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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua City Commission met Aug. 10 to consider a grant application to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, school resource officers and an increase in water rates.

A matter not on the agenda was discussed when several citizens voiced their concerns about the condition of 138th Avenue in Alachua and requested that the City pave the 2 ½ mile stretch of graded roadway, which is one of the last unpaved large roads in the city.

According to some citizens, the road was not maintained until a few years ago and has received no regular maintenance since. While they acknowledged that the city had improved the grading and maintenance in the past few years, they said that was only temporarily effective and large potholes and water drainage quickly negated what maintenance was done. Another resident complained that as a dirt road, visibility was an issue in dry months and created a danger when crossing traffic upon exiting the road.

City Manager Adam Boukari said he understood their issues and would work with the City’s Public Works Department and the residents to try and improve maintenance on the road. Boukari explained that the City would like to pave the road, but the hundreds of thousands of dollars required was not in the 2020 or 2021 budget and paving was not feasible for at least two years.

In other business, the City is considering applying to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for a 2019 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The City is eligible for up to $700,000 for either Neighborhood Revitalization or Housing Rehabilitation funding. These grants are designed to improve either community infrastructure or individual housing in low-income neighborhoods.

Several citizens argued in favor of the individual housing awards saying that would have a direct effect on families by assisting them with affordable housing. Other citizens voiced support for the neighborhood grant, saying it would allow infrastructure improvements that would benefit entire neighborhoods while the individual housing grant would help possibly 10 families at most and require significant time evaluating each house to determine who most needed the improvements.

The Commission directed staff to apply for the grant but to also seek other grants or programs that might directly help families in need of better housing. A final decision on how to spend the grant will be made after it is awarded.

The Commission also approved a rate hike for water use and wastewater reclamation. The City charges for usage to cover its operating cost for water utilities. Due to increased costs, the City recommended an increase of 6 -10 cents per 1,000 gallons for residential usage and a similar range for non-residential and agricultural use. A second and final hearing will be held at the Aug. 24 Commission meeting.

The Commission approved the renewal of the School Resource Officer program in the amount of $300,000 with the funds provided by the School Board of Alachua County. The Commission also approved an update to the City’s phone system to improve internal communication capabilities for City departments. The system will cost $ 80,207 with the money coming from the General Fund.

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ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ “The Alachua County CARES Act online Business Grants are now available to submit,” said County Communications and Legislative Affairs Director Mark Sexton. Individual assistance grants applications continue to be open for residents needing assistance.

At a special Alachua County Commission meeting Aug. 3, the County Commission approved the Alachua County CARES Act process for distributing federal dollars. Alachua County will receive an approximately $46.9 million allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). These funds may be used for necessary expenditures incurred for the COVID-19 emergency response. This program is for Alachua County residents and businesses only.

“Many individuals and businesses in our community are in dire straits," Alachua County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson said. "As our community continues to come together to do what is needed to battle this insidious virus, the County is doing everything we can to get this money into the hands of those who need it most. We want to ensure that people can pay towards their rent, mortgage, utilities and other expenses."

The website and application form are mobile phone friendly. “We highly recommend reading the Frequently Asked Questions page before filling out your applications,” said Sexton. The site features application instructions, a frequently asked questions section and a link to the application. Anyone wishing to apply may go to https://info.alachuacounty.us/2020/cares-act/.

The application process will be available in phases, said Sexton. The individual assistance grants opened on Aug. 4 with $21.1 million available. Small and medium business grant applications became available Aug. 10 with $15 million available. Inter-government organization grants will open on Aug. 17 with $8.3 million available.

Anyone needing assistance, especially if they are uncomfortable with applying online, may use a live chat feature on the website and a CARES Act helpline at 352-309-2505. The live chat and the helpline are open from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday – Friday.

“Initially, we expect very high call volume and ask for citizens to be patient if the line is busy,” said Sexton.

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ALACHUA ‒ When war strikes, everyday citizens have taken up arms to defend others, often putting their lives on the line. While most return to civilian life, some pay the ultimate price. Alachua County has had volunteers serve and die in every war since World War I. During the Vietnam War, 48 troops did not return alive, but they are not forgotten, especially by their brothers in arms who did return to live a full life. The Alachua City Commission on Aug. 10, paid homage to veteran Hurl “Butch” Mullins, who dedicated much of his life to fellow veterans.

