By Dana Kurtz- WUFT-FM
Mosquito season is coming with the summer and the risk of mosquito-borne disease is rising as well. Alachua County Environmental Health Director Anthony Dennis says the best way to avoid mosquito-borne disease is to get rid of standing water around your property.
Dennis says mosquito numbers won’t be as high due to the dry spring.
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By Lise Fisher
The topic of relocating the Alachua County Elections Office received renewed attention this week from county commissioners.
And the search for possible locations will extend outside downtown Gainesville.
A majority of commissioners passed a motion asking Acting County Manager Rick Drummond to return with recommendations relating to the feasibility and cost of consolidating the elections office and moving it to another site either downtown or elsewhere.
The motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner Mike Byerly dissenting, during Tuesday's special commission meeting that focused on the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Commissioner Lee Pinkoson launched conversation about the elections office by telling other commissioners he had been contacted about an available location that could potentially save the county money on leased space.
Pinkoson didn't specify the site.
But, he said, he told the person who had contacted him that the biggest obstacle would be having the elections office outside the downtown area.
Pinkoson said he brought the matter to the commission's attention so they could discuss the elections office's needs and the idea of looking beyond downtown to meet those needs.
Pinkoson said he supported the idea of looking beyond the downtown area.
Moving the elections office from its current location in the Star Garage at 111 SE First Ave. has been an ongoing issue.
For years, Elections Supervisor Pam Carpenter has been asking to consolidate the elections office in a location that would house not only staff but equipment needed for elections and provide space to train poll workers.
The county now pays about $142,000 a year to lease the Star Garage and stores election equipment in warehouse space owned by the county, Drummond and Carpenter told commissioners.
Carpenter also said that her office in the next few years will be required by law to house new, larger election equipment that will not fit in the current warehouse space.
Added into the mix of considerations for relocating the elections office are a narrow timetable for relocation due to upcoming elections and a desire expressed by the commission in years past to keep various county functions downtown.
In 2007, the commission had looked at long-term leases at several locations along Northwest 13th Street and Main Street.
It was decided it would be better to move the elections office into a planned court support building adjacent to the Criminal Courthouse on Southwest Second Avenue.
That building, which was supposed to house the State Attorney and Public Defender's offices and the Guardian Ad Litem program, never was built.
Drummond told commissioners that staff have continued to look at spaces for the elections office, including the Food Lion location on Hawthorne Road.
Earlier this year, the store's parent company announced numerous store closures and conversions, including the February closure of the Gainesville location.
Discussion about the elections office drew serious questioning from Byerly before he cast his vote against the motion.
Byerly said he would have difficulty moving any of the constitutional officers out of the downtown area unless it resulted in substantial savings.
He also questioned singling out one office as a priority as opposed to a coordinated look at the county's space needs.
And he noted the change in philosophy that the commission seemed to be making in its commitment to downtown.
"I don't want to begin an exodus right when the result of so many years of investment is beginning to pay off," Byerly said.
Commissioner Susan Baird pointed out that a number of places with plenty of parking have closed in the area.
Travel from offices beyond the downtown area wouldn't be that difficult, and technology could help handle communication between different locations.
The idea of possibly moving the elections office out of the downtown area could be argued both ways, said Commission Chairwoman Paula DeLaney.
But, like Byerly, she wondered over the feasibility of new spaces for any county office at this time.
Drummond informed the commission this week that budgets for constitutional officers, the Alachua County jail and county offices would take a 2 percent hit if the county continues operating at the current millage rate.
The Associated Press
iTALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate on Thursday easily passed a revised redistricting map for the Republican-dominated chamber that's designed to fix constitutional flaws. Some Democrats said it still violates new anti-gerrymandering standards.
Under the plan, Gainesville and all of Alachua County would be in state Senate District 7, which also includes Bradford and Clay counties. Alachua would represent 53 percent of the district's population, with Clay at 41 percent and Bradford at 6 percent.
The new odd number for the Gainesville district would give Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, the option of seeking another four-year term in the Senate, giving him the potential for a 10-year stint in there.
However, Oelrich, the former Alachua County sheriff, has already declared his intention to run for Congress this year.
The new Senate map approved Thursday changes the boundaries of 24 districts due to the ripple effect of revising eight districts that were invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court.
