In a March 6 letter, Brandon Kutner expressed anger at the Alachua County Commission for its financial handling of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Both The Sun and Kutner neglected to mention that he is a candidate for the County Commission.
Kutner also neglected to mention that the NSP is a federally funded program, with the formula that determines expenditures specified in federal law. While one of its goals is to bolster property values in distressed neighborhoods, its primary purpose is to relieve banks of so-called “toxic assets.”
This doesn't make me happy. However, the alternative to participation in the program is to allow Alachua County taxpayers' share to go to another community, along with the construction jobs it creates.
Mike Byerly, Alachua County Commissioner, Micanopy
Santa Fe High School senior and FFA member Catherine Bowman has been involved with the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show for seven years. At Tuesday’s market sale, her Grand Champion goat sold for $12 a pound.
GAINESVILLE – Some high school students work after school to raise money for college. Others seek help from relatives – near and far.
Catherine Bowman, senior at Santa Fe High School, shows and sells her livestock animals at the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show. During the market sale on Tuesday, her Grand Champion goat sold for $12 a pound.
At 94 pounds, her college savings will get quite a boost. Last time she showed a goat, in 2009, it sold for $5.75 a pound.
Bowman has been involved in the Youth Fair for seven years, and her resume is pretty impressive: State Star Green Hand Finalist, National Conventions and more.
“I’m excited about my future,” Bowman said, “and my past agriculture and livestock experience through the FFA.”
Mike Anderson, President of the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show, believes the fair teaches children and young adults how to market themselves.
“It teaches them responsibility,” he said. “They have to take on an animal and raise it until it goes to the market.”
This year, the fair celebrates its 30th annual event. During the market sale, there was an estimated 114 animals involved. The animals present were meat animals only; the breeder animals had already been taken home.
Each year, the fair brings together 4-H and FFA youth in the community, allowing them an opportunity to demonstrate the dedication they put into raising their animals. Each youth is required to keep a record book on his or her animal. The book tracks the weight of the animal, the amount of feed it is given and time the youth spends with his or her animal.
Wendy Mathis, Santa Fe High School FFA member, said the project allows her to see aspects of livestock production firsthand. If she raises market animals, she said she gets to see the business aspect of production. But if she raises animals intended for breeding, she gets to see the reproduction side.
“I like animals,” said Ben Rhymes, FFA member and owner of a bluebutt hog. “It’s fun to raise them and watch how much they grow.”
Last year, he sold his pig for approximately $900.
Younger children can participate by showcasing their chickens or rabbits. For the first time, the fair auctioned off plants. The first plant to sell was two containers of African marigolds. They sold for $80. Anderson said showcasing the plants allows students who are unable to purchase or own livestock to participate.
“About everything that can be done in the agriculture industry is shown here this weekend,” Anderson said, referring to the five-day event. In addition to animals, that includes an eco-art contest, a power of wind workshop and cookie bake-off.
Emily Eubanks, of the Alachua County Farm Bureau, said the children at the fair are learning about self-motivation.
The Grand Champion steer sold for $4 a pound, which Eubanks said is the highest she can remember a steer selling for in a while. The Grand Champion hog sold for the same amount.
“These businesses are out here supporting our kids today,” Eubanks said. “I don’t know if it’s a reflection of the economy so much as it is a reflection that they believe in these kids.”
Each purchase by a business is tax deductible.
Kimberly Hall, a 16-year-old Santa Fe High School student and FFA member, has participated in the fair for three years. She works with goats because she feels they are easier to work with than the steers or hogs.
“I love it,” she said.
At the outset, the best thing we can say about the newfound partnership between the Suwannee and St. Johns River water management districts is: Better late than never.
Yes, there is cause to be hopeful that the managers, staff and scientists of these neighboring districts — who have customarily operated as though water does not flow from one district to the other — are finally promising a new era of collaboration.
It is encouraging, to be sure, that district managers are promising to put more emphasis on conservation, alternative water sources and reclamation.
And, yes, expanding the water partnership to include other "stakeholders" including large water users, local governments and, we hope, environmentalists and conservationists, also is essential.