Mullins was instrumental in assisting two veterans organizations that worked to erect a lasting monument to those Alachua County soldiers who did not return from Vietnam. The Marine Corps League,990 Chapter and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1092 worked with the City of Alachua to build a pathway of bricks in front of City Hall inscribed with the names, rank and birth/death dates of those 48 men.

Mullins was one of the men who served in Vietnam and was a member of both organizations. He was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and joined the Army straight out of high school during the Vietnam War era. After his tour in Vietnam Mullins returned home, living in Alachua County and began a career as a stonemason for the next 50 years.

When the brick project was approved, Mullins volunteered his services as a brick mason to lay out the walkway a no cost. It was no small task, laying out thousands of bricks in an intricate pattern to cross the driveway in front of City Hall, but Mullins accepted the challenge in honor his fellow soldiers.

On Dec. 9, 2019 a ceremony was held in front of City Hall to dedicate the finished walkway Mullins had built to honor fallen comrades. In the center of the intricate brick path those 48 names are on individual bricks, two names to a group, on horizontal bricks which are then spaced two blank bricks apart for the next group. The path contains thousands of bricks, and since that December day, many living veterans have purchased bricks in their names to help cover the cost of the project. In a show of unity and to honor those who lost their lives, the living veterans bricks, which number over 100, are arranged around the 48 veterans who perished.

Honoring the men who paid the ultimate price is not limited to bricks. Forrest Hope, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America, believes that for people to appreciate that these long-gone soldiers were real people, there should be a visual element complete with the faces and stories of each man.

Hope has collected 45 of the men's photos, stories and information on their burial places, and he expects to complete the project soon. There is a saying that a person dies twice. First at their physical death and the final time when their name is remembered for the last time. This memorial ensures these men who gave all continue to be remembered

For “Butch” Mullins, dedication to veterans causes and vets in need covered much more than just the brick memorial. Throughout his life he has helped veterans in need, especially those who returned with mental scars and PTSD from the trauma they had experienced. He was active in fundraisers and veterans events.

He also volunteered at the New River Correctional Center, counseling incarcerated veterans, many who were imprisoned, often for their inability to adjust to life at home and wound up in prison for violent acts or drug use. Mullins counseled them on a variety of subjects aimed at helping them get back on their feet once released.

“The inmates loved him,” said Alachua City Commissioner Robert Wilford. A veteran himself, Wilford had known and worked with Mullins for years in veterans projects. “Butch accepted people for who they were with no judgments or preconditions,” said Wilford. “He always put other people first and was there for them when they needed help.”

Due to his work with both the inmates and the brick path, the City of Alachua planned to honor Mullins with a ceremony at a Commission meeting. But on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, Mullins joined those 48 men. He died from complications of liver cancer.

The Commission declared Aug. 10, 2020 as Hurl R. “Butch” Mullins “Duty, Honor, Country” Exemplary Day. The Commission presented representatives of the Marine Corp League and Vietnam Veterans with the proclamation honoring a man whose lifework was spent helping fellow veterans.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission will be resuming in person commission meetings on Aug. 24. The commission has been meeting virtually due to COVID-19. City Manager Mike New reviewed a draft protocol for resuming the in-person meetings.

At the July 27 Commission meeting, Mayor Jordan Marlowe and two other commissioners suggested the City resume live meetings. Marlowe suggested that if children were required to attend classes, the Commission should forgo virtual meetings as well. The first in-person public meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Commissioners agreed to meet in City Hall Commission Chambers. No public will be allowed, but the public may attend using the Zoom platform. New said the recommendations he suggested conform to Emergency Orders set forth by the governor and include recommendations from the Center for Disease Control.

Signs will encourage safe practices and social distancing. Masks are required for attendees when six-foot separation cannot be achieved. A body core temperature check will be administered by a firefighter, EMT or paramedic. Masks will be available to attendees upon request. Hand sanitizer will be available for attendees in the lobby, meeting room and restrooms.

Commissioners and any staff present will be seated a minimum of six feet apart. The mayor and four commissioners, two at each end, will be seated at the dais and seating usually reserved for the public west of the podium will be the area for charter officers.

