Tropical storm is
under close review;
Stay Safe, Stay Prepared
Published Aug. 25, 2016 @ 11:17 a.m.
on the Home Page of HardisonInk.com
LEVY COUNTY -- The Levy County Department of Emergency Management is closely monitoring the potential tropical system that could affect Levy and surrounding areas in the next several days, Levy County Director of Emergency Management John MacDonald announced Thursday morning (Aug. 25).
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This system still has a large amount of uncertainty with its track and there is no guarantee that it will affect the residents and visitors of Levy County. Individuals in areas that are prone to flooding, nevertheless, are going to want to make sure that they take all necessary precautions sooner rather than later.
With the amount of rain that the Tri-County Area of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties has received during the last month, many areas are still retaining a lot of water. A new tropical system could cause some real issues.
Area residents and visitors are being advised by the Levy County Emergency Management Department to monitor this system closely by visiting the National Hurricane Center website at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov or the National Weather Service website at http://www.weather.gov.
Levy County Emergency Management will also keep up-to-date information and links on its website at http://www.levydisaster.com.
For more information on how to be better prepared, visit the website at http://www.levydisaster.com at any time or call the office Monday through from Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 352-486-5213.
Blue Springs Park is open
Fridays through and Mondays;
Henry Beck Park
is closed until further notice
Published Aug. 23, 2016 @ 3:07 p.m.
on the Home Page of HardisonInk.com
LEVY COUNTY -- Blue Springs Park in Levy County, 4550 N.E. 94th Terrace (Levy County Road 339-A), near Bronson, was closed recently due to too much water flow making the water unsafe for swimming.
However, the springs are open now! This is an excellent place for people to swim for the lowest price in the area.
The hours are changed. Now it will be open from Friday through Monday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
There are tubes for rent and there is a volleyball net available for use too.
The cost for almost anyone to enter is $2. There is a 50 percent discount for people 65 years and older, or for people who are 100 percent disabled. There is a 50 percent discount for active military or retired military.
Children 5 years and younger are admitted for free.
A family season pass costs $35 and will allow up to six people to enter this park -- and Henry Beck Park -- for the entire time those parks are open during the season.
An individual season pass costs $20 and provides the same option to visit Blue Springs or Henry Beck Park for one individual rather than a family.
Another Park -- Devils Hammock is now open, Levy County Parks and Recreation Director Matt Weldon said on Tuesday (Aug. 23).
Henry Beck Park, which is normally open from April 1 through Oct. 1, Weldon said, is currently closed until further notice, because the water is black and high.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boat with two officers heads toward the search area at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday (Aug. 20). This video and the photo farther down the page were taken of the Suwannee River looking north as the boat went west past the end of the boardwalk at Manatee Springs State Park.
Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 20, 2016 @ 11:47 a.m.
Updated Aug. 21, 2016 @ 10:47 a.m.
SUWANNEE RIVER -- The body of Chiefland Mayor Matthew Teal Pomeroy, 42, was recovered by Levy County Sheriff's Office deputies and members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning (Aug. 21), Levy County Sheriff Robert B. "Bobby" McCallum Jr. said at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
The body was recovered about 150 yards from the place on the Suwannee River where the boat was anchored, in the area near the Usher Boat Ramp, which is downstream from Manatee Springs State Park. The search team was stationed at Clay Landing as a staging area.
The Alachua County Sheriff's Office Dive Team, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office Dive Team, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the LCSO and the FWC searched for Pomeroy since he was reported missing to the FWC late Friday night.
The FWC was the lead agency in the search for Mayor Teal Pomeroy, FWC Public Information Supervisor Karen Parker said Saturday morning (Aug. 20).
Pomeroy was reported missing Friday night.
The Levy County Sheriff's Office contacted FWC at 10:10 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 19), Parker said, to request assistance in finding the missing diver in the Suwannee River.
Before the discussion began, Williston Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat (standing at right) visits with the candidates (from left) Chetley Breeden, John Meeks, Matt Brooks and Berlon Weeks.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 19, 2016 @ 10:17 p.m.
WILLISTON -- Four of the six candidates for three seats on the Levy County Board of County Commissioners appeared for a discussion Thursday evening (Aug. 18) at the Pyper Kub Café and Restaurant in Williston.
Incumbent Levy County Commissioner John Meeks, a Republican seeking reelection to his seat in District 1; Berlon Weeks, a Republican seeking election to take the seat in District 1; Chetley Breeden, a Republican seeking election to take the seat in District 3; and Matt Brooks, a Republican seeking to take the seat in District 5 were present.