It also has new numbers for all 40 districts that were selected at random, using a pair of Bingo machines loaded with white and green balls, to determine which senators elected in November would serve terms of four years and which would serve two years, to keep the terms staggered.
The justices ruled the Senate's original numbering scheme appeared designed to make sure most incumbents could serve longer than the usual eight years before being term-limited out of office. The Bingo drawing, though, still would allow term limits of nine to 11 years for 19 of 29 incumbents not being term-limited this year.
“Our districts are more compact than they were before,” said Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Don Gaetz. “The Senate map preserves, protects and expands minority voting rights in an incumbent-neutral fashion.”
Gaetz predicted the Senate likely would have more minority members and Democrats after the November election, when the Niceville Republican is in line to become the chamber's president.
The map, though, is expected to keep the GOP, which now has a 28-12 advantage, with a strong majority although Democrats have a slight edge in voter registration statewide.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said the new map continues to violate the Fair Districts standards that voters adopted in 2010. They include a ban on intentionally favoring incumbents and political parties.
“Incumbent protection is written all over the map,” Rich said. “We have been willing to place self-interest and partisanship gain over the intent of the voters.”
The original map avoided pitting any incumbents against each other. The new plan would double up two pairs of senators although Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, says he'd move to an adjacent open district to avoid facing off with Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. Also paired are Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, in a district expected to lean Democratic.
A functional analysis ordered by the Supreme Court shows Democrat Alex Sink would have carried 15 districts in the 2010 gubernatorial race compared with 14 under the plan stricken by the justices. Democrat Barack Obama would have taken 16 districts under either plan in the 2008 president election.
The vote was 31-6 with five Democrats joining all Republicans in favor of the plan. It will be taken up by the House next week to close a 15-day special session. House leaders, though, say they plan to show deference to the Senate.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 120-district House map while rejecting the Senate plan 5-2. The revised Senate map will go back to the justices for another review. If they still find problems they can redraw it themselves.
Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith said the party will again “turn to the courts to enforce the people's will.” Democrats and three nonpartisan groups that backed the Fair Districts standards challenged the original House and Senate maps during the first Supreme Court review.
They also have challenges pending against the Legislature's redistricting map for Florida's 27 congressional seats in Circuit Court. A judge has set trial for April 16 in Tallahassee.
Other Fair Districts criteria include protecting minority voting rights, making districts compact and following political and geographic boundaries whenever feasible.
The revised plan splits heavily black Daytona Beach into two districts. The Senate voted down a proposal by Democrats to keep the city whole, which would have increased their chances of carrying one of those districts.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, withdrew a proposal that would have created a fourth Hispanic district in South Florida. He said he expects that issue to be pursed in court as well.
By Anne Geggis
A proposal to turn the former Residence Inn on Southwest 13th Street into a treatment center for drug addiction and eating disorders won the unanimous approval of the Alachua County Planning Commission Wednesday.
Next, plans for the Florida Recovery Center will be in front of the Alachua County Commission, tentatively scheduled for April 1.
Wednesday, however, the plan that Shands at the University of Florida has for the northeast corner of Southwest 13th Street and Williston Road got nothing but good feedback from the public.
“It has all the resources for those who are willing to say ‘yes' to living,” said Mary Anderson, a Gainesville resident who was the only member of the public to speak at Wednesday's meeting.
Turning the former long-term lodging establishmen into a place for those recovering from either an eating disorder or a drug addiction required UF&Shands to get the designated land use changed from commercial to institutional medical.
Craig Brashier, who is managing the project for UF&Shands, faced a few questions from the Planning Commission Wednesday.
“That was as easy as it gets,” said Brashier, who works for Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole Inc.
Officials are calling the proposed expansion of the Florida Recovery Center at the former Residence Inn site something similar to the Betty Ford Clinic, where up to 160 patients will be able to live as they get their treatment for drug addiction and eating disorders. It will add 15 to 18 employees to the Florida Recovery Center's current workforce.
Across 13th Street and slightly to the south, Meridian Healthcare Behavioral Services, which also specializes in drug treatment, recently purchased the empty Gator Lodge.
The Florida Recovery Center's clients are mostly health professionals who are in the second phase of their treatment, coming for a 90-day stint from all over the country, Brashier said.
