Residents voice concern over High Springs City Commission’s vote to accept grant that requires properties outside the city limits to connect to new water system


HIGH SPRINGS, Fla. – The High Springs City Commission held a meeting on March 9, where they voted 4-1 in favor of an ordinance to create a new utility district and expand the city’s service area along an unincorporated three-mile section of CR 236, from the city of High Springs to the I-75/CR 236 interchange. The utility district will be funded by a wastewater grant that the city was recently awarded through the Department of Environmental Protection, in the amount of $2,484,600. The commission is also working on obtaining an additional grant that would allot $4,156,400 for a (drinking) water line to run alongside the wastewater line. Ordinance 2023-02 reads, in part:

An ordinance pursuant to Chapter 180, Florida Statutes creating a city of High Springs utilities service district; establishing the boundaries of the district; authorizing the extension of municipal utilities within the district; requiring all persons or corporations living or doing business within the district to connect to the city water and wastewater system within 365 days of availability; and providing an effective date.”

The controversy arose from the fact that the ordinance would affect all property owners whose property line comes within 250 feet of the wastewater service line. As the ordinance currently reads, these property owners would be forced to connect to the new municipal water and wastewater system within one year of completion. The following slide was shown during the meeting and provides additional details:

Below is the map that was presented at the meeting. A notation on the agenda read: “Staff is still securing the legal description and a map. These will be provided.” The section in green indicates the impacted area.

Residents “forced” to connect to the water system

The commissioners debated whether to remove or adjust the verbiage in the ordinance pertaining to residents in the affected area being “forced” to connect to the water line without first conducting surveys and collecting data. City Manager Ashley Stathatos explained that in order to receive the grant money, the ordinance would have to be passed by the commission as-is, but they could change the verbiage once the grant money was awarded. Commissioner Katherine Weitz said she was concerned that the board was voting on the ordinance too quickly without enough data or citizen input. 

“I’m concerned with us putting pipes down there and forcing residents who aren’t even in the city limits to hook up. I don’t like that idea at all. If they’re on well and septic and they’re happy and everything is working well, I would be really hesitant to force something like this on them,” Weitz said. 

She conceded that the city would benefit financially and also acknowledged the myriad of issues with the city’s current water plant.

“I can understand from an economic growth perspective, developing that interchange could bring a lot… what I’m concerned about is we’re trying to grow out to beyond our own borders and we’re ignoring our own city,” Weitz said. 

Drinking water issues in High Springs

Weitz then informed the commission that she hears from residents often who complain about their drinking water and then asked for data on the current utility infrastructure, questioning whether the City still needed to do upgrades. Assistant City Manager and Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham confirmed that “there are several areas that need to be upgraded within the city.” However, the grant under consideration would not allow for any money to be spent on the current infrastructure.

Gillingham pointed out that the area along the interchange would never be developed until water lines were provided and then confirmed that the water system would be an entirely separate water plant with its own well and would not tie in to the City’s current water system. Weitz then asked Gillingham if the new water plant would “feed into the city overall,” to which he replied, “At some point, [yes,] but not under current design.”

“Inevitable” growth coming to High Springs

Commissioner Byran Williams spoke about the inevitable growth coming to the city and reminded the other commissioners about the importance of being prepared for that growth. 

“I’d hate for us to miss out on an opportunity, where we can have the revenue coming into town, and I believe that this area, it’s going to grow, it’s coming… and I think we should have a chance to have some of the revenue also because we need revenue.”

In an exchange with Gillingham, Williams confirmed that the new water plant “[is] not going to interfere with the core of downtown,” and Gillingham agreed, “Right, it kind of gives us something that we can usher up that way to keep them from wanting to come down here; and with utilities up there, they’re going to focus on that area. Once they hear utilities are coming, that’s the main focus.” 

The two commissioners were referencing any new developers who may want to build in that unincorporated area as well as a hotel that had been planned near the interstate but never completed construction due to “all of the requirements they had.” Gillingham revealed that the City has an agreement with the hotel for a new well site and said, “They’ve already agreed to hook to it.” 

