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Q - Ministry FB 11822767 8440296489995


 Photo special to Alachua County Today


Witnesses of Christ Ministry in downtown High Springs serves the community with food and other necessities.


HIGH SPRINGS – Children and families have found a safe haven the past three years at Witnesses of Christ Ministry, located next door to The Great Outdoors on Main Street.

The non-denominational program, headed by Pastor Sammy Nelson, Jr., is a U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodities distribution location. In addition to providing food, it also provides and seeks donations to provide furniture, appliances, clothing and other necessities to assist families in need.

After helping many people, the Ministry now has a need of its own. Its current location is being sold. Nelson and his group of mostly children will be out on the street if funding for a new location cannot be found.

Nelson has been looking for a location large enough to house the growing ministry and provide a safe place for children to do their homework, learn and play safely.

Both Nelson and his wife, Belinda, spend time tutoring children from third grade through college for free. Nelson has a doctorate in ministry and his wife has a Masters in counseling and has been a middle-school counselor.

Although Nelson has scouted out a great location next to the Civic Center, the cost to get into the building and pay the rent each month is much more than Nelson currently receives in monthly donations.

“I believe the Lord will help us find the money to move us to the new location,” said Nelson.

Some of his friends and colleagues believe the Lord could use a little help answering Nelson's prayers.

The location he has in mind was at one time a day care center and most recently the location of Born Too Late Antiques. The building has a full kitchen as opposed to the kitchenette Nelson has at his current location. It has an alarm system and people have to be buzzed in the back, which provides an additional layer of safety. The building is 2,080 sq. ft. inside with three bathrooms, a basketball court and ping-pong tables. The property encompasses the equivalent of five building lots and is entirely fenced, which Nelson appreciates for safety reasons.

“The location is perfect for us,” said Nelson. “We will be able to serve more children from that location and will have easy access for the children and families using the field across the narrow street.

“The building's current owner is willing to hold the mortgage at eight percent interest,” he said. “Down payment will cost us $20,000 and an estimate of deposits is another $2,000. Monthly payments of more than $1,300 will be required to satisfy the mortgage.”

Many of Nelson's children have performed at municipal and community events in the High Springs area over the past few years. The summer feeding program has served more than 5,500 meals for children, and Nelson and his group have provided a youth ball for Valentine’s Day, a hoedown for Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day dinners.

“We try to instill pride in young ladies and teach both young men and young ladies how to treat each other respectfully,” said Nelson. “The Valentines Day Youth Ball is one way we help to accomplish that goal. Young ladies are escorted to their seats; chairs are pulled out for them. Both young men and young ladies learn the proper etiquette and what is to be expected of each. It's a great teaching tool, and the children love learning about the proper way to treat each other.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Witnesses of Christ Ministry may stop in when they are downtown, access their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wocmhighsprings or call Nelson at 352-284-8535.

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Q - Newberry Downtown ES5A7267


BOB BROWN/ Alachua County Today


Newberry is the fourth most populous community in Alachua County with approximately 5,500 residents. Due to expanding its city limits over the last two decades, Newberry is now geographically amost the same size as Gainesville, the county's largest city.


NEWBERRY – During the peak of the Florida phosphate boom in the 1890s, communities quickly sprang up throughout Western Alachua County as entrepreneurs scrambled to capitalize on the mineral’s abundance in the area.

Towns appeared that boasted populations of hundreds, surrounding a swath of mines that dotted the landscape. As fast as they began, though, once bustling communities just as rapidly disappeared when the phosphate industry collapsed with the beginning of the First World War.

Afterward, whereas the names of Wade, Dutton, Lexington, and Haile were mostly forgotten, Newberry endured.

Incorporated in 1895 and surrounded by 14 phosphate mines, Newberry began strictly as a community dedicated to that industry. It found longevity beyond phosphate as it was able to transition into a focus on agriculture.

“We’re an agricultural community to this day,” said Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad. “We want to keep those values. Our vision for the future is to grow in the areas of agri-business, agri-tech, and focus on utilizing the railroad that runs through our community.”

The most popular civic event is the annual Watermelon Festival, which began in 1946 as a way of celebrating the most profitable crop for many local farmers.

The focus on land extends beyond agriculture, though. While Newberry is only the fourth most populous community in Alachua County with approximately 5,500 residents, it has rapidly expanded its city limits over the last two decades to the point that it is geographically almost the same size as Gainesville.

“We’re the 19th largest city in Florida by landmass out of about 900,” said Conrad, “but our population density is one person per seven acres.”

Aside from acquiring land, Conrad said an emphasis for the City is on enjoying it, as recreation is a major community emphasis. The Easton Sports Complex has a renowned archery center where several Olympic hopefuls and past participants train, while Champions Park (formerly Nations Park) is a vast, 16-stadium baseball tournament venue.

