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On Monday evening, The Newberry City Commission evaluated plans for three different park projects that have been proposed for construction in the city.

The first two, Triangle Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, will be funded by Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP), a county-wide one-half cent sales tax program that was approved by voters in 2008.

City Manager Keith Ashby said that the city was given around $475,000 to work with and after purchasing the land for the community center for $15,000, it ended up with $460,000 for both projects. He said that since WSPP is a two-year program that will end in December, there will not be much more money coming in from it.

Upon request of the commission, Paul Stressing, of the architecture firm Stressing and Associates, focused on ways that the projects could be scaled back to work with the limited funds. He presented the commission with a shopping list of different features that could be added or deducted from the master plans of the two parks.

Stressing provided five different options for Triangle Park, ranging from the most expensive at $511,500, to the least expensive at $271,000. The options showed the price changes that would come about by including or excluding elements of the park such as an amphitheater, a 24-space parking lot, a playground, picnic pavilions, a pond, bathroom facilities, grills, benches, nature trails and a garden area.

Commissioner Lois Forte said that she envisioned the park as a place where family reunions and birthday parties would take place. She said that she was not willing to lose important parts of the park like the playground and the picnic pavilions.

“I have been trying and trying since ’86 to get this park,” she said.

Stressing presented two different options for the community center. The first was 4,000 square feet and would cost $400,000. It had a parking lot, a sidewalk and an outside pavilion in the front. The building included a wrap-around porch, a computer area, a kitchen and a lounge. The second option was 2,692 square feet and was priced at $296,200. It cut costs by eliminating the computer center, pavilion, parking lot and sidewalk.

Stressing said that his estimates for both projects were on the high end and did not take money that could be saved by community donations into consideration. Still, as Commissioner Farnsworth commented at the Aug. 23 commission meeting, it seems that the city has the money for one project and is trying to build two.

“You’re going to have to bite the bullet with this one and come up with your priorities,” Ashby told the commission.

A different kind of a park was the subject of discussion at a board of adjustment meeting held immediately after the commission meeting.  Commissioners heard plans for an RV park that would go in next to Nations Ballpark.  The commission granted a conditional zoning exception to Barry and Carlene Green, the owners of the 88-acre property where the park is planned to be built.

Mike Shuler was at the meeting to speak on the behalf of the Greens. He said that the park is being designed to accommodate visitors who will come to town for the ballpark and other local attractions such as the Eastern Newberry Sports Complex, Gatorback Cycle Park, Canterbury Equestrian Showplace and Gator football games.

Shuler said that the park would be built in three phases and would eventually have 245 units. He said they plan for it includes a clubhouse, a laundry room, a pool, showers and batting cages.

“A park like this is well-setup to accommodate the shortcoming needs that we’re getting ready to face if Nations Ballpark does go through,” Shuler said.

Some residents who live near the future sites of the parks came to the meetings to voice their concerns about problems that could arise.

Wendy DeVito said that she was worried about the safety of pedestrians who will be walking down the road to get to the ballpark. She strongly encouraged the commission to make sure there was a trolley system to take people to and from the park.

Jordan Marlowe, whose family farm is nearby where the parks will be built, said that he was concerned about the extra traffic that the ballpark will bring.

“I’m going to have a lot of people honking at me when I’m trying to get my hay down the road,” he said.

Marlowe also wanted to know if there would be buffers for the noise and lights that would come from the park. He said that while he did not want to stand in the way of progress, he was “worried about keeping the look and feel of Newberry, which is agriculture.” Add a comment

Facing termination, High Springs City Manager Jim Drumm resigned last week.

With his departure finalized, and an election that will change at least one, and possibly two faces on the city commission, looming less than a week away, Jenny Parham continues to act as Interim City Manager and City Clerk.

At a last-minute afternoon meeting on Oct. 21, the city commission gave unanimous approval to accept a resignation agreement from Drumm.

Subsequently, the public hearing on the subject scheduled for later that evening was cancelled, as Drumm was no longer being terminated, but rather stepping down.

The terms of his resignation included a $66,433.80 check to be made out to the former city manager as soon as the agreement was signed into effect.

Drumm will also retain city health insurance, including family coverage, for the next six months, and the city gave him a neutral reference letter for future employers.

