Above: Listen to a version of this story by Nicholas Marcinko that aired on WUFT-FM.
The recent initiative for a new north central Florida county has wavering support among a group of people living in western Alachua County.
On Thursday night, though, discussion of the idea made it onto a local municipal meeting agenda, signaling some level of legitimacy even as High Springs commissioners expressed their concerns about it.
Tim Marden, a Newberry City Commissioner, is leading the initiative to create Springs County from cities and areas in western Alachua County. He attended and spoke at the meeting on Thursday night at High Springs City Hall.
Those who support the idea of a new county say their goal is less government, fewer taxes, more freedom and more liberty. The idea has gained new steam after the narrow passage last month of a contentious growth management area amendment that will guide the means by which the more rural cities and towns outside of Gainesville are allowed to develop.
Among those supporting the initiative are Congresswoman-elect Kat Cammack and state Rep. Chuck Clemons.
They both spoke at a ribbon-cutting event on Sunday.
In his speech, Clemons said he “will file a bill next August in the Florida Legislature to help create this new county.”
“This will go on the ballot, probably in 2022,” he said, noting that its passage would require the support of a majority of voters, not just a group of supporters along with local, state and federal politicians based in the western part of the county.
Almost 100 years ago, Gilchrist County was the last county to be added to the state. It, too, separated from Alachua County, back in 1925.
Many in support of creating the new county believe the more rural areas of Alachua County, including High Springs, are underrepresented.
Cammack described those rural areas as the future of Springs County, saying the existing Alachua County is an outlier among its neighbors: “A little, tiny blue county in a sea of red.”
In a High Springs city commission meeting on Thursday, the commission made clear it has not officially endorsed anything, but most of its members are open to the idea.
Commissioner Scott Jamison said he would lean toward supporting it but wants to wait for more information.
Commissioner Byran Williams explained he’s not clear on the initiative’s reasons, nor its origins.
“I was raised to never do anything out of anger,” he said.
Vice Mayor Linda Jones said they have had problems with the Alachua County commissioners in the past, but she would like a better rapport with them.
She did not offer a personal recommendation about the idea at the meeting.
“Our personal opinions may not mean as much as what the citizens of High Springs want,” Jones said.
Commissioner Ross Ambrose does not personally support the initiative but believes the traction around Springs County — whose active Facebook page presence now has some 5,000 followers — has been good to make the county aware of his rural community’s unhappiness.
He would rather work with Alachua County leaders to reconcile and thinks of it “as a marriage.”
“You don’t give up on one committed relationship just because something comes along that might look better,” Ambrose said.
Jones is concerned about county commissioners pressuring city commissioners into having an opinion.
Ambrose on Tuesday was appointed as a member of the Alachua County Tourist Development Council during an Alachua County Commission meeting.
In that meeting, County Commissioner Ken Cornell stated his concerns about the financial consequences of splitting up a county.
“We have 29 fiscally restrained (Florida) counties, and it would be upsetting to me if it created two more fiscally restrained counties in the state,” he said.
Cornell also said Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe is against the Springs County initiative.
Although Marden is a commissioner for Newberry, he said his work for Springs County is separate from those official duties.