“We also manage Diamond Sports Park in Gainesville,” Conrad said. “In all, we have 38 baseball fields. Our philosophy is to have a real robust recreation department.”

Conrad said one challenge the City faces is keeping its business growth commensurate with the rapid residential expansion underway in the form of several subdivisions. He noted that population growth for the City is at a rate of approximately five-percent per year.

“We don’t want to be a bedroom community [for Gainesville],” he said. “Businesses allow us to keep our taxes low. We’ve had over 50 businesses come into Newberry in the last six years, and we’re working really hard to get more.”

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W - HS Foodshare IMG 2498


C.M. WALKER/ Alachua County Today


  The High Springs Civic Center was t he site of a Farm Share food giveaway last Saturday. L-R: High Springs Chamber of Commerce President Eyvonne Andrews and High Springs Vice-Mayor Gloria James loaded food into bags for distribution. 


HIGH SPRINGS – Farm Share was in town Saturday to deliver a truckload of food to people in need in the greater High Springs area.

A non-stop line of cars could be seen stretching all the way around the perimeter of the Civic Center and out into Santa Fe Blvd. Car after car received food placed into their vehicles or trunks by a group of approximately 30 local volunteers.

While volunteers kept the cars rolling through quickly, High Springs Police Officers managed to keep regular traffic flowing around vehicles on Santa Fe Blvd.

“By the time all 42,000 lbs. of food had been distributed, volunteers had managed to provide food for 1,812 individuals in 397 households,” said Dave Reynolds, Quincy Farm Share Facility Manager.

Food items included bread, baked goods, juice, frozen chicken, potatoes grown in Gainesville at Blue Skies Farms, okra and green beans grown in Florida and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Commodities.

“We had just the right amount of food for the number of cars that came through the line,” said Reynolds. “We finished and packed up everything a little before noon and left shortly thereafter.”

The USDA purchases food from farmers each year as a form of price support. In Florida the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (FDAC) works with regional not-for-profit food banks to receive and distribute the USDA product to the local food banks, soup kitchens and other emergency food providers.

Farm Share is the regional food bank for the Northeast Region consisting of 11 counties as well as the Southeast region consisting of two counties.

High Springs is the fourth city in Alachua County to receive food distribution through Farm Share this year. “The first one was on June 4 at the Santa Fe Community College parking lot in Gainesville,” said Reynolds. Hawthorne, Waldo and now High Springs have benefited from Farm Share food distributions.

“Through all four distribution points, 168,000 lbs. of food have been distributed thus far in Alachua County,” Reynolds said.

Food distribution volunteers included High Springs Mayor Byran Williams, Vice-Mayor Gloria James, Commissioner Sue Weller, City Manager Ed Booth, Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., Police Lt. Antoine Sheppard, Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham and members of the High Springs Fire Department, High Springs Chamber President Eyvonne Andrews, members of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe and missionaries from the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints serving in Gainesville.

“We usually help out Farm Share whenever they need help,” said Missionary Sister Mansfield. “We have been helping Farm Share for years. Usually we help out once a week on Saturday mornings whenever they need volunteers.”

St. Madeleine Community Outreach (SMCO) is the standard local distributor for food from USDA Jacksonville, said Lucille Gabriel. “I'm sure some of our clients participated in Saturday's food distribution,” she said. “This [distribution] was for individual households. We actually are a USDA food distribution point for Alachua County. We distribute USDA food to anyone who comes to our office and says they are from Alachua County.”

There are other USDA food distribution sites in High Springs, but SMCO is the only High Springs location serving Alachua County five days a week.

To learn more about the history of the program visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/fdd-history-and-background.

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W - Walker - HS  Water proclamationIMG 2506


C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today


L-R: Displaying a proclamation recognizing July and August 2016 as Water/Ways months in High Springs is Water/Ways Exhibig Program Director Kristina Young, High Springs Mayor Byran Williams, museum sponsor Jim Tatum and High Springs Historical Society Secretary Diane Karris.


HIGH SPRINGS – The focus of the July 14 city commission meeting was primarily concerned with money, and lots of it.

“The city has received a $3.3 million grant from the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD),” said Ed Booth, City Manager. He vowed to have a full presentation specifying exactly how the grant funds will be allocated at the Aug. 11 commission meeting.

“Some of the projects are driven by the SRWMD and some by us,” said Booth.

One of the first projects to get funded will be the hook up of Camp Kulaqua to the city sewer system. “The water management district has been trying to get this hook up done for some time,” said Booth.

“We also need to put in a wetland area for drainage, which will also be part of the grant.”