Under the agreement, Drumm fully releases and settles any and all claims related to his employment with the city.

Before casting his vote last Thursday, Commissioner Larry Travis, who was the only one to vote against Mayor Bill Coughlin’s motion to terminate the city manager several weeks ago, said he still thinks the mayor’s move was “ship-shod and fool-hardy,” and he didn’t think Drumm should go.

But because he submitted his resignation, Travis said he would vote to approve it.

The letter Drumm sent contained only two sentences:

“I, James D. Drumm, hereby resign as City Manager and City Clerk of the City of High Springs effective October 21, 2010 at the close of business. It has been an honor to have served the City of High Springs.”         

Parham was working as City Deputy Clerk under Drumm until the Sept. 27 meeting when Coughlin made the motion to fire him. The commission placed him on paid leave and appointed her to oversee his duties.

Commissioner John Hill said he’d like to see her take the position permanently, but he knows she doesn’t want to, and he respects that.

“She’s a very capable young lady,” he said.

“She’s very quiet in her manner, but she’s very efficient in what she does.”

Now Drumm is gone, and Parham is for the time being acting City Manager.  And because two commission seats are up for election on Nov. 2, the majority of current commissioners agree it’s pointless to talk about selecting a new city manager until after the results.

Five candidates are vying for the open two seats.  Coughlin is running for reelection for the seat he currently holds while Hill, who was appointed, is not seeking election.

The new commission will be seated Nov. 18. Until then, four of the five current commissioners indicated they don’t plan on bringing up the issue of who should replace Drumm.

Coughlin could not be reached for comment.

Commissioner Dean Davis agreed that Parham is doing a good job. It seems, he said, that everything is running smoothly.

Hill, as well as Commissioner Larry Travis, noted that the process to find a permanent replacement will be a lengthy one, and once it begins, it’s going to take time.  

And Travis stressed that the city commission should take time to figure out what it wants before it starts looking.

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HighSpringsAt a last-minute meeting Thursday afternoon, the city commission gave unanimous approval to accept a resignation agreement from its City Manager, Jim Drumm.

Subsequently, the public hearing on the subject scheduled for late that evening, was cancelled, as he was no longer being terminated, but rather stepping down.

The terms of his resignation included a $66,433.80 check to be made out to Drumm as soon as the agreement was signed into effect.

He will also retain city health insurance, including family coverage, for the next six months, and the city gave him a neutral reference letter for future employers.

Under the agreement, Drumm fully releases and settles any and all claims related to his employment with the city.

Before casting his vote on Thursday, commissioner Larry Travis, who was the only one to vote against Mayor Bill Coughlin’s motion to terminate the city manager several weeks ago, said, he still thinks the mayor’s move was “ship-shod and fool-hardy,” and he didn’t think Drumm should go.

But because he submitted his resignation, Travis said he would vote to approve it.

The letter Drumm sent was only two sentences:

“I, James D. Drumm, hereby resign as City Manager and City Clerk of the City of High Springs effective October 21, 2010 at the close of business. It has been an honor to have served the City of High Springs.”

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Two High Springs firefighters have resigned in wake of an active, ongoing investigation in the department, a city official confirmed Wednesday.

According to Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, the two firefighters submitted their resignations, effective since Tuesday, but because of open investigations, she said she could not elaborate further. She would not name the two individuals, but she said everything relating to the issue will become public record as soon as the investigation is concluded.

One High Springs resident, who did not want to be named in order to protect their source of information, said the High Springs Police Department is currently conducting eight separate internal investigations on the fire department regarding complaints stemming from alleged acts of hazing among firefighters.

It’s a really sensitive issue, said City Commissioner Eric May, who declined to comment on the nature of the investigations or any details about the parties involved.

Any time there is wrongdoing, it’s important to hear both sides he said, adding that because of the ongoing investigation, he wanted to protect the rights of all individuals involved by not commenting at this time.

High Springs Fire Chief Verne Riggall also said he could not comment, beyond confirming that two firefighters had resigned. He said it is his understanding that they did so with the belief that it would be in the best interest of the department.

