Newberry City Commission Meeting, 6/11/12
Vulcan Property Tax Issue: We started off this meeting with a presentation from Mr. Ed Crapo, the Alachua County Property Appraiser. He came to talk to us about the tax issue with Vulcan, which most Newberry residents know as Florida Rock. This issue is that Newberry was expecting to get roughly $180,000 more in property taxes from Vulcan than we will be getting. That means that our budget is $180k in the hole. Basically, in 2010, Vulcan completed some upgrades to their facility that brought their total investment in that plant to over $261 million dollars. The Property Appraiser valued those upgrades at $158 million. Vulcan claimed they were only worth $110 million. Mr. Crapo took his argument to the Value Adjustment Board (VAB), but Vulcan won the argument. Mr. Crapo is now in the process of suing Vulcan, but it is the loss of over $47 million in property taxes that is putting stress on Newberry’s budget. So, the bottom line for Newberry is that we now have to recover from an $180,000 loss. That will make this a tough budget season for all of us, and it will mean that we have to make some hard decisions.
Campground Ordinance: We also had the second reading of our new campground ordinance. As I wrote about in a previous posting, we have two cabin rental/campground facilities that are in the process of developing in Newberry. I think it is very exciting and shows that our economic development plan is working. However, now, we have come to the difficult part of this plan. We want to develop Newberry, but we also want to do it in a way that keeps our small town feel. After reading the ordinance, I have to admit that I still have some hesitancy about the way it is written, but overall, I think it is fairly comprehensive. My concern is still with the density of cabins/RV/trailers that we are allowing. What I’m afraid of is allowing people to, essentially, build trailer parks under the guise of a campground. I don’t think anyone envisioned Newberry turning into a city of trailer parks when we proposed bringing Nations here, and I don’t think that this ordinance will allow that because, ultimately, each developer will have to bring the site layout in front of the Commission for approval. This is something, though, that I think we all need to keep an eye on to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.
Committee appointments: The bulk of the rest of the meeting was appointing committee members to the various boards that had openings. I’m not going to try to list all of the boards and appointees, but I would like to sincerely thank all of the applicants and new members! Whether you were appointed to a committee or not, your willingness to serve is noticed and appreciated. If you were not appointed this time, I would hope and encourage you to apply again.
Nations Park Employment: We did have a discussion last night about employment opportunities at Nations Park, but before I summarize that discussion, I need to apologize for the fact that it wasn’t listed on the public agenda.
I had asked for the discussion to be put on the agenda two weeks ago, and the reason that it wasn’t put on the agenda has given me a serious moment of pause to reflect on our Charter. Basically, the way our Charter is written the City Commission is the ultimate authority. The City Manager works for the Commission. The City Clerk works for the Commission. They are equals to each other, not subordinates. The reason for this is pretty straight forward. It is simply a check and balance, and it helps to keep everyone honest, as the saying goes. What happened, in this situation though, is that I asked the City Clerk to put this discussion about employment at Nations on the agenda. The City Manager asked the Clerk to take the discussion off of the agenda. Obviously, the problem is that the Manager has no authority to pull an agenda item off the agenda when a Commissioner has placed it on the agenda. The City Clerk should have reminded the Manager of that when the request was made; however, instead, the agenda item was pulled.
For me, this is a grave cause for concern because it shows two positions, that are supposed to be checks and balances on each other working a little too much in tandem with each other. Our current City Clerk, Gayle Pons, is set to retire soon, and the City Manager, Keith Ashby, has proposed some radical changes to our employment structure. This recent incident has made me question whether the City Manager can propose the candidate for that position and that person still remain independent of the City Manager. Our Nation is built on the idea of checks and balances. I teach it to my students every day, and I think it is incumbent on each of us to make sure those checks and balances aren’t eroded.
Now, we did, in the end, have the discussion about employment at Nations, and really, the only reason I wanted to have the discussion was to make sure that Newberry was fulfilling its oversight responsibilities. Newberry received a grant from the State government for around $700,000 to help build Nations Park. The string attached to that grant is that Nations has to create 21 full-time jobs within 18 months of being open, and 51% of those jobs have to be low to moderate income jobs. If Nations doesn’t fulfill its part of the bargain, the State would come after the City of Newberry for a refund of that $700,000. So, I think it is really important that we are watching the employment process at Nations very closely. While the City is not directly responsible for hiring anyone, because we have leased the facility to Nations, we do have a stake in its employment opportunities. Of course, if Nations failed to provide those jobs, the City would certainly seek restitution from Nations for the grant money, and I don’t in anyway mean to imply that Nations won’t be able to create that many jobs. That simply isn’t the point. The point is that the City of Newberry has a responsibility to its citizens to protect their interests. We were told last night that employment has begun at Nations on a limited scale. I will certainly try to stay on top of this and let people know when the application process begins in full swing!
New Business in Town: We had a board of adjustment meeting after the Commission meeting, and it looks like we have another new business coming to town called Dead on Arms. It’s a firearm assembly business, and basically, from what I can gather is that it is a relatively new industry that dissembles your firearm and applies a protective coat to it. That coat can be decorative or basic. The interesting thing is that this is a fairly new type of business, and they have selected Newberry to work in. They will start off with three employees, but they anticipate needing up to ten in the near future. I do like to announce new businesses and jobs!
As always, leave me your comments!