The city expects two more subdivisions to begin construction in the near future, which will provide 300 more homes on the city sewer system. “Those homeowners can amortize payment of their impact fees over a three-year period,” said Booth. “Once everyone has been hooked up to the sewer, it should begin to pay for itself in three years.”

Booth expects to have the city engineer at the Aug. 11 meeting to help answer questions about what projects will be tackled in what order.

Although the budget hasn’t been officially passed for the upcoming fiscal year, the City has listed several items with a good chance of approval. “The millage rate will remain at 6.1326 mills with a rollback rate of 6.0785,” said Finance Director Jennifer Stull.

A new bucket truck, two new police cars and an F-250 pick-up truck with lift to service grinder pumps are suggested new purchases.

In addition, $14,000 has been allocated for recreation to pay for installation of a fence and to drill a well for irrigation. Also budgeted for recreation is a $10,000 part-time position to inspect park equipment and oversee repairs.

Employees will see a three percent raise and department heads will see an increase in their salaries of $5,000 each.

In other city business, commissioners approved an agreement to extend High Spring’' Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) allotment. The current CRA agreement with Alachua County is set to expire in December 2016, following 30 years of operation.

The new agreement was unanimously approved by city commissioners after the Alachua County Board of County Commission (BOCC) approved and executed the agreement on July 5 of this year. In sending the agreement to the city, County Manager Lee Niblock suggested the City allow the County to manage the fund. The City Commission approved the agreement without including the suggested change.

The agreement allows the city to extend the CRA for a term of 15 years. The City may choose to further extend the CRA for an additional term of 15 years if it first obtains affirmative approval of the additional term extension from the County.

The agreement will provide the CRA with $75,000 from Alachua County, the same amount from the City of High Springs and an additional $40,000 for the next five years to repay the CRA fund for inadvertently neglecting to put in matching funds into the CRA account from 2002 to 2006. During those four years, the amount that should have been paid into the CRA fund from the City's coffers amounts to more than $199,000, according to CRA Director Amanda Rodriguez.

Tabled items to be considered at the Aug. 11 meeting include consideration of establishing a standard agreement for city-owned buildings regarding utilities, a reduction to the speed limit on West U.S. Highway 27 and a request to establish a memorial garden in front of the High Springs Fire Department.

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ALACHUA - The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and City of Alachua Commissioners demonstrated sharp disagreement regarding county road repairs at a joint meeting held Monday, July 11.

The discussion was one of a few agenda items covered by both commissions and was initiated when City Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. brought the poor condition of two county roadways to the BOCC's attention: County Roads 2054 - also known as Peggy Road - and 235A.

“There's nobody on the County Commission who doesn't understand that there are roads in terrible condition,” BOCC Chair Robert Hutchison replied.

“We hear all the time about it, we are scraping together every spare nickel we have to put into road repaving, but it’s also true that we’ve put three referenda out there, and all three have been defeated."

The referenda Hutchison referenced were three separate attempts by the BOCC – one each in 2004, 2012 and 2014 – to approve a sales tax that would fund county road repairs. Each referendum was voted down by county voters during elections.

“There's virtually no pure government anywhere in the State of Florida [that] doesn't have the infrastructure surtax for their roads,” Hutchison added. “We're the only county our size that doesn't have that additional money.”

Hutchison stated that, without additional tax funds, the BOCC has barely been able to fund approximately one tenth of the total needed to adequately maintain county roads. He noted that the regular BOCC budget does not have sufficient funding to cover road repairs.

“We could literally gut the county budget and put it all into roads, and it still would not cover the needs,” he said.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper claimed that the reason the referenda were defeated was due to the inclusion of added expenditures that had nothing to do with road repairs.

“There referenda that have been on the ballot, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's always been the caveat of taking more land off the tax rolls or buying conservation land - and there's nothing wrong with conservation land - but the idea is that, when I hear people talk, they want the roads fixed, and that’s all they want,” Coerper said.

“They don't want anything else, and yet it still gets proposed...when these other things are added to it, it’s what gets people’s dander up."

Hutchison strongly disagreed, stating that each proposed road tax did not include provisions for parks, recreation, or conservation land.

Boukari stated for clarification that, as he recalled, the point of contention many voters had specifically with the most recent 2014 referendum was the addition of expenditures to be made on bike paths, sidewalks, gutters, and other items that were ancillary to road repairs.

“The maximum that was going to be spent on bikes and...sidewalks was five percent," Hutchison responded. "And so because people don't like bike paths and sidewalks, they’re willing to throw away the other 95 percent of the money.”

