On February 23, Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad addressed a room of business leaders and community shapers in regards to the state of the city of Newberry. The event, held at The Blend Coffee Shop, was hosted by the Newberry-Jonesville Chamber of Commerce.
After 10 and a half years of service, Conrad began his address by formally announcing that this is his last term as the mayor of Newberry, stating that it was time to let someone else take over his position. “I’m not stepping down because I didn’t like it, but I believe in term limits,” he said.
As for the state of the city, Conrad referred to this period of time as a state of change for Newberry. Today, the population of Newberry sits at just over 5,500 people, but with the huge expansion of residential housing that has already begun to take shape, the mayor predicts that 1,497 new residents will be moving to the city within the next five years. All of this growth means some major changes need to be made to business models, traffic patterns and public education in Newberry, according to Conrad.
“To the people that come along to govern this city in the next decade that is going to be the biggest thing we are going to have to deal with,” said Conrad. “What are we going to do with all of these people?”
The Mayor pointed out that while this residential growth is exciting for Newberry, it will not pay for itself. Conrad emphasized that more people mean more children in school, more cars on the road, more pollution and potentially even more crime.
These, and more, are all factors that need to be evaluated before Newberry can expand as problems are already on the rise. Newberry High School is currently over capacity with middle and elementary schools close to reaching this tipping point as well.
In the near future, Conrad predicts that Newberry will need to start busing students to schools east of Newberry, in Jonesville or Alachua. However, the mayor said it is important for some new schools to be built within city limits instead.
Additionally, an increasing population will have a big impact on traffic. The city is working with the Department of Transportation to create two one-way pair of roads running throughout to improve traffic.
“The thing that offsets residential growth and more than pays for itself, and something that Newberry is very good at is commercial business,” said Conrad.
Newberry has had 61 new businesses that have opened up in the last six to eight years. Most of these businesses are small, mom-and-pop shops that need the support of local residents. The mayor stated that he would like to see some new restaurants, banks and credit unions open up in the near future.
The fire department will also need some changes as the city grows. The Newberry Fire Department will soon go through a renovation to add private rooms, an exercise room and an ambulance station. The department was also just awarded a brand-new firetruck, and employee raises in order to maintain the workforce in the city.
Another change discussed was Newberry’s police department. The city, which currently does not have its own department, views this potential population growth as a sign that its own department might become necessary soon. For now, the city works with the Sherriff’s Department of Alachua County.
While all of these potential changes and growth means a lot of collaboration and hard work ahead for the city of Newberry, these are exciting changes that should be met with optimism and innovation, according to Conrad. “I have enjoyed working with everybody, and I’m going to miss it,” Conrad said in closing.
REBECCA PAPILSKY is a junior public relations major and leadership minor at the University of Florida. Her love for social media, reading and writing led her to the communications field. When she is not stalking every social media channel or trying to experience every restaurant in Gainesville, she is desperately looking for a puppy to play with or traveling with her family.