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NEWBERRY ‒ Alachua County’s proposed one percent Sales Tax Referendum took center stage in discussions between the City of Newberry and the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) during their joint meeting Monday, May 23. Having already presented the issue to three other municipalities with lukewarm receptions, county commissioners came armed with facts and figures to ask Newberry’s Commissioners to back the referendum.

Assistant County Manager Gina Peebles introduced the sales tax referendum, which ties together funding for the popular Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP) and the unpopular tax for roads.

In past years, Alachua County has asked voters to support a referendum for roads on two occasions, which was defeated both times. However, when they asked the citizens to approve the Wild Spaces and Public Places (WSPP) Referendum with a one-half percent sales tax in 2008 and again in 2016, it was approved.

Dec. 31, 2024, the WSPP one-half percent sales tax sunsets and many municipalities have expressed a desire to continue it. Funds from WSPP have been used throughout the County to improve recreation facilities and to support other related projects.

Voters will be asked on Nov. 8, 2022 whether they would like to extend the WSPP half-cent sales tax along with a half-cent sales tax dedicated to infrastructure through 2032.

The proceeds from the surtax will be split between the County and the municipalities, with each entity required to allocate half to WSPP projects such as parks and recreation, open space and natural resources; the other half will be allocated to other infrastructure projects including road improvements as defined in Florida’s statutes. Up to 15 percent of the non-WSPP half of the surtax may be used to fund economic development projects to improve the local economy.

Allowable projects can include but are not limited to land acquisition; land improvement; costs related to constructing or improving public facilities that have a life expectancy of five years or more; and land acquisition for a residential housing project in which at least 30 percent of the units are affordable to those with a household income not exceeding 120 percent of the area median income.

The county will get over half the funds and the rest distributed to municipalities based on population. The County will also allocate $6 million (half for WSPP projects and half for other infrastructure projects) of its share of the tax to the City of Gainesville “for uses… that Alachua County finds, in its sole discretion, have countywide significance.” Gainesville will have to submit a detailed request for each project.

Another $6 million will be allocated to all the municipalities, including the City of Gainesville. Each municipality can submit detailed requests for funds, but the ordinance does not address how the requests will be prioritized. This will be a one-time allocation of a total of $12 million, not an annual allocation.

The county estimates that the surtax will raise about $49 million in the first year, with almost $28 million going to the county, $17 million to the City of Gainesville, $1.35 million to the City of Alachua, $895,000 to Newberry, $861,000 to High Springs, $189,000 to Hawthorne, $156,000 to Archer, $124,000 to Waldo, $87,000 to Micanopy and $51,000 to La Crosse.

Alachua county residents have long complained about the condition of the county-maintained roads. Alachua County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said that citizens have told the county to improve the roads with the existing money they are receiving each year. He said they have done so as much as they could, but that more funds are required to maintain the roads properly.

Peebles said the county can only have one surtax at a time, which is why the county commission is proposing a one-half percent sales tax for WSPP and another one-half percent sales tax for roads and infrastructure maintenance.

Alachua County Public Works Director and Engineer Ramon Gavarrette said that the cost for road work has increased by 30 – 40 percent and that many of the roads are failing. If this referendum passes, he said the county commission is targeting $50 million per year for roads, which will come from several sources.

Newberry City Commissioner Rick Coleman said his constituents were concerned about the county taking land off of the tax rolls and using the citizens money to do it.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe expressed concern that if voters buy into the system proposed by Gavarrette and he moves on to another city, someone else who comes into the job may throw out the old plan for a new one. Marlowe doesn’t want to keep developing plans—he wants the county to have a plan and stick to it. Coleman said buying land is not right, but something has to be done about the roads.

Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden said the county’s priorities haven’t been right, but Marlowe pointed out that this is not the same county commission Newberry has dealt with in the past and pointed to several successful joint projects this county commission and the city have been able to accomplish recently.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - The UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Office has announced the 2022 4-H Summer Day Camps. These camps are being offered by Mary Lee Sale, 4-H Youth Development Agent, at the Alachua County Ag Auditorium (22716 W. Newberry Road, Newberry) unless otherwise indicated.
 
Food Challenge Day Camp – June 14 – 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
 
Youth between the ages of 11-18 years old (ages are as of September 1, 2021), who are interested in cooking and food preparation, can attend this day camp to learn more about food safety and best practices in the kitchen. Campers must wear closed-toe shoes and tie back long hair.
 
At the end of this camp, youth teams will compete in a Food Challenge using a provided pantry and one mystery ingredient.
 