Residents from the unincorporated area object during public comment

Three residents who all live within the unincorporated area spoke during citizen input. All three were visibly upset and spoke against the proposed ordinance. One woman, who didn’t state her name but said she lives right by the interstate, informed the commission of a rumor she’d heard and asked for clarification: “I want to let you know the rumor is right now, it’s going to cost $9,000 plus to hook up – I’ll let you dispel that when you can.” 

She pointed out that the City’s current utility district has been billing its customers incorrectly, referencing the audit recently conducted by the commission itself: “You’ve proven that your billing system is broken, and now you want to add more people to that broken billing system… your water treatment facility is in need of $711,247 in emergency repairs.” 

She noted that the drinking water in High Springs has been in violation of federal drinking water standards in the past and inferred that the commissioners were aware of this fact: “I can go online and tell you right now that there are numerous people right here inside this building who have said that the water is discolored and is smelly… my water is crystal-clear and beautiful, so when I drink my water, I trust it.”

Resident Michael Morris said he felt like the situation resembled “taxation without representation” because he lives outside of the city limits and yet will be affected by the city commission’s decision. “Here you are at a reading trying to decide something about me, today, [and] nobody’s contacted me, nobody’s even told me – I had to find out on the street corner that you guys are trying to do something that affects my property. None of you people represent me,” Morris said. 

Morris then expressed his doubts about whether the commission would change the verbiage once the ordinance passes, to allow residents to opt out of connecting to the new utility: “Once you pass this it’s done, we all know it – you’re lying to yourselves more than you are to me. I’m against it, and I promise you, you will create enemies if you go forward with this.”

4-1 in approval

Once citizen input was over, the commission went ahead with the vote, which was 4-1 in favor of the ordinance with Commissioner Weitz in dissent. It was unclear whether the commission had any official plan to amend the ordinance at a later date.

The “Ordinance 2023-02” portion of the commission meeting can be viewed here, beginning at the 59-minute mark.

A summary of the ordinance with the official verbiage can be found here, pgs. 116-118.

  • Big Brother is coming for your water and your poop! Oh yes, and for your MONEY!!!! I live in GRU’s area and I am so glad I get to drink my tasty, clean, clear well water instead of that nasty foul-smelling greenish stuff that comes from GRU’s pipes. So, I hope the High Springs residents mobilize to fight this unwanted intrusion.

  • This is what happens when the infestation of liberal Democrats seek refuge in local communities. They fled their oppressive, high taxed states for greener pastures and now they won’t stop until they’ve devoured everything many of us grew up in.

    It’s coming. You’ve been warned.

  • Big government coming to cram it down your throat whether you want it or not. It’s my property I should not have to be forced to do anything by the government.

  • Yet again, the commissioners don’t care what the people want. If they can get a grant and get money that’s all that matters to them.

  • Yet another de facto annexation using utility service expansion.

    That type of thing worked great in Gainesville, until they voted in a bunch of people who can’t balance a check book or spell the word fiduciary. Now look where that’s going.

  • How in the HELL do these people think they have the authority to build or require ANYTHING that is outside of their city limits?

    They even state why they’re doing it – they want federal money and forced money from county residents.

    I do believe that High Springs takes money from their water billing to transfer into their general fund. Gee, why does that sound familiar???

    Surely there is a state commission or board that can address and stop this nonsense. How can they legally do anything outside of the city limits?

  • I do like that the Alachua chronicle post reports as they get them, however there is a lot more to this story , the owner of the hotel and his investors that purchased this land and two restaurants in our town are looking to build their investment. This hotel was started in 1996 and is nothing but a hull, It appears that there is a few of the city commissioner’s that have something to gain. I would be more than glad to take one of your staff and show them
    so they could report what our once town is coming to.

  • Thank you, Amber, for your concise report. Within hours after your report the city set up a pubic meeting to discuss. Alachua Chronicle is the best media to hear about our local concerns.

  • I am hoping that all of the commissioners are reading these comments. Please, please DO come to the meeting on Thursday. This is a grant that was applied for without direction from the commissioners and was only brought to the commission for approval in tandem with the new Municipal Utility District. I had not heard anything about the proposal of a MUD, nor had I been advised of any of the details surrounding this grant application. Community engagement on this issue is crucial.

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