above and beyond to ensure kids are fed in their communities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides being one of four Trayblazers featured on the company’s website, Eunice has received a commemorative Wheaties box replica featuring her name and photo.

“I’m honored to be recognized, but I have to give credit to our amazing team,” said Eunice. “They are committed serving students every day, despite all the challenges of the pandemic.”

Eunice, who has led the FNS Department for 16 years, says that team has made it possible for the district to take advantage of every meal program offered to schools by the federal government. There is a significant amount of additional paperwork, planning and monitoring required for each program, besides all the work required to actually implement them. But Eunice and her staff have made it happen.

Currently the district provides breakfasts, lunches, snacks and suppers in both brick-and-mortar settings and curbside. Since the beginning of the pandemic, FNS has provided more than 6 million free meals to children ages 0 to 18 throughout Alachua County, and those meals will continue through the end of July.

This is not the first national recognition for Eunice recently. Just a few months ago, she was named winner of the prestigious Golden School Foodservice Director of the Year Award, the highest honor awarded by the School Nutrition Association.

Since that award was announced, Eunice has received many calls from colleagues throughout the nation.

“We’ve had a lot of people wanting to know how it is we have been so successful during the pandemic, and how we’ve been able to serve so many children and keep our program thriving,” she said.

During the pandemic, the department has used many innovative strategies to support children, including the delivery of meals by school bus during the shutdown period and the use of QR codes on food bags to provide families with recipes and other important information.

More information about Eunice and the Trayblazer recognition program is available at https://bit.ly/3dvQ1zn. More information about the district’s meal programs is available at www.yourchoicefresh.com.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A suspect has been arrested in the armed robberies of a High Springs pharmacy. The High Springs Police Department (HSPD) has released information about the suspect who is accused of robbing Caring Pharmacy, 19214 N.W. U.S. Highway 441 in High Springs on March 4, 2020 and Feb. 16, 2021.

The suspect, 61-year-old Robert Joseph Canciglia, of Fort White, was apprehended in Columbia County at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, following an in-depth joint investigation with the Florida Department of Law     Enforcement (FDLE).

The arrest was made with the assistance of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the FDLE after an arrest warrant on the charge of Robbery with a Firearm was obtained earlier the same day in Columbia County issued by the Eighth Judicial       Circuit.

“I am proud of the way that our agency investigated this case and I am thankful for the collaboration and support from our law enforcement partners,” said HSPD Chief of Police Antoine Sheppard. “That includes the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “A violent offender has been removed from our streets and our community is safer due to those actions.”

As of May 3, Canciglia was in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Jail awaiting extradition to Alachua County on the existing charges.

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ALACHUA As they do every year, Hitchcock’s Markets participated in livestock auctions throughout North Central Florida to support 4-H and Future Farmers of America, organizations that focus on agriculture education and learning to help youth develop leadership and life skills through a positive developmental approach.

Taking place throughout the month of March, the county fairs attended included the Alachua County Fair, Suwanee River Fair, and the Putnam County Fair. At the livestock auctions, Hitchcock’s executives took the time to learn more about the students’ projects and donated over $30,000 by purchasing steers, swine and goats this year. Purchases included Trystan Hobby's Grand Champion Steer from Williston, Ryan Barber's Grand Champion Steer from Interlachen and Emily Lands' Home-Grown Champion Steer from Palatka.

Hitchcock’s Markets gives back to their communities year-round. The family owned and operated 12 store chain is proud to be able to support their local youth and give back in many ways. Carlos Alvarez, CEO of Hitchcock’s Markets stated, “The youth of our communities are our future. It is imperative that we come together and support them every step of the way so our communities will continue to thrive going forward”.

The 4-H and FFA groups rely on support from community members and businesses, such as Hitchcock’s Markets. These auctions provide children and young adults the opportunity to learn and get familiar with the business side of farming and agriculture, as well as gain a better understanding of the cattle industry. The money that is raised at the auctions goes directly to the kids so they can support their project for the following year and save up for their college studies.

Hitchcock’s Markets is a family owned and operated chain of grocery stores based out of Alachua, Florida. Since 1945, Hitchcock’s has recognized the need for rural towns in Central Florida to have clean, well-stocked, and service driven food stores. The Hitchcock’s company has continued to grow over the years to locations across the state of Florida providing full-service grocery stores in many towns that used to be considered food deserts. Today, Hitchcock’s has 12 stores and two pharmacies. Hitchcock’s prides itself in having the best meats and butchers and being a place where locals can count on the highest quality products, competitive prices, clean stores, and well trained and knowledgeable employees. More information is available at www.myhitchcocks.com

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry will soon be collaborating with residents to develop a vision for the community's future - and a strategic plan to make that vision a reality. Community forums are the first step in this process.

The city will host two forums, one in-person and one virtual, to gather input and feedback from the community. The first forum, which is in person, will be held Saturday, May 8, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex, 24880 N.W. 16th Avenue, Newberry. Citizens who have not already submitted an RSVP are encouraged to attend the May 11 forum, which will be held virtually on Tuesday, May 11, 6 – 9 p.m. via Zoom. Additional information about connecting via Zoom will be provided on the City’s web page closer to the forum date.

These two forums will kick off the process and start conversations among residents about the future of Newberry. The discussion will focus on identifying those things about the community that residents wish to preserve, as well as the community’s hopes and aspirations for the future. The forum’s agenda will include a combination of small-group discussions and large-group workshop activities that aim to facilitate open conversation and the sharing of ideas.

Additional areas for input will include an online, anonymous resident survey that will be made available in the coming months. The project is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2021 with a formal document and presentation delivered to the City of Newberry City Commission.

The City has engaged the Florida Institute of Government (FIOG) to facilitate this project and to write and present that final strategic plan to the Commission. While the project team from the FIOG includes additional staff, the facilitators for this forum will be Mari Rains and Karen Allen from the FIOG at the University of Central Florida.

Press, city staff, and elected officials are welcome to attend these events, but will be encouraged to act largely as observers so that the process may progress without too much external input. More information on this project and its components is available at www.newberryfl.gov/administration/page/strategic-planning

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