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RAY CARSON/The High Springs police and fire departments delivered gifts to seven different locations for the annual Operation Holiday Cheer giveaway. Since 2008, High Springs first responders have been delivering presents to selected families who may be having financial difficulties during the holiday season.

HIGH SPRINGS – On the morning of Dec. 21 a convoy of emergency vehicles gathered in front  of the High Springs Police station. They were on a special mission called Operation Holiday Cheer. At 9:30 a.m., a convoy of four police cars and a fire truck left the parking lot with emergency lights flashing and a police siren to alert traffic at crossroads. One police vehicle towed a trailer full of presents. These first responders were on a mission to make Christmas special for kids that might otherwise receive little. It’s a chance to give to others and help keep the excitement and joy in a child’s heart for this special time of year.

Since 2008, the High Springs police and fire departments have asked for donations of new toys, pajamas and books from the community so they can provide them to local children. Several local businesses, the Rotary Club and the High Springs Community School are also involved in the effort.

The High Springs Community School notifies the police department of families they feel could use the help, and the police department then contacts the child’s parents to get approval for a delivery and find out if there are other children in the house. They don’t want anyone to feel left out, so if there are other children in the house they are also added to the list. This also gives the police an opportunity to see what the children want and they try to match the gifts to the children.

Once the visit is approved by the parents, the families are added to the list. For some families, the delivery date did not work, so they were able to pick up the gifts at the police station or a day care center. However, part of the total experience for the children is the delivery. It’s not often that a child has a convoy of police and fire vehicles come to their home with lights flashing and a trailer full of wrapped presents.

The event is organized by High Springs Police Officer Jason Taylor and on the morning of Dec. 21, Officer Taylor, his son Jason Jr. and friend Noah Brock were joined by fellow officers James Yakubish, Tony Pakala, Assistant Chief Antione Sheppard and Chief Joel DeCoursey. Lieutenant Kevin Pearson also arrived with the fire truck and crew.

The first delivery was to a boy living with his mother and grandmother. They both knew what was to happen, but the boy did not. As the convoy pulled into the apartment parking lot the boy had a surprised look on his face, which only grew as Jason Jr. and his friend Noah brought a large box of wrapped presents to him. As his mother and grandmother looked on, he excitedly began opening the presents one by one. After all were opened, he thanked everyone and shook hands with Chief DeCoursey and Lt. Sheppard.

At the next stop, both parents were working and the two middle school kids were home on Christmas break. They were hesitant to open the door and come out with all the police cars there with lights flashing. A call to their parents resolved the issue and they came out to a crowd of uniformed officers in Santa hats complete with a box of presents for each of them. They opened them in a stunned silence, unable to believe it was happening, with smiles growing on their faces with each present.

The next stop was two boys living with a guardian. The initial reaction was the same as the others, a disbelief that this was happening to them. Accompanied by a friend, they opened the presents. At the end they thanked all the officers thinking it was over, but the crew had an additional surprise for them. Officer Taylor pulled two new bicycles off the trailer and presented them to the boys. As the boys climbed on the bikes, Taylor halted them and explained that as police officers they had to make sure that these two riders met the legal safety precautions and produced two helmets for them as well. After the officers put the helmets properly on the boys they were allowed to ride, with a reminder that they should always wear a helmet.

The next delivery was a house with five children. They all gathered on the front porch as the convoy pulled up. The eldest had her hands clasped together and a smile on her face. As dad looked on, she walked down the steps to greet Jason Jr. as he approached with a large box of presents. Like the previous stops, she had a look of shock and joy mixed on her face. The box was brought back to the porch and the name on each present was called out. One young boy stopped opening presents when he got a drum. It was what he wanted and nothing else mattered as he picked up the drum sticks and began hitting the drum.

The five kids were not the largest delivery. Next was a house with six children. Their excitement showed as they each opened presents leaving the yard strewn with wrapping paper. But this was still not the largest group. The final stop of the morning was a day care center, where about 15 young children gathered in the fenced yard to be handed presents by police and firemen. For one police officer, this stop had special meaning. His young son attended here.