Incumbents Levy County Commissioner Mike Joyner, a Republican seeking reelection to his seat in District 3; and Danny Stevens, a Republican seeking reelection to his seat in District 5, were absent.
Joyner sent a note to thank the sponsors of the event and he noted his apology for not being able to attend due to a previously scheduled event.
Stevens has not been present at any of the three events sponsored by Regional General Hospital of Williston. He did not send any note, either, unlike Meeks, Joyner and Breeden, who were each unable to attend one of the three events.
Dave Bibby, who owns and operates the Pyper Kub Café with his wife Carol, served as moderator on Thursday night. Audience members were able to order food and drink during the event.
Bibby allowed Jerry Lawrence and Jeff Edison, candidates for Levy County Superintendent of Schools, to tell listeners why to vote for them before the event, which was slated for the County Commission candidates.
Jerry Lawrence explains why people should vote for him.
Jerry Lawrence and his wife Kathy have been in Levy County for 12 years. They are both lifelong educators, and they taught here during that time.
For 13 years now, Lawrence said, Levy County has ranked in the bottom 50 percent of Florida’s 67 counties.
“And when a team has a 13-year losing streak,” Lawrence said, “it’s not the team. It’s the coaches. I firmly believe the time is upon us to change the leadership.”
Lawrence said he believes the district has failed to give students the skills and knowledge they need, so that when they graduate, they are able to obtain a job. Of if they want to go to college, they don’t have to take remedial classes to attend college.
His vision is for students in Levy County to be ranked in the top 50 percent at least, and preferably in the top 25 percent of counties.
Lawrence sees this goal as being possible to attain by working together, pulling together and putting children first.
Jeff Edison shares why he thinks people should vote for him.
Jeff Edison said he was in education for 30 years.
He served 11 years as a teacher, 10 years as a coach, and was an assistant principal for four years, a principal for four years, the director of administration for four years, the assistant superintendent of instruction for four years, and for the past four years as the assistant superintendent of administration.
Edison said he has served the community as a Rotary Club member, on the Nature Coast Economic Development Council, and is a past president of the former Kiwanis Club that existed in Levy County.
Then came the time for the County Commission candidates to speak.
Here are some of the questions Bibby asked, with the responses from the County Commission candidates:
* The Levy County Board of County Commissioners is proposing to increase the ad valorem property tax from the current 8.2741 mills to 9 mills. Some people have said the County Commission has been using reserve funds to offset the shortfall from property taxes. Is the current proposed tax increase necessary? Or should the County Commission cut expenses rather than to increase property taxes?
Weeks said management in county departments is a key. He was not specific, but Weeks said more efficiency would reduce spending and then a tax increase would not be required.
During his seven years on the Bronson Town Council, Weeks said they never increased taxes more than the rollback rate. When he left office, the town had two years’ worth of sewer loan payments in reserve.
This and other strong standing in town finances, he said, happened from paying attention to every dollar spent.
“As a county commissioner,” Weeks said, “or a city councilman, it is your responsibility to question every single expenditure.”
Weeks said he believes it depends on department heads to give incentives to save money to return to the reserves. Without an incentive program, department heads feel driven to spend it all, he said.
Brooks said commissioners must plan and look to the future, and find a method to relieve the tax burden that exists.
Without planning for the future, and then increasing property taxes, Brooks said, “… is not something I’m willing to look at without scouring the budget as well as to do future planning.”
Before raising property taxes on existing taxpayers, Brooks said he would want to first seek other revenue streams to tap.
Brooks said he intends to plan more and strive to create a better tax base.
Commissioner Meeks said he is the lone candidate at the table that night who is currently serving.
He asked people to listen so that they would have a better idea of what is going on.
In the past three years, Meeks said, there was no increase in millage. Perhaps ad valorem property taxes should have been increase incrementally during that time, he said.
Meeks said that at the meeting where the five members of the board decided to increase the tax rate, no person would take the lead.
“It’s an election year,” he said, “and this job is important to me. I want to continue serving you as your county commissioner. But I had the backbone to pass the gavel to my co-chairman to make the motion to raise the millage rate to 9 mills.”
Back in 2005, he said, before land prices leapt, Levy County was collecting taxes at 9 mills. Property values dropped and today the value is the same as it was in 2005, he added.
There are almost 10,000 more people living in Levy County now than were living here in 2005, Meeks said, and as a result there is that much of a stronger demand on services provided by the Levy County Board of County Commissioners.