Camp registration fee is $200.00 (includes lunch). Limited to 20 campers.
 
Wilderness Survival Day Camp – June 28 – 29, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Poe Springs Park (28800 N.W. 182 Avenue, High Springs)
 
Youth between the ages of 8-12 years old (ages are as of September 1, 2021) and are interested in learning how to survive in nature should attend this day camp. Campers will learn how to start fires, navigation, building shelters, edible plants, and more. This camp will take place at Poe Springs Park, and youth will be outdoors practicing the skills they learn. All campers should wear closed-toed shoes, long pants, and bug spray. Each camper should bring a bagged lunch and refillable water bottle.
 
Camp registration fee is $100.00. This program is limited to 16 campers.
 
Aqua Adventures Day Camp – July 12 – 13, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
 
Youth between the ages of 8-12 years old (ages are as of September 1, 2021), who are interested in learning more about water from the springs to the inner city should attend this day camp. The focus of the camp will be on water and the environment. Youth will have the opportunity to follow water through Gainesville, visit a local spring, learn about pollution and conservation, and more. Each camper should pack their swimsuits, towels, and a bagged lunch with a refillable water bottle.
 
Camp registration fee is $150.00. This program is limited to 16 campers.
 
Registration must be completed through 4-H Online in conjunction with paying through Eventbrite. Both 4-H Online and Eventbrite must be completed for campers to be fully registered. Visit v2.4honline.com to create a member profile and join the “Alachua County 4-H Day Camps” club. 4-H Online profiles will need to be approved prior to camp registration, and this approval can take up to three business days. Participants will receive an Eventbrite payment link after their registration has been submitted.
 
For more information regarding these summer day camps, visit the 4-H website or contact Mary Lee Sale, 4-H Youth Development Agent, at msale@ufl.edu or call 352-955-2402. These camps are opened to all youth. Visit Extension Office website for additional programs offered by the Extension Office.
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ALACHUA COUNTY - With summer quickly approaching, Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) reminds parents and other community members to be safe when children are enjoying their time in and around pools or Alachua County’s waterways.
 
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children one to four years old, and although children are more prone to drowning, anyone can drown. About 3,400 people drown each year in the United States. These events happen quickly and silently. Fortunately, drowning is preventable.
 
Before the splashing begins, teach children about pool and water safety. Children should learn how to swim before jumping into the water and should also be taught to stay away from drains and other outlets.
 
Families with a pool at home should install alarms and a four-sided fence surrounding the pool. These devices can limit a child’s access and will notify parents if anyone is in the pool. Life jackets also reduce the risk of drowning, and children should wear one if needed. Additionally, make sure that a first aid kit and other rescue equipment are easily accessible. To take extra precautions, parents should take CPR classes to be prepared in case of an emergency.
 
Parents and guardians should always supervise children in or near water and never leave them unattended.
 

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Watermelon Festival was back for its 77th annual celebration on Saturday, May 21.  The annual festival brought out thousands who enjoyed sweet and juicy watermelon, games and activities for the young and not-so-young alike, and entertainment.

The nation’s longest-running watermelon festival was held at the CountryWay Town Square. The festival featured more than 100 vendors offering items for sale, food and drink, nonprofits sharing information, and politicians promoting their 2022 campaigns. There was also plenty of activities for kids including bounce houses, face painting and pony rides. As in previous years, the free slices of watermelon were popular with the crowd.

The event started at 10 a.m. with a parade in downtown Newberry featuring floats sponsored by local businesses and organizations that included a golf cart decoration contest. At the Country Way Town Center, some 100 vendors lined the streets and at the gazebo, K Country 93.7 FM announced events along with singer and DJ Brandon McFarlan.

The previous week the festival committee had held its annual pageant for naming the annual Newberry Watermelon Queen, teen queen and junior queens.  Kensley Catelynn Durrance was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Queen, Ashlee Thomas was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Ms. Teen Queen and Laney Grinstead was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Teen Queen. The Newberry City Commission also awarded Bethany Barfield with a key to the city. Barfield was the Newberry Watermelon Queen in 2019 and then went on to win the Florida Watermelon Queen for 2020-21 before claiming the National Watermelon Queen title.

Watermelon festival traditional events included the popular pet contest featuring four dogs. Link, Duchess, Callie and Ellie Mae won prizes for Best Dressed Boy, Best Dressed Girl, Best Behaved and Best Overall, respectively. There was a hog calling contest and the traditional watermelon seed spitting contest that has been held every year featuring local politicians competing for bragging rights for the longest spit.