Current patients with the Florida Recovery Center are currently living in places throughout the area. Remodeling the Residence Inn to combine residential facilities with the recovery center's treatment would make it so that incoming patients wouldn't need a car to get to their appointments while offering easy access to services at nearby convenience stores and restaurants, Bashier said.
The planning commission couldn't find anything wrong with that.
“Any improvement for that end of town is well appreciated,” said Harvey Budd, chairman of the commission.
By Lise Fisher
Budgets for constitutional officers, the Alachua County jail and county offices will take a 2 percent hit if the county continues operating at the current millage rate, according to preliminary figures for the county's fiscal year 2013 budget.
The budget reduction stems from a decline in taxable property value, commissioners learned during a special meeting Tuesday. The county's taxable property value is expected to drop by $2 million, according to a presentation staff gave on the budget during the meeting.
Other impacts to the county's revenue will be added costs due to changes to Medicaid billing practices approved by the Legislature and the possible addition of jail staff at the Northeast 39th Avenue facility.
In a worst-case scenario, costs from disputed backlogged bills and annual bills related to Medicaid costs could come to approximately $8.5 million. Under the new rules, annual Medicaid costs will increase by about $4.5 million over what the county has paid in the past.
Adding 15 to 16 new positions at the jail will cost about $1 million, according to the presentation.
Rick Drummond, acting county manager, and Suzanne Gable, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget, stressed that the numbers were “very, very” preliminary.
Still, Drummond said he plans to start work on a proposed budget based on the current millage rate and the other factors. Not all department budgets may be impacted the same, he added.
Drummond said he will review how different programs are affected and how different departments have been treated in the budget process in past years. That, he said, may mean some county offices may see cuts that others won't.
Work on a county budget also will move forward as efforts continue to stop the Medicaid billing changes and to show the state that flaws in the system inaccurately and unfairly bill Alachua County.
The county has argued that Alachua, as the first county listed alphabetically, has a higher number of patients mistakenly billed to it.
With the trauma center at Shands at the University of Florida, the county also usually gets billed for non-county residents who come to the facility.
Due to those issues, the county generally rejects about 70 to 80 percent of Medicaid bills it receives.
Under the new legislation, however, counties are responsible for 85 percent of unpaid bills related to Medicaid patients hospitalized for more than 10 days. The state can withhold the unpaid amount of these bills from county revenue sharing.
The county is facing a backlog of about $11.4 million in disputed Medicaid bills that the county maintains have been appropriately denied, according to a letter from Commission Chairwoman Paula DeLaney. The letter was addressed and sent to Gov. Rick Scott and asks that he veto the bill.
With the new legislation, the county will be required to pay the disputed amount over the next five years, with one-third due this year, county staff have reported.
Other counties as well as the Florida Association of Counties also are asking that Scott veto the bill.
“Without the Governor's veto, HB 5301's fast-acting provisions will leave little room to fix this system before local communities — and local taxpayers — are asked for a blank check to fund inaccurate invoices,” a statement from Florida Association of Counties Executive Director Chris Holley says on the group's website.
In DeLaney's letter, she said the Agency for Health Care Administration has acknowledged the county's billing problems and has been working with the county to resolve them.
“Alachua County has paid its Medicaid invoices in a timely manner subsequent to staff carefully screening them to verify their accuracy, which over the past three years have contained an approximate 70 percent ERROR rate and in every instance of denial we informed ACHA about our reasons for denial,” she wrote.
An empty hotel soon may have some new guests, but what will the neighbors say?
Tonight the Alachua County Commission is considering whether to rezone property containing the Residence Inn on SW 13th street so that a drug and alcohol rehab center can take over.
TV's 20's Yaremi Farinas reports the facility would also help people hungry for help in other ways as well.
In just a couple months this abandoned hotel may be the place some people will call home.
There are plans to relocate the Florida Recovery Center here so that they can almost double the number of patients who would live on site.
"A lot of the therapy happens when people are just kind of talking to each other. It's not always in a official group, so living together and working together as a recovery community is an important aspect of treatment."
FRC is mostly recognized for treating patients with drug and alcohol problems, but the new campus will provide other services like treatment for people with eating disorders.