Meeks said the rest of the story on spending reserve funds down is that for years now there has been a budget created, but there was less spent than what was budgeted. This cash-forward effect from this fiscal year, Meeks said, will dramatically reduce the $3 million seen as being needed from reserve revenue at the moment.
He shared more insights.
Half of the 1-cent optional sales tax revenue goes to pay a loan on the new jail, Meeks said. The other half of that sales tax revenue, he said, goes into reserve, even though it is not in that debt service fund.
So although it looks like reserve funds are being spent, that reserve fund includes half of the 1-cent optional sales tax, Meeks said.
The audit is good, Meeks said. Levy County is dealing with financial issues the same as other small counties.
Breeden said increasing property taxes is the very last method to cope with a financial shortfall.
Planning and finding the most efficient methods will reduce expenses, he said. Having a planning board will prevent people being blindsided by new property taxes in the future, he said.
* Do you believe the Levy County Commission should work in cooperation with cities to establish Advanced Life Support non-transport trucks in city fire departments? Or do you think ALS non-transport is a waste of time?
Weeks said people who have listened to him during this campaign have heard him be critical of the Levy County Department of Public Safety’s method for fire department issues.
The 2005 Mizell-Hodges Report, Weeks said, showed Levy County lacks the population and other resources for a county fire department with paid firefighters.
Weeks proposes getting rid of the LCDPS fire side of the program. LCDPS EMS, he added, is doing a good job and he would leave that alone.
By getting rid of the expenses from the LCDPS fire side, Weeks said, that would open revenue that could be given to the municipal fire departments – which are fighting most of the fires in the county anyway.
That revenue would cover the expense of an ALS paramedic-firefighter in each station, Weeks said. He disagrees with having paramedic-firefighters driving ambulances. He wants the paramedics to focus only on that.
Yes, Brooks said, the county should work hand-in-hand with the municipalities.
“We’ve got to come up with solutions that are going to benefit all of the people in Levy County,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to keep finances in mind when we’re doing this as well.”
Brooks said the county is huge geographically. EMS is short-staffed currently and they are doing all they can now, Brooks said. He reminded the audience that these paramedics must stay with patients for an extended period, in contrast with metropolitan paramedics who are with patients for minutes.
Brooks recommends speaking with cities. Collaborate with them to see if an ALS plan can be something the county can add to its arsenal.
John Meeks stands to answer the question as the other candidates and people in the audience listen.
Meeks said ALS should be available to the cities.
“Anything we can do to provide better service for our citizens,” Meeks said, “should be welcomed. But at what cost?”
He said a prime example of this question is from Chiefland. A couple of years ago, Chiefland approached the County Commission with a request for ALS non-transport in the city. County commissioners met with city commissioners twice in large public gatherings at the Tommy Usher Community Center, Meeks said.
Meeks said the city failed to come forward with a final plan. And there was not a discussion on funding, he said.
Meeks reminded listeners that when a firefighter responds to a medical call, his or her job is as a first responder – and that is a function of the firefighter.
When the level of care goes to ALS, Meeks continued, then that crosses over into the function of EMS.
The special assessments creating revenue from fire and EMS, he said, cannot be comingled. That issue was something the county was willing to work through, Meeks said.
If Chiefland was going to lose money for first responder calls, Meeks said he would come up with a plan to recoup those funds because they would be not performing as first responders but as ALS providers.
Meeks then jumped to a turning point. He said former LCDPS Director David Knowles is gone and the new LCDPS Director Mitch Harrell begins on Sept. 1. Meeks has met with the incoming director.
Meeks told Harrell one important thing he wants Harrell to focus on is a method that provides more equitable funding for all of the cities.
Breeden said the county and the cities should be working together.
“At the end of the day,” Breeden said, “we’re all Levy Countians here. It doesn’t need to be divided up into county and cities. We all need to be working together in the most positive manner that we possibly can.”
ALS is vital, he said, and the county commissioners must keep the budget in mind. It is important for all of the parties to have open dialogue with each other to see everyone’s needs, he said, and this may have not happened in every situation in this regard.
* Do you favor bringing more jobs to Levy County to reduce the requirement for people to travel to other counties to work?
All of the candidates are in favor of bringing in more jobs.
Weeks said he favors a creation of a board comprised of members from every different part of the county and one county commissioner who would steer economic development in Levy County.
Weeks endorses taking an inventory of the county’s industrial commercial assets to see what is available for any interested parties. Weeks wants to see more manufacturing jobs here.
