High Springs talks new meters, murals, HB 1493

The High Springs City Commission met for its regular meeting on Thursday evening and moved forward on several items, including two American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funded projects that were approved earlier in the week.

Here’s a rundown of the major items:

Advanced Metering Infrastructure project

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The commission voted to move forward on its water meter upgrade and allowed the city staff to begin the contracting process with Suez. The project will replace roughly 2,800 water meters in the city.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said staff chose Suez from its request for proposals and has narrowed down but not confirmed the meter model it plans to use. After working on the contracting and financing, staff will bring the project before the commission for final approval.

Approval of two ARPA projects

At Tuesday night’s special workshop, the commission directed staff to begin working on a handful of projects that will utilize federal ARPA funds.

Staff brought two of those before the commission for final approval on Thursday, complete with financial details.

The first will replace the city hall elevator. The estimated cost came in at $200,000, but Gillingham told the commission that the actual price from the company is $118,710.52.

However, some of the savings from the elevator project will be used in purchasing cardiac monitors. The price point for these came in above the estimate, and Gillingham said the seller plans to raise the price 10 percent at the beginning of April.

The High Springs Fire Department currently uses monitors on loan from Alachua County Fire Rescue. But the manufacturer no longer services the model, and the county phased the model out in 2012.

The commission unanimously approved both projects.

City ordinance on murals

Murals have remained a topic of discussion within the city for the past few months, leading Commissioner Katherine Weitz to propose creating an ordinance for murals.

The commission directed staff to draft a proposed ordinance that the commission can review at a future meeting, but no ordinance language or final approval took place on Thursday.

“I think that we need to get past this and get something more solid in place for the city so that we do have an ordinance that directs what we can and cannot do,” Weitz said.

Conversation revolved around a local nonprofit called The Heart of High Springs. The organization applied for a special event permit for March to talk about the potential of putting up more murals in the city along with other ways to preserve local history.

The special event permit, typically approved without commission input, prompted a special workshop for just that item, and The Heart of High Springs held a series of events last week.

Weitz said the city already has a sign ordinance, and the mural ordinance could mirror it to make sure they match up and address similar concerns.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose, who also helped found the nonprofit in 2019, agreed with Weitz that the city needs a policy in place to allow city staff to return to normal duties and not target the actions of any specific group.

“I think government needs to be very careful when you start creating legislation or rules that are specifically designed to impede the efforts of citizens within the community,” Ambrose said.

City Attorney Andrea Parker confirmed for Weitz that the city can put limits on size, placement and lighting and said she would investigate if the city could require murals to be attached to the wall and not painted directly on a wall.

The ordinance would place parameters on city staff as well, ensuring uniform treatment of all applications. However, city evaluation would need to be content neutral.

Commissioner Linda Jones asked if the city would get a say in whether or not a mural is appropriate.

“I think we ought to have the ability to have some input to this and make a decision as to whether it’s something that’s appropriate or not,” Jones said.

Parker clarified that the city has a lot more control over public art than private property, where less regulation is allowed.

On public art, the city can require a mural application to go through an art committee or other city processes. Parker said for private property she is unaware of any cities requiring the project to come before the city.

In historical districts, like much of downtown High Springs, the commission can pass requirements that ensure the district keeps its historic nature, including some control over color schemes.

Once drafted, the ordinance would return to the commission for changes or approval.

Letter supporting HB 1493

At its Feb. 24 meeting, the commission approved sending a letter to state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 21, in support of HB 1493, which would allow voters to decide whether to begin voting for county commissioners in single-member districts.

But at Thursday’s meeting Jones said the letter was never sent and asked for a reason.

Mayor Byran Williams said he hadn’t realized exactly what was in the letter, because he had participated over Zoom for the Feb. 24 meeting. He said he couldn’t sign the letter for something he didn’t know he supported.

Jones asked the city attorney how the commission should proceed when it approves a letter but lacks mayoral consent.

Parker said the commission needs a process in place so that a letter can be signed by the vice mayor or the commissioners in support of the letter.

Both Jones and Ambrose said they assumed the letter had been sent as motioned. Jones motioned and Weitz seconded for the letter to be sent with Jones’ signature.

HB 1493 passed the Florida Legislature earlier this month, but it still needs the governor’s signature before heading to voters. The Gainesville City Commission and Alachua County Board of County Commissioners oppose the change.

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