"To have that same ability to treat those people outside of a hospital, in a partial hospitalization residential setting that is in the works and that is a plan."
If they expand from 65 to 120 patients, their workforce would expand as well.
They currently have 35 employees and 18 new positions will be created if they relocate.
" I am here at the old Residence Inn on 13th street, where the Florida Recovery Center hopes to relocate in a couple months."
Right next door there is an apartment complex called the Landings. One resident isn't bothered by having a rehab center nearby.
"I really don't have a problem with it at all. It's good that they are rehabilitating alcoholics, that's a great thing and I don't really care where they put it."
But others don't exactly agree.
"There is a possibility that since it's so close and in the neighborhood it might affect people and the way they see it. They might think it's a bad area of town, possibly."
There is still no final decision on this location because the Alachua County Commission needs to decide whether to allow for the rezoning of the property.
Ten Alachua County agencies and private partners came together today to simulate a mass casualty incident. As Florida’s 89.1, WUFT-FM’s Lauren Rautenkranz reports, the city of Gainesville used the mock drill to make sure agencies could practice what do do in a “real” emergency. TV news clips provided by WUFT-TV.
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By Lise Fisher
A memo from County Attorney David Wagner puts a damper on the idea that Alachua County could buy power from a utility other than Gainesville Regional Utilities.
"In my opinion, while it is legally possible to solicit proposals for electric utility services from another provider, it is not certain that such solicitation would be successful," Wagner wrote in a memo sent last week to county commissioners.
The County Attorney's Office was instructed last month by commissioners to research the feasibility and legality of moving away from GRU.
The unanimous vote by commissioners to conduct the research came after a presentation from staff, requested by commissioners, in which projections showed GRU's contract to buy biomass power would lead to a $200,000 increase in the county's utility costs. GRU has a 30-year contract to buy power from a biomass plant that is expected to go online next year.
The plant also is expected to generate $2.4 million in property tax revenue for the county, which would cover most of the county's current energy expenses, according to GRU and county figures.
Wagner cited required approval from the city of Gainesville and the state Public Service Commission as reasons it might not be possible for the county to buy power from another utility.
The city, doing business as GRU, would have to consent to modifying its electric service area and allow county-owned facilities to be taken out of it, the memo stated.
"GRU can deny access by another provider to its electrical distribution system or charge a ‘wheeling' charge for use of its distribution lines," Wagner wrote.
Wheeling charges refer to the amount charged by one utility to transmit the energy of or for another utility.
The possibility of getting power from another utility also rests with the PSC, which looks to avoid duplication of facilities, Wagner wrote in his memo.
The PSC was created by the Legislature to oversee utilities and make sure that safe and reliable utility services are provided efficiently at fair prices, Wagner told commissioners in the memo.
The PSC would have to approve modifying the GRU electric service area to exclude county-owned facilities.
"Note that one of the factors the PSC considers is the uneconomic duplication of facilities," Wagner wrote.
The PSC's role gives it jurisdiction over a coordinated electric power grid to not only ensure there is a reliable source of energy but to avoid "further economic duplication of generation, transmission and distribution facilities," the memo stated.
Staff has no specific instructions to put the item of the county attorney's findings on any particular meeting agenda, said Mark Sexton, communications coordinator for Alachua County.
Commissioners next meet today for a kickoff discussion on the fiscal year 2013 budget and a workshop on proposed updates for the land development code.
"It's essentially what I thought the answer would be," Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe said. "It wouldn't be legal unless certain conditions were met that won't be met."
Lowe also said he didn't feel that city commissioners would let county facilities out of the GRU service area.
When county commissioners requested in February that Wagner gather information on the feasibility and legality of going with an electric utility other than GRU, Lowe considered the timing of the move, which came weeks before a city election in which the biomass plant was a hot button issue, to be political.
Monday, he declined to say if that was still his feeling, saying he would prefer to focus on the content of Wagner's memorandum.
GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger had said that customers, including the county, cannot switch utilities in the state because utilities in Florida have boundaries within which they serve. Customers in those boundaries are customers of those utilities under territorial agreements between utilities, according to GRU.
Asked about Wagner's memo, GRU spokesman Dan Jesse said the utility had not received a copy from the commission.