High Springs To Use Taxes To Sue Alachua County Over Ballot Amendment

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High Springs City Commission voted Thursday night to approve a contentious plan to use public funds to litigate and advertise against Alachua County’s charter referendum before the public votes on the proposal.

The Nov. 3 ballot referendum would create a county growth management area, wherein any development within the area would be exclusively governed by the county’s land development regulations, even if a parcel of land is later annexed into the boundaries of a city.

“Contra to Florida law, which is the city has the authority to exercise its zoning powers over that annexed property,” said S. Scott Walker, the city attorney for High Springs, “the charter amendment says that county-wide, when the property is within this growth area management mapped area, then the county’s regulations will prevail as far as the future zoning would concern.”

Several local municipalities including Newberry have shown their dissent through a lawsuit against Alachua County. Additionally, the cities intend to advertise to “educate and inform the electorate” about the amendment. High Springs contends that the amendment could deter businesses and potential residents from the city for having to answer to both the city and the county.

“The contention in the lawsuit is that the citizenry, by reading the title or the ballot summary by this particular charter amendment, would not understand the nature of this is taking away home rule powers of the cities,” Walker said. “Therefore it is confusing to the voters, and it is an inappropriate measure and should be not valid even if there is a successful vote.”

Newberry City Commissioners had begun the week by taking a similar vote to use public funds to sue Alachua County, with High Springs following suit in its own commission meeting. Walker said he intends to file the lawsuit Friday, along with Archer, Newberry and Alachua.

City Commissioner Nancy Lavin proposed not moving forward with litigation without Mayor Byran Williams and City Commissioner Scott Jamison, who were absent from the meeting. The commission approved the ordinance and will discuss litigation at a full commission meeting on Tuesday.

Taxpayers will foot the bill for the lawsuit, though it’s not yet known how much that will cost along with the advertisements about the amendment on which all county residents are voting on or before Election Day.

If voters end up rejecting the measure in the Nov. 3 result, the case will be moot and the lawsuit will not move forward. The lawsuit will move forward if the measure is approved by the electorate. It will then be up to a judge to decide whether the measure is valid under Florida law.

The High Springs City Commission meeting also covered filling the city manager position, as commissioners narrowed the list of finalists to Jon Cameron, Seth Lawless, William Lawrence, Don Rosenthal and Ashley Stathatos.

Read more of WUFT’s coverage of Florida Votes 2020

About Catie Schwartzman

Catie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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