Operation Holiday Cheer has brought happiness for nine years for children who have little  For those children, these gifts made a huge difference. Operation Holiday Cheer is well named, bringing joy and happiness by the simple act of compassion and giving to children who need it.

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With more than 16 years at the City of Hawthorne, LaKesha McGruder is a mainstay in the local government.

HAWTHORNE – LaKesha H. Hawkins-McGruder, MMC of City of Hawthorne, has earned the designation of Master Municipal Clerk (MMC), which is awarded by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), Inc.

IIMC grants the MMC designation only to those municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state.

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1-MapSR26WtrWwtrExtension DCC Nov2016 copy

 

Map of State Road 26 corridor, east toward Northwest 202nd Street, showing the four large properties leading to Destiny Community Church at 420 S.W. 250th Street, Newberry. The City of Newberry and the four property owners, are slated to pay a share of the costs to run water lines along that route to serve the church and encourage future economic development along the corridor. (Illustration special to Alachua County Today)

 

NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners took a giant step forward in their efforts to make their city more attractive to commercial and industrial development at their Dec. 12 meeting. Commissioners voted to extend water utility lines eastward approximately 1.5 miles toward Jonesville at an estimated cost of $684,273.

Four property owners on the north side of the State Road 26 corridor have been approached to consider paying a fair share of the cost of laying water lines across their rights-of-way. “Generally speaking, they all feel this is a fair way to assess their properties,” said City Manager Mike New. “There has been no push back from those owners to indicate that they are not in favor of this project.”

According to City records, the property owners are Gary W. Weseman, who owns approximately 45 acres, Canterbury Showplace, Inc, who owns 37 acres, Norita Davis, who owns 171 acres and Glaeser Tract Investment, Inc., who owns 272 acres.

Each would pay a share, leaving $230,164 for the City's share. The “fair share” assessment for each property is the estimated cost to construct an eight-inch water main across the property, according to supporting documentation by the City. “The assessment would eventually result in $454,000 of the $684,000 project cost being refunded to the City. The $230,000 balance would be funded appropriately from development fees as system expansion. Staff notes that the $230,000 expense to the City will be recouped by future connections to the water system.”

During the meeting Stephan Davis, acting on behalf of his mother, Norita, addressed commissioners to encourage the City to move ahead with this project. He also indicated they had no plans to use their property for residential development. No other property owners attended the meeting to speak for or against approval of the planned extension.

The impetus to take this step was two-fold. The most urgent of the two reasons to move forward with this plan at this time has to do with Destiny Community Church (DCC), located at 420 S.W. 250th Street. The church petitioned for a Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board on Dec. 5, which recommended approval and sent it to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) with certain conditions.

Conditions cited had to do with provision of water and wastewater utility services and they state that the development must connect to the City's water system upon completion of their construction project, if the water line extension is approved by Commissioners, which it was. If the extension project had not been approved at this meeting, the church could have constructed an on-site well to provide water for an adequate fire suppression system until such time as water lines became available to the site by the City.

The BOA is expected to consider the Special Exception application in January. If approved, it is expected that DCC could complete construction in one year. That also means that the City's water main extension must be completed within one year as well.

Although DCC's request is more immediate, the City was already considering a plan to extend utility services eastward. Many believe the lack of water and wastewater infrastructure east of the downtown area along SR 26 has limited development, particularly commercial and industrial development.

In 2015, a group of property owners along the SR 26 corridor commissioned a report to analyze its potential for economic development and the factors which would facilitate development. Among its findings, the State Road 26 Corridor Study identified provision of water and wastewater infrastructure as a primary driver for economic development along the five-mile corridor between the downtown area and Jonesville.

City staff had developed a conceptual plan to provide water and wastewater infrastructure along this corridor. The estimated cost for the water and wastewater utility infrastructure along the five-mile corridor totaled $10 million. In December 2015 the City transmitted a Community Based Inclusion Request (CBIR) to the Florida legislature seeking funding to further plan the infrastructure needs of the corridor. The Florida legislature allocated no funding during the 2016 legislative session.