The overflow area for the public, if several people want to address an issue, is the lobby or south lawn. Citizens would be brought into the meeting room one-by-one, if necessary, to maintain social distancing.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua’s Youth Advisory Council was among five of the state’s youth councils to win the 2020 Florida League of Cities (FLC) Municipal Youth Council Community Service Contest.

The FLC annually hosts the Municipal Youth

Alachua Youth Advisory Council Receives Statewide Award

ALACHUA – The City of Alachua’s Youth Advisory Council was among five of the state’s youth councils to win the 2020 Florida League of Cities (FLC) Municipal Youth Council Community Service Contest.

The FLC annually hosts the Municipal Youth Council Community Service Contest, which showcases community service projects performed by municipal youth councils that successfully address specific needs in their local communities.

The City of Alachua Youth Advisory Council members include Santa Fe High School students Lacey Walls (Chair), Megan Walls (Vice Chair), Nathan Breman and Caleb Land, and Addison and Aiden Grosz of Eastside High School.

The students presented the “Election Education for Youth” project, concentrating on educating and empowering youth in the city, state and national election process.

The Council partnered with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections to set up information booths at high schools, where they engaged with students directly about voter registration and the election process. The goal of the project was to help young or soon-to-be voters become more informed and more civically engaged.

“I am grateful to these students for the work they put into this project,” said Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton. “I am hopeful that other youth advisory councils can use it as a model for sharing important civic information with young people.”

The project served as a timely assignment with upcoming 2020 election races approaching, but the Council was just as focused on creating an important mindset for students to participate in the voting and election process beyond 2020.

“Engaging youth in government systems of all levels allows important viewpoints to be heard,” Council Chair Lacey Walls explained. “And, it provides teens with the ability to shape their futures from the moment they’re able to exercise their right to vote.”

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry has approved changes to how it credits customers who generate some or all of their own electricity. Commissioners unanimously approved Ordinance 2020-19 on first reading, which would allow for interconnection and net metering of customer-owned generation equipment. This is a replacement ordinance designed to repeal the previous ordinance approved earlier this year and replace it with new language.

Earlier in 2020, staff presented the City’s (electric) net metering policy to the City Commission and highlighted an issued raised by net-metering customers. “The issue related to the City’s existing ordinance and tariff, and how the City credited customers with energy produced from customer-owned renewable generating systems,” said City Manager Mike New.

For a period of time after the City adopted its net metering ordinance, its billing practices were inconsistent with the adopted ordinance and tariff. “Staff discovered the inconsistency and cured it,” New said. “The cure resulted in a reduction of the monthly credit provided to net metering customers.”

The City Commission directed staff to amend the ordinance to provide net-metering system owners connected to the City’s electric system prior to Jan. 1, 2020, to receive full retail credit for energy produced by the customer’s renewable generating system. These customers are to receive the retail energy credit for 20 years from date of installation or until the property sells. Customers connecting renewable generating systems after Jan. 1, 2020, will be credited for excess energy at the City’s “avoided cost” rates.

Staff prepared a new ordinance related to customer-owned renewable generating system, which is Ordinance 2020-19.

“This will make those 10 or 11 customers very happy,” said Mayor Jordan Marlowe following Commission approval.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ As part of the of widening improvements on State Road 20 from the Putnam County line to Southwest 56th Avenue, County Road 20A will be temporarily closed at State Road 20 Monday, Aug. 17 through Monday, Aug. 24, weather and schedule permitting.

The temporary closure is necessary to safely complete roadway reconstruction work. Traffic will detour via County Road 21 south to County Road 20A.

The improvement project includes widening State Road 20 from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane urban roadway with curbs, gutters, grassed medians, bicycle lanes, five-foot sidewalk on the north side, a 10-foot multi-use path on the south side of the roadway and five-span bridge at Fowlers Prairie. This segment will complete a 12-mile span of improvements on State Road 20 from Alachua County to Putnam County.

Lane closures are allowed Monday through Friday after 8:30 a.m. Intermittent detours and periodic traffic shifts will be necessary to complete reconstruction work at access points to State Road 20.

Anderson Columbia Co. Inc is estimated to complete the $49 million widening improvements by late 2022. Construction completion estimates are fluid and subject to change, weather and schedule permitting.

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