Meeks spoke about the previous programs and the Economic Development Fund program that is used in Putnam County now.
That program provides property taxes collected from businesses to be returned to those businesses to expand their business, create new jobs or grow their assets to increase the tax base, Meeks said.
As for Weeks’ proposal to take inventory, Meeks said that program is under way by the Nature Coast Business Development Council and it includes looking at undeveloped tracts that may be of interest to developers.
Breeden said he endorses business growth. He reminds people, though, that the attraction of rural living will disappear from Levy County without proper growth management.
He said Monterrey Boats, the A&N Corp. and other existing businesses that are here now are good models of the type of interests to encourage to locate in Levy County.
AN UNANSWERED QUESTION
Dr. Devaiah Pagidipati has invested millions of dollars in Regional General Hospital of Williston in the past two years, bringing new equipment and doctors, and revamping the hospital from top to bottom.
He has created a functioning hospital that provides 150 jobs for people qualified to provide healthcare in Williston for people who now do not have to drive to Ocala or Gainesville for the same care.
Dr. Pagidipati and his partner Jorge Perez are working to create a free-standing emergency room in Chiefland. They are striving to bring an urgent care center to Bronson and Cedar Key as well.
By expanding the medical services available in Levy County, more patients will not need ambulance transportation to Gainesville.
Regional General Hospital wants to bring the jobs for construction of new facilities, and for staffing the new medical centers, an RGH spokeswoman said Thursday night.
“What support can RGH count on from the county in return for creating these medical facilities?” she asked.
No candidate was given an opportunity to answer that question, because the audience applauded the question. However, Bibby moved on with a few more questions, never returning to that unanswered question.
Levy County Commission
increases budgeted amount for
Chiefland Fire Rescue by $20,000
Chiefland Fire Chief James Harris (right) tells the County Commission that Chiefland Fire Rescue has scrimped and saved to find the necessary equipment at the lowest prices. Standing next to him is CFR Capt. Cal Morgan.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 17, 2016 @ 10:37 p.m.
Graphs Provided by CFR
BRONSON –Fire Chief James Harris of Chiefland Fire Rescue and CFR Capt. Cal Morgan found a 5-0 vote of approval to increase the budgeted money from Levy County to CFR by $20,000 for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The $20,000 increase for CFR from Levy County happened during a budget meeting even after Jared Blanton, Levy County financial officer from the office of County Clerk Danny Shipp, told the commissioners that they are showing expenditures in the budget that exceed revenue by about $3 million.
The graphs below show the division of funds from the Levy County Board of County Commissioners allocated or tentatively allocated to the Levy County Department of Public Safety and the various municipal fire departments for 2015, 2016 and 2017. These pie charts were created by the Chiefland Fire Rescue Department. The light orange is LCDPS. The red is CFR. The darker blue at the top is Cedar Key. The green is Fanning Springs. The purple is Williston. Bronson is the blue next to the purple. Inglis, Yankeetown, Otter Creek and others are difficult to see on the pies.
Blanton showed the County Commission that $3 million can be taken from the county’s reserve balance. However, he said, a trend of spending reserves on recurring expenses such as for payroll and for operating costs, needs to change because the steep decline in reserves over the past few years, if continued at that rate will lead to no reserve.
Spending reserve money on capital outlay expenses, such as construction of a building, is a more accepted practice for spending down reserve balances, he said.
In reaching the point where Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks agreed to increase the county’s share to fund CFR, there was some discussion between Capt. Morgan and Chief Harris and the County Commission.
Harris opened his presentation by saying that each commissioner is a good person doing the best that he or she can do for the people of Levy County.
Since he was a Boy Scout at 11 years old and going all the way through his career as a professional firefighter in 1979, Harris said he has had a passion for firefighting. And that comes, he continued, from his compassion for people in need.
The firefighters’ job, he said, is to mitigate those needs no matter whether they are small or big.
No matter where the call is made, or who makes it, the members of CFR will do its best to help those who need them, he said.
CFR Capt. Cal Morgan (at right)
Capt. Morgan began telling the County Commission about CFR answering calls where other departments – including the Levy County Department of Public Safety – were not responding.
Morgan said a female survived a rollover crash and was lying on her dead husband for a period of time – perhaps five or six hours – on Sunday (Aug. 14). The accident scene was hidden by trees that were knocked over during that crash on U.S. Highway 19, three miles south of State Road 24.
The first units were paged from Station 11 and Station 3 at 1:10 a.m., Morgan said. CFR was called out at 1:26 a.m. after no other units responded to the calls from dispatch to respond.