Last year, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. took the crown from Congresswomen Kat Cammack with a 23-foot mark.  The winning marks this year were much farther than Watson's record last year. Daniel Fisher, running for Alachua County School Board, launched a watermelon seed 41 feet. He won the contest with that shot, leaving Newberry City Commissioner Mark Clark in second place with 37 feet.

Newberry’s Watermelon Festival started in 1946 after the end of World War II.  A group of local citizens decided to hold a festival celebrating the area’s watermelon production and the Newberry Watermelon Festival was born. The event has now been held yearly on the third Saturday in May.  

The festival is organized and produced by a committee of local residents with the support of the city and business sponsors. The actual event is produced with a large group of volunteers, including Police Explorers who help manage traffic and parking. Sponsors provide donations either as cash or in-kind products. The festival also receives additional funds through a $5 parking fee. Some of the money raised funds four $1,000 scholarships for Newberry High School seniors to cover tuition and books to attend Santa Fe College. Any additional money goes to the schools for supplies and to the Red Cross for any local need that arises.

While last year’s festival was smaller due to COVID-19 health concerns, the crowds were back in full this year. Just like its beginning in 1946 after World War II, the festival again brought a sense of community and return to normalcy.

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GAINESVILLE– Celebrate Juneteenth with special programs across the Alachua County Library District throughout June.

All branches will host programs in June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in 1865. Events include read-ins at the Alachua and Hawthorne branches, craft programs at Archer, Micanopy, and Waldo branches, and a podcast by the Library Partnership Branch featuring Dr. David Canton, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida.

“We are proud to celebrate Juneteenth with a variety of programs for children, teens, and adults. We hope these events provide an opportunity for patrons to learn more about the holiday and celebrate the date,” said Library Director Shaney T. Livingston.

All events are free and open to the public. Registration is required for some programs and seats can be reserved at www.aclib.us/events or by calling your preferred branch. The full schedule of programs is as follows:

From Emancipated to Entrepreneur, June 5, 3 p.m., Newberry Branch, all ages, registration required
Antoinette Chanel, author and founder of Feathered Press Indie Publisher, will reflect on the importance of Juneteenth, and how its meaning informs her work as an author, an artist, and an advocate. 

Juneteenth Celebration Read-In, June 12, 2:30 p.m., Alachua Branch, all ages
This mini festival will feature readings by Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson and Carol Velasques Richardson, song performance by a local youth group, and speakers including Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper. Meet local author Tabitha Jenkins, visit the craft tent, and enjoy refreshments.

Creativity for Change, June 14, 3 p.m., Archer Branch, ages 12-18
Make buttons and discuss how we can positively create change in our communities.

Story Time on the Green programs, 10:30 a.m., ages infant-5
Gather for songs and stories, including readings of Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper and similar books.

  • June 15 at Headquarters Library, Archer and High Springs branches, and Hawthorne Recreation Park with the Hawthorne Branch team
  • June 16 at Waldo Branch and Veterans Memorial Park playground with the Tower Road Branch team

Juneteenth ArtSpace, June 15, 3 p.m. Waldo Branch, all ages
Celebrate Juneteenth with an art project inspired by Kente cloth from Ghana and discover the rich symbolism of colors and designs.

Teen/Tween Book Club, June 15, 4 p.m. Headquarters Branch, ages 12-18, registration required

Discuss the book Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Patrons and Partners Podcast featuring Dr. David Canton, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida, posting June 16 by the Library Partnership Branch
Dr. David Canton is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He teaches courses on civil rights, hip hop music and culture, and introduction to African American Studies.

Juneteenth Story Time, June 16, 10:30 a.m., ages infant-5, registration required
Share songs of jubilee, Juneteenth themed books, and a coloring craft.

Depot Park Story Time, June 16, 10:30 a.m. Depot Park, ages infant-five
Gather for songs and stories, including a reading of Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper.

Juneteenth Book Talk, June 16, 3 p.m., Zoom and Facebook, ages 5-11
Check out fiction and nonfiction reads for children to celebrate Juneteenth and Black history.

Juneteenth: Celebration of Freedom, June 16, 3 p.m., Millhopper Branch, ages 12-18, registration preferred
Learn about the history and importance of Juneteenth, and then explore what freedom means to you through a papercraft.

Freedom Collages, June 17, 3 p.m., Micanopy Branch, all ages
Explore what it means to be free by learning about the history of Juneteenth and creating your picture of freedom using images and words from magazines, paint, glue, markers, and more.

Juneteenth Celebration, 3:30 p.m., June 17, Cone Park Branch, ages infant-5
Come for story time and a craft to celebrate Juneteenth, plus contribute to a group mural.