Coerper said the BOCC's reputation with voters regarding the spending of tax money is ruined; therefore voters don't want to trust the BOCC with more funds unless it is for the one clear purpose of road repairs.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly countered that the BOCC still has plenty of credibility with voters when it comes to issues that people deeply care about, such as land conservation.

“[The people] trust the County to take their money and spend it wisely, and even in the depths of the last recession, agreed to tax themselves in order for the County to have land conservation funds,” Byerly said.

“I think what perhaps we need to accept is that, whereas we all hear anecdotally from people how important the roads [are], until people are willing to take out their wallets, it’s hard to take that seriously.”

Byerly had the last comment on the topic when he stated that the only solution the County has for repairing roads rests on the willingness of county voters to approve an additional tax to raise revenue.

“Until the county is willing as a group to put more money into this, things will keep getting worse, and eventually it’ll reach the point where people will realize it’s real, it’s not politics, it’s not posturing, we're not spending enough money on roads,” he said.

“When that day arrives, we'll get the votes we’re looking for.”

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W - HSPD ceremony - IMG 2500


C.M. WALKER/Alachua County Today


Community members surrounding police and other first responders as they were led in prayer at the ceremony.


HIGH SPRINGS – Approximately 125 people joined the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) and other police officers and first responders in a joint community prayer assembly Saturday morning.

The group came together to offer prayers and acknowledge the work performed by all first responders who serve area residents 365 days a year.

HSPD Sergeant Adam Joy, who is also Associate Elder at Anderson Memorial Church of God in Christ, coordinated the gathering, which took place in front of the HSPD building. HSPD Chief Joel DeCoursey, HSPD Executive-Operations Lt. Antoine Sheppard, HSFD Chief Bruce Gillingham, and HSPD Chaplains Pastor Derek Lambert and Evangelist Jessica Hall spoke and offered prayers for police officers slain throughout the United States.

Speakers thanked the community for coming out in support of their police department and peace officers everywhere.

“Even though the recent incidences happened in cities far from Alachua County, we want to pray for all lives lost and morn for their families and friends,” said Joy. “We also want to wash peace and healing over them and over our local communities as well.

“We hope to inspire unity and peace to all area communities and foster a healthy relationship between the police and the citizens we have sworn to protect and serve,” he said.

One of the most moving tributes came from Chaplain Lambert, First Baptist Church of High Springs, as he read “What are Policemen Made of?” by Paul Harvey.

Near the end of the event, visitors joined hands and surrounded officers and first responders and joined in prayer. Following the event, people stayed to visit with each other, officers and other city officials.

In an effort to make sure everyone remained safe during the assembly, two HSPD police cars patrolled the area and another officer oversaw the event from his perch on top of the Community Center building.

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E -Downtown DSC 0734


ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today


Alachua's downtown area and the larger historic district will be beneficiaries of a public/private partnership between the City of Alachua and area businesses and organizations.


ALACHUA – A firm contracted by the City of Alachua to prepare a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) development plan presented its study to the city commission Monday night.

Redevelopment Management Associates submitted an 86-page report to the commission in which it explained the results of its market study and recommendations after taking into consideration public comments from a workshop held June 13.

The CRA district comprises 256 acres, focusing primarily on the downtown district adjacent to Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods.

The main emphases of the study were directed at establishing an identity for Alachua’s downtown.

Of 10 recommended initiatives, the first five centered on creating a cohesive vision for the downtown area, including the creation of a “branding, marketing and messaging program,” the hiring of a downtown coordinator as a new city staff position, and hosting community events by partnering with local businesses.

“While ‘The Good Life Community’ describes the city’s sense of small town charm and friendly atmosphere, a clearly defined targeted message with a strong comprehensive campaign is necessary to catapult the downtown area into a thriving hub of social activity,” the report states.

The report goes into detail regarding several possible options the city could pursue to assist in establishing a brand, from hiring a CRA marketing and events professional to creating an image committee and a Downtown Alachua website.

If every branding suggestion were followed by the city, the estimated annual budget could be as high as $175,000, per the report.

Other key recommended initiatives included implementing a façade improvement grant program (something common to other local community CRAs), improving wayfinding and directional signage downtown, and targeting a business hotel near the downtown area.

An additional point of emphasis the report noted concerned enhancing the customer base for local businesses and improving “public perception related to entertainment / social offerings and overall atmosphere in Downtown Alachua.”

One suggestion was to “create a monthly Downtown Alachua discovery tour event, activating the theatre pocket park [Alan Hitchcock Park] as the central gathering spot / information space. Consider wine and / or craft beer tastings in each business…Place sidewalk musicians through the downtown to draw people to walk the entire area and invite juried arts / crafts business vendors to set in front of vacant storefronts.”

The entire report is available at the City of Alachua homepage at www.cityofalachua.com.

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