High Springs votes on premium pay, water meters

The High Springs Commission convened Thursday for its regular meeting and discussed water infrastructure improvements, premium employee pay and Alachua County’s new ballot initiative. 

Here are some of the top items from the meeting and the full agenda can be found on the city website

Alachua County one-cent surtax initiative

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Alachua County Assistant Manager Gina Peebles brought the High Springs Commission up to date on the county’s new surtax initiative on the ballot for November. 

She said 30% of the funds collected will come from out-of-county residents and a research study showed around two-thirds of the county would vote in favor of the one-cent surtax.

The surtax keeps the half cent tax for Wild Spaces Public Places while adding another half cent for infrastructure—targeting housing and road repair, according to Peebles. 

High Springs Commissioners Ross Ambrose and Katherine Weitz said the county hadn’t communicated well with the cities leading up to creating the ballot initiative. 

They said the county also had failed to effectively use taxpayer funds to repair roads as evidenced by the current state of county roads. 

“For those of us who’ve lived in Alachua County for a long time, the history of success when it comes to roads is really poor,” Weitz said. “So I just can’t vote a lot of confidence in the ability that the county is going to help us with roads even with this additional tax.” 

Weitz also clarified that under the upcoming ballot initiative, 92% of the collected funds will go to either Alachua County or the City of Gainesville. 

Commissioners brought up concern about the portion of funds Gainesville received versus the other eight municipalities. 

“We may be smaller than some of the other cities, but our needs are very great,” Commissioner Linda Jones said.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure

The commission voted to move forward on a contract with Suez for Advanced Metering Infrastructure on its water system. 

Bruce Gillingham, assistant city manager, said the upgrade will allow the city to save money by more accurately capturing how much water is running through different parts of the system. 

The project will cost $2.2 million, and Gillingham said a 10-year loan would still allow the system to pay for itself because of the financial savings. He said the city also scaled back the project by installing fewer remote shut offs, restricting them to high-turnover properties like apartments. 

Gillingham estimated that the city could pay the loan back earlier but warned the meter system is old and in need of upgrading. He said the water system has millions of dollars worth of repairs in other areas as well that the city would need to address eventually. 

Weitz asked if a loan would be the best option and asked if the project would be phased out instead. Staff said a phased out project costs more and doesn’t allow the city to recoup the money efficiently. 

Weitz also asked if the city’s next portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds could be used to cover some of the cost. The city attorney said staff would check on the legality of using ARPA funds. 

Ultimately, the commission decided to move forward with the contract but asked city staff to return with funding options. 

“This would help increase the level of services, and I think bring about more satisfaction amongst our customers,” City Manager Ashley Stathatos said. 

Employee premium pay

The commission approved using $350,000 in ARPA funds to use as premium pay for employees who worked throughout the 2020 pandemic. The funds will be distributed as a one-time payment for fire, police, support staff, public works and parks and recreation staff. 

Gillingham said the city will still need to negotiate with unions, but early conversations show there shouldn’t be issues.

Resolution amending rules of procedure

The commission voted 3-1, with Mayor Byran Williams absent and Vice Mayor Gloria James in dissent, to amend Rule 8 of its procedure to clarify the role of the presiding officer. 

The issue came about after a letter, approved by the commission, failed to be signed and sent by Williams. The rest of the commissioners didn’t realize the letter was never sent. 

At a March meeting, Williams said he refused to sign something he didn’t support, citing confusion at the initial vote. Jones then asked for the city attorney to come forward with a solution for a similar situation. 

The new rules would pass the obligation to sign a passed motion to the vice mayor if the mayor is in dissent. If the vice mayor is also in dissent, the responsibility passes to the next senior commissioner. 

Since motions need a 3-2 vote to pass, one of those three officials will have agreed with the motion and be willing to sign it.

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