The City of Newberry hosted the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Monday evening for a joint meeting that focused on major upcoming projects for both organizations. But both boards emphasized looking for ways to collaborate and move beyond past friction.
One mutual effort that exemplifies both commissions’ past collaboration came up during citizen comment. Former Newberry commissioner Joe Hoffman asked for the county to think about assisting the city with maintenance on Champions Park due to unexpected improvements.
Hoffman said the park needs upgrades to continue on its success. When built originally, the park used wooden fencing that quickly needed replacing in Florida’s climate. The new chain link fencing used up a lot of the budget for the park.
“You will lose revenue for your hoteliers and your restaurants in town if you don’t help this park,” Hoffman said. “It’s coming.”
Champions Park generated $11 million in 2021, but the vast majority of that money isn’t seen by the park or city. Hotels earned a large chunk of the money with 15,142 hotel room nights booked because of the park. Indirect sales for food, gas and other supplies caused the majority of the income with $9.2 million.
Hoffman asked the county to consider it, and both the county and city passed motions directing the staff of each to discuss the options and bring them back to their respective boards.
The commissions also touched on the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center that Alachua County and Newberry worked to open along Newberry Road.
Jessica Hurov, county tourism development manager, said the facility is booked out for 34 weekends this year and already completely booked for January through May 2023.
Newberry Commissioner Rick Coleman said the relationship between the city and county has improved and, as proof, pointed to seeing the commissioners at Newberry events.
“Just the whole dynamics of the Alachua County commission has just flip-flopped,” Coleman said at the meeting. “I want to see a great working relationship instead of all this tension from earlier.”
And he said that tension has disappeared.
Another way the two may collaborate down the line could come through the planned Newberry Environmental Park.
Newberry City Manager Mike New said the city is 90% finished with planning on the project which will primarily house a regional wastewater facility.
The city has already entered talks with High Springs, Archer and Trenton to split the facility and will move toward interlocal agreements. As the nexus, Newberry will host the site and is already looking to purchase a 93-acre parcel.
However the size of the property will give the city around 18 acres more than it needs for the wastewater facility, so Newberry hopes to attract other projects like a fire training facility, a LifeSoil compost facility and the county’s proposed meat processing facility.
“And we do trust that the county will develop on our site, and they will be a good partner with us on the site,” New said.
The county asked for partnership from Newberry on its upcoming one-cent surtax initiative.
Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell asked Newberry to discuss the proposal slated for the November ballot and support it.
The county asked the same from the City of Hawthorne at a joint meeting last week.
The surtax discussion met with hesitancy on Monday because of the Wild Spaces Public Places side of the tax. Coleman said he’d be for it if the county used it for roads and not buying up conservation land.
However he said he’d keep an open mind on deciding and would, whichever way he ended up, give it his full support.
Two other Newberry commissioners split on their support. Commissioner Tony Mazon put his full weight behind the surtax, saying the city had projects that the surtax could support.
Commissioner Tim Marden fell on the other side and said he would not support the tax because the county had shown itself incapable of handling the funds. He said the county commission should cut other projects in order to gather the necessary road funds from within its current budget.
“I will not support an infrastructure sales tax at this point because the county has to do a lot more to sell it to me that they’re actually doing what they say they’re going to do and they cut where they say they’re going to cut,” Marden said.
He added that citizens won’t buy the surtax either until the county demonstrates that roads are a major priority and places more than its current budgeted $4.5 million toward roadways.
In September 2021, the BOCC listened to a roads management consultant give recommendations on investing $15 million annually to repair, maintain and preserve county roads.
The BOCC is scheduled for its next joint meeting with the City of Alachua on June 27.