The problem, from our viewpoint, is that up until now neither district has especially distinguished itself as a vigilant steward of North Florida's water. Neither district has been overly diligent about using good scientific data to make informed decisions before granting large water consumption permits.
Moreover, both districts have just seen their revenues dramatically reduced and their staffing drastically cut; so that on the surface at least, they would now appear to be even less equipped to muster the scientific and technical expertise necessary to deliver on the promises inherent in this partnership.
We would also be remiss if we did not point out a distressing trend toward politicizing water policy in Florida and shifting control away from the districts to Tallahassee.
So, yes, even coming better late than never, we hope that the new Suwannee-St. Johns partnership marks the beginning of a smarter, more conservation-based era of water management in North Florida.
But those who care about our water future would be wise to take all these promises with a grain of salt, and resolve to keep fighting to protect the region's water. For instance, the growing alliance among North Central Florida local governments on behalf of water should remain intact and be strengthened.
In other words, citizen and political activism on behalf of water is more important now than ever before.
The other shoe dropped in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
A circuit court judge ruled that Florida's attempt to force public employees to pay into the state pension fund was unconstitutional. This potentially creates a $1 billion hole in the state budget, not to mention a $600 million liability for county governments.
Gov. Rick Scott and legislators were quick to call the decision judicial activism and promised to appeal.
But if a not dissimilar case last year involving the city of Gainesville is any indication, an appeal won't help much.
Last year the Florida Supreme Court denied Gainesville's appeal of lower court determinations that it violated the collective bargaining rights of city employees when it capped payments to retirees' health care benefits.
Even though those benefits were not granted through the collective bargaining process to begin with, the courts ruled that, once given, they could not be unilaterally taken away.
"An employer's unratified reservation of rights, whether in a retirement plan or in other documents not expressly incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement, does not abridge employees' right to bargain collectively," the First District Court of Appeals had ruled.
Gainesville's appeal to the Supreme Court had been supported by other cities and counties because local officials around the state recognized that the ruling might impact their own efforts to rein in runaway public employee pension and benefit costs.
At issue in the Gainesville case, as in this latest, is the constitutionally guaranteed right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining.
"This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida," Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford wrote this week in ruling against the state. "To find otherwise would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning, and that the citizens of our state can place no trust in the work of our Legislature."
The good news is that, relative to some other public employee pension funds around the nation, Florida's remains fiscally sound; at least for now.
But unless the state has better grounds for its appeal than Gainesville had, this week's court decision means that pension reform is going to take longer and be more difficult than Gov. Scott and lawmakers anticipated.
That doesn't mean state and local governments shouldn't keep looking for ways to reduce taxpayer liability against rising public employee entitlement costs. It does mean that such cost containment efforts will have to be done in collaboration with public employee bargaining units to meet constitutional muster.
Last week, I watched in amazement as the Alachua County Commission approved the resale of a residential property they had acquired for refurbishing through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The agenda for that meeting explained that this particular home was purchased by Alachua County on April 30, 2010, in the amount of $85,000. The total cost of the rehab was $58,226 for a total investment of $143,226.
The Commission received a purchase offer at the full appraised value, after rehab, of $91,000.
Keep in mind the appraised value of the property when the county purchased it, prior to rehab, was $72,300. Simple math clearly demonstrates that in the purchase, refurbishing and resale of the home, the county's taxpayers realized a net loss of $52,226.
Not only is our local government using tax revenue to directly compete with the private sector, but they also demonstrate how inefficiently our government operates.
Brandon C. Kutner, Archer
By: Nickelle Smith, Cameron Taylor & Jordan Matich – WUFT-FM
In a long-awaited ruling, Judge Jackie Fulford today struck down the 3-percent pension charge levied on public employees in the Florida Retirement System prior to last July 1, calling it “Unconstitutional.” Florida’s 89.1 WUFT-FM’s Nickelle Smith spoke with Alachua County Education Association President Karen McCann who says today’s ruling is encouraging for State employees in favor of the ruling.
to listen to this news.