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NEWBERRY – After lengthy negotiations with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office (ACSO), the Newberry City Commission voted unanimously to opt out of the Alachua County Law Enforcement Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU).

The decision was made during the Feb. 8 commission meeting.

Although it may appear that the city will soon be without law enforcement services, Mayor Bill Conrad said, “Not so. We will still have crossing guards, school resource officers, road patrols, etc.” The city plans instead to negotiate a separate contract with ACSO to provide those services to its citizens.

At issue is how the City budgets for the services it receives from Alachua County. For the past 10 years, the City has had to issue what Conrad calls a “blank check” to cover those services.

“We have to agree to opt into the MSTU before we know what it will cost our city for law enforcement services,” he said. “We can't budget for it because the amount isn't known at the time we have to agree to opt in. The MSTU amount increased by 28 percent in one year and our city has to pay it because we had already opted in.”

City Manager Mike New tried to negotiate different deals with the Sheriff that would allow the city to know in advance what the MSTU amount would be.

“Apparently, that's not possible,” said Conrad. “So this year we decided to opt out of the MSTU and write a separate contract with the Sheriff. We think that's a better deal because we'll have a contract, we’ll know what services we're getting and how much we're going to pay before we go into the budget cycle.”

By negotiating a separate contract with ACSO, Conrad believes the citizens will get more service for their money, and the City will know exactly what it is paying for and how much it will cost.

The City of Newberry will be paying for law enforcement either through the city's General Fund or through increased ad valorem taxes rather than through the separate charge that appears on tax bills as “Law Enforcement MSTU.”

That will cause city taxes to go up considerably...somewhere between one and two mills,” said Conrad. “Right now our taxes are at about four mills. Citizens will see a significant increase in city taxes, which will be offset by a decrease in the fact that our citizens won't be paying MSTU.”

An increase in ad valorem taxes, however, would require a unanimous vote of the city commissioners.

“The city opted out of the MSTU with a unanimous vote. We are hoping we will get a unanimous vote for the contract,” Conrad said. “We are taking a little bit of a risk because it only takes one commissioner to negate the terms of the contract, but we are willing to take that risk.”

The current MSTU agreement will be in place until Sept. 30.

Three items covered by the MSTU that commissioners want to ensure are included in the final contract are provisions for school resource officers, crossing guards and a marked car in Newberry.

Additional police presence when a road is closed for a parade or city event is also part of the MSTU services provided by ACSO according to ACSO Public Information Officer Art Forgey.

If the new agreement between ACSO and the City of Newberry does not address extra police presence for city events, the city will have to contract with the ACSO Extra Duty Coordinator to provide police presence for those events at a cost of just over $40 per hour, said Forgey.

“The charge pays for a deputy at an overtime rate, plus it allows for him to use the car and uniform,” he said.

Sporting events for schools are paid for through a contract with the Alachua County School Board and would not be affected by the city's agreement.

“The Sheriff is concerned about Newberry and its citizens,” Forgey said. “She wants to work out an amicable agreement with the City that both the City and County will be happy with. Once the City tells us what services they want to contract with ACSO to provide, we can

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