Harriet – Juneteenth Movie, June 18, 12 p.m., Library Partnership Branch, adults
Watch the award-winning biopic, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae, and Joe Alwyn.

Juneteenth Read-In @ HAW, June 25, 2:30 p.m., Hawthorne Branch
Come for a program rich in African American history and culture and celebrate works by African American authors and artists.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality as we remember those who served and did not return as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host a Memorial Day concert to raise funds for a Gold Star Monument in Gainesville. Although all who serve deserve respect and appreciation, those who did not come back deserve more in recognition of a life cut short by war, leaving families and friends to mourn the emptiness of their loss. Their families suddenly belong a singular group that no one wants to join, known as a Gold Star Family.

What sets Gold Star families apart and makes them special is the sacrifice they have made and the loved one they have lost in military service to the country. That death is not only a devastating loss of their loved one – it can often also seem like the loss of an identity, of a community, changing lives forever. There is another group that is strongly affected by these lives lost, and that group is their fellow soldiers who survived, remembering the comrades who didn’t come home.

Hershel “Woody” Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism during Iwo Jima were recognized on Oct. 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House. Williams is now the sole surviving Marine from WWII to wear the Medal of Honor.

As War II began, Williams came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one. Williams says that those experiences gave him a “greater appreciation for life and an understanding of a difference in death in the normal world as expected in life, and those lost serving in the military for their country.”

Williams noted that “consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in military service was very inadequate.” This observation and his personal commitment to veterans and their families brought about the creation of the Woody Williams Foundation The foundation’s goal is to honor these families by creating large granite Gold Star Monuments in every state. To date, Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 96 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 79 additional monuments underway in 50 states and one U.S. Territory. They are currently building one in Gainesville.

Eric “Roscoe” Mattingly is a 100 percent disabled veteran of the Iraq War who was injured during the battle for Taji. When he returned from the war and mindful of his injuries, he sought a career that was achievable. Mattingly had always loved music and earned a degree in Live Show Production from Full Sail University. He has continued producing music shows and as a veteran he became involved with the Woody Williams Foundation and their Gainesville project. By organizing a benefit concert to raise funds for the Gold Star Monument.

The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC Club have a large stage and plenty of audience space. They have hosted a number of benefit concerts at their location and were happy to coordinate with Mattingly to produce the show. Mattingly contacted regional bands he had worked with who would provide their time and talent for a concert. The concert will be dedicated in honor of four local soldiers who paid the ultimate price—including Sergeant Campbell, Lance Corporal Clark and Staff Sergeant Reiners.

On May 28, the High Springs Lions Club will host Mattingly's “Roscoe's Memorial Day Celebra-Jam” featuring four Florida bands. Starting at 2 p.m., The Huligans from Jacksonville will take the stage. Dustin Monk and the Hustle are another Jacksonville band. Trae Pierce and the T-Stones are based in Miami and are four-time Grammy winners. Jesse Smith is originally from High Springs but is now based in New Orleans and New York. His band, Jasper Smitty & Gumbo Funk will close out the concert.

The show costs $25, which, after expenses, will go to fund the Gainesville Gold Star Monument. The concert takes place at 26900 U.S. Hwy 27 in High Springs. Gates open at noon in an outdoor venue and chairs are suggested. On this Memorial Day weekend, this is a concert for a good cause to honor the soldiers who paid the supreme price and the shattered families they left behind.

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Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim A. Barton (third from left) and Assistant Supervisor of Elections Tim Williams (second from right) receive their Florida Certified Election Professionals plaques at the 2022 Florida Supervisors of Elections Conference.

ALACHUA COUNTY — Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim A. Barton and Assistant Supervisor of Elections Tim Williams completed the required coursework and training to become Florida Certified Election Professionals. They were recognized at the Florida Supervisors of Elections (FSE) Conference in Destin alongside other election officials in the state.
 The FCEP program curriculum consists of more than 30 core courses concerning election law, leadership, and best practices. In 2015 the program was awarded the Professional Practices Award by The Elections Center, a national organization of election officials and administrators.
 Supervisor Barton and Assistant Supervisor Williams were recognized for their achievement by election officials from across the state and representatives from the Florida Department of State, including Secretary of State Cord Byrd. They began the process of becoming certified in 2007.

Barton will continue serving on the Florida Supervisors of Elections Board of Directors, representing district four of the association, which includes Marion, Putnam, Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Columbia and Alachua counties. She is the past chair of the association's scholarship committee.

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