Commissioners requested that the City Manager continue to pursue some funding avenues he mentioned at the meeting to help pay for the eventual construction of wastewater lines eastward along the same corridor at an estimated $1.5 million to complete.

In addition to the wastewater issue, changes to the City's Land Use Map and zoning categories along SR 26 also must be modified in the near future to change both to allow for commercial and industrial use.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua Branch Library was filled with candy, laughter and enough icing to fill a small pool as children of all ages were accompanied by family and friends to the Alachua Branch’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Workshop, Sunday, Dec. 18. Each person attending the event received a free pre-made gingerbread house and a cup filled with their choice of candy with which to decorate.

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A group of riders on horseback glimmer with lights adorning their outfits and their horses as they make their way down the parade route. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – Hot cocoa, miniature candy canes, festive attire, cheerful Christmas music and a pygmy goat named Matilda filled Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, on one of the coldest winter evenings so far this year.

The 19th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade, sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, attracted hundreds of area locals. Although the parade itself didn't begin until 6 p.m., people came as early as 4:30 p.m. to find a great viewing spot.

“We have more floats than usual this year,” said Eyvonne Andrews, President, High Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We’re also hoping for a grand turnout. The Chief of Police redesigned the parade route this year,” she said, “It’s coming out near the Civic Center and ending at the Christmas tree.”

Some organizations involved in this year's parade were High Rock Riders Motorcycle Club, Pampered Paws, the Woman’s Club, First Christian Academy, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Tumblemania, just to name a few.

Before the parade, Archer resident Patty Hannon walked her pet pygmy goat, Matilda, complete with pink bows and a pink sweater. Youngsters flocked around to get a better view and to pet the goat.

“I take her everywhere,” Hannon said. “She’s very friendly.”

River Run, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that opened on Main Street in March of this year, had its doors open, welcoming the public. Outside their front door they distributed free hot cocoa and cookies. Lollipops were given to the children.

The Santa Fe High School Marching Raider Regiment band glowed with bright, festive lights adorning their outfits, and Santa himself brought up the rear end of the parade in bright, shiny red High Springs fire truck. Families and children were encouraged to visit with Santa at the city’s decorated Christmas tree located near Railroad Avenue for photos.

“I love this time of year,” said Michael Loveday, event Co-Coordinator. “It’s interesting that we have over 50 floats this year. Last year we had about 44. It’s just a fun time.”

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ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

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HIGH SPRINGS – In what has to be a record for the fastest meeting ever, the High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) voted unanimously to approve the Community Redevelopment Plan's extension proposal. The proposed plan had earlier been submitted to Alachua County and recently received approval from their Board of County Commissioners.

The plan, which was set to expire December of this year, will now stay in effect until fiscal year 2030-31 upon satisfactory review by Alachua County in fiscal year 2018-19.

“The plan serves as a framework for guiding investment, economic development and redevelopment of the High Springs Community District over the next 15 years,” according to the plan's introduction.

The District being served by this plan encompasses residential and commercial properties in the general downtown area of High Springs. Due to the original plan's implementation, tax valuations have increased from $75,000 to $77,000 in the past year according to City Manager Ed Booth.

Now that the plan extension has been approved, the City is considering implementation of another District within the city. Establishing a plan for a new district will take time to develop, but it does not cost the property owners within the plan district any additional taxes. The funding comes from the taxes already paid to the county, but earmarked to be spent within the district.

In the following regular City Commission meeting, which was held immediately after the CRA meeting, city commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plan.

During the same meeting, a check for $2,000 was presented to High Springs Police Department (HSPD) Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr. and HSPD Executive-Operations Lt. Antoine Sheppard by GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club President Carole Tate. The money is earmarked for the purchase of five ballistic vests, which offer extra protection to the city's police officers.

In other city business, commissioners approved an ordinance to define when water and sewer system impact fees are due for new construction and approved a mutual aid agreement with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to allow city and county police officers to cross boundaries to effectively pursue criminal activities.

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