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Q_-_alachuaFallFest_2010Sunshine and cool temperatures set the stage for a great turnout at the Alachua Harvest Festival this past Sunday.  The daylong event held in downtown Alachua featured fun-filled festivities for the whole family along with special attractions, tasty cuisine, carnival like games, a multitude of vendors, and continuous live performances.  Sponsored by the Alachua Business League, SunState Federal Credit Union, Gator Dominos, Alachua Printing and the City of Alachua, admission to the 8th annual festival was free to the public.  The festival is held annually in October and attracts visitors from all over the area to Main Street, Alachua.

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The Hawthorne City Commission will be reviewing Hawthorne’s budget again, after a concerned resident pointed out Tuesday evening what he believed were numerous discrepancies in the town’s guiding financial document.

Ray Daniel, a retired deputy state materials and resource engineer, attended the meeting to inform the commission of errors he found in the budget. Although it was passed as a balanced budget, Daniel’s own calculations show a deficit. A deficit he estimates to be nearly $400,000.

The problem, according to Daniel, arises from utility allocations made in the budget.  The adopted budget appears to reflect transfers from utility revenues into several other departments such as the City Commission, City Manager, Executive and other departments.  But those deductions seemingly never appear to come out of any of the utility departments’ budgets. 

According to the budget Daniel was referencing, 95 percent of the Customer Service department’s $42,000 budget is to be funded through “Utilities Allocations” while the remaining five percent would come from the general fund revenues.  But none of the city’s three utility departments reflect that $39,911 expenditure.  

“Utilities Allocations” were used to fund seven other departments as well and none of those transfers in are balanced by transfers out from any of the utilities.

To remedy the deficit Daniel believes the city will have to increase water/wastewater rates by 193.5 percent, almost triple what it is now, unless the city trims its budget drastically.

“Citizens of Hawthorne cannot afford such increases,” Daniel said.

He argues that if the city commission continues to use funds at the rate they are, with a reliance on the uncertain ‘balanced’ budget, the city will run out of money in the spring. Then to recover from the deficit, he believes the city will have no option but to quadruple the water/wastewater rate.

“I guarantee if you all do not take action you will have rough times ahead for the citizens of Hawthorne,” Daniel said to the commission at the meeting on Tuesday.

City manager Ed Smyth mentioned that he had the budget looked over by an accountant and was told that the budget was balanced. He did admit that the accountant only gave the budget a cursory glance.

Now Smyth is concerned that a he may have missed something or a mathematical error may have thrown off the balance. He said he was not sure of what exactly Daniel was arguing, and he cannot verify nor deny Daniel’s arguments. Smyth pointed out that he was not prepared for a discussion of the budget, and had no paperwork with him to discuss the issue.

“I have no idea what methods were used [by Daniel] or what version of the budget he used,” Smyth said.

Smyth is certain of one thing, he will make sure he and his accountant go over the budget in more detail.

Residents at the meeting were concerned that such serious problems may have been overlooked in the budget.

“I’m amazed, and it scares me,” Vivian Wagner, a concerned resident and regular attendee at commission meetings, said.

Commissioners were worried about the budget issues brought up in the meeting as well, and the commission decided to hold a budget workshop to further discuss these issues on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 10 a.m.

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 For those looking for an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend, Newberry is the place to go for festive fall fun.

The Fourth Annual Fall Market Festival is planned to take place in downtown Newberry on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will spotlight more than 50 vendors from all over the state, said Main Street Manager Barbara Hendrix, one of the event’s coordinators.

 As visitors stroll down Seaboard Drive, they will be able to check out arts and crafts displays, shop the local produce at the farmers market, listen to live music from the band Late Night Delivery and even try their hand at interactive archery demonstrations. When hunger sets in, they will be enticed by the aromas coming from a veritable potpourri of food vendors, including several that will be competing in a barbeque cook-off.

Hendrix said the Main Street Organization tried to include something for every age group when coordinating the event. The kids will have a number of different activities to explore such as pony rides, face painting, bounce houses and a basketball toss. For the adults, a health fair will offer expert advice on healthy living, blood pressure and blood sugar checks and “brown bag checks” for those who wish to bring in their prescription medications to have them evaluated.

Last year’s festival attracted 4,000 people and Hendrix expects to see even more come out this year due to a heightened interest in Newberry’s expanding community.

“Newberry is growing in so many different ways and people want to come and see what’s going on,” she said.

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