While at the scene three miles south of the town of Otter Creek, CFR is paged to respond to a call on Azalea Camp Road – out close to Manatee Springs State Park, Morgan said.
That rollover accident was a call-out at 1:50 a.m. on Sunday morning, he continued. That was 20-some miles away, Morgan said.
“Basically,” he said, “every time something happens, Chiefland Fire meets its obligation. We had another call out to District 6. (Levy County Road) 347 out by Fowlers Boat Ramp for a vehicle versus deer.”
When CFR was at this scene, which is very close to the Fowlers Bluff fire station that is manned part-time by LCDPS, Morgan said CFR was alerted to a commercial fire alarm at Winn Dixie inside the city limits of Chiefland.
Fanning Springs Fire Rescue and Bronson Fire Rescue were paged out for Winn Dixie alarm, he said, because it is a commercial structure and that requires a three-station response.
And so, CFR was called back to the city from its call that put it in Fowlers Bluff due to no other responding units.
“We’ve had a plane crash in Station 6’s zone, and no Station 6 coverage” Morgan continued. “We’ve had a rollover ejection in Station 6’s zone. No Station 6 response and we responded.”
Capt. Morgan was taking a breath to continue with a narrative about more issues where CFR responded when there was no other fire department responding.
“You can tell us that we haven’t covered our area and we haven’t done our job,” Chairman Meeks said. “Nobody sitting up here is not aware of that.”
Meeks went on to say he appreciates CFR “going above and beyond.” That is why Meeks invited Chief Harris to approach the County Commission – because Meeks heard a truck was in need of repair.
The chairman said he just wanted to hear what the city fire department was requesting.
Meeks reminded the chief that Mitch Harrell begins as the new LCPSD director on Sept. 1. The chairman said he plans to work with Harrell to find a better method for allocating funds to the cities’ fire departments so that coverage of the county around the cities can improve.
CFR Capt. Cal Morgan (left) and Chief James Harris stand at the podium with the fire districts in front of them.
Harris and Morgan gave the County Commission a paper showing that in the last five years 2011-2016. CFR ran 6,907 calls – which is an average of 1,382 calls per year.
The city spent $4,077 on portable radios after the LCDPS replaced the entire radio system, according to what the chief shared with the County Commission. And all told about $8,000 was spent on portable radios, he said.
The chief said CFR requested from LCDPS more Automated External Defibrillators.
“That is the piece of equipment that brings somebody back from the dead,” Harris said about AEDs.
They are not clinically dead, he added, but they are physically dead. Their heart has stopped.
“We were refused AEDs by the former director (of LCDPS),” Harris said. “Three of them are what we needed. They are $8,100.”
With one donated to CFR by a federal agency, and by shopping around, the department found four AEDs for $600, Harris said.
He went on to explain about bunker gear and air-packs for firefighters to be able to turn out for fighting fires and to breathe in smoke-filled environments.
Chief Harris then explained that while the fire assessment increased for county property owners by in excess of 80 percent, the CFR lost more than 20 percent of its previous revenue stream from the county during the past five years.
Where CFR was formerly paid about $25,000 to cover Fowlers Bluff that has been cut for six years – which means CFR did not see approximately $150,000 from that part of its previous budget.
And CFR was formerly paid about $31,000 a year to cover the area around the town of Otter Creek, but that was stopped four years ago to equal approximately $124,000 loss of revenue to the municipal fire department.
All-told, CFR lost about $301,000 from the Board of County Commissioners in the past five years – in comparison with before the LCDPS was created.
“Nobody but us was cut and we are running the majority of the calls,” Harris said.
Chairman Meeks countered by saying the other departments had not been contracting with other communities as CFR did.
The LCDPS took over several parts of Levy County where there was not a very functional volunteer fire department like in South Levy, Gulf Hammock, Morriston-Montbrook, Otter Creek, Rosewood and Fowlers Bluff.
There are not enough paid and volunteer firefighters currently in rural Florida, but that is part of the trade-off for not living in an urban area. Volunteers are being sought in Dixie and Levy counties, though, to help reduce the loss of life and property.
Meeks said former LCDPS Director David Knowles has resigned and Chief Harrell starts Sept. 1.
Meeks said the county is striving to amend issues with the LCDPS and municipal fire department by creating a new funding strategy. In the meantime, since the budget year starts Oct. 1, Meeks wanted to see how the county could help CFR in the upcoming fiscal year.
Capt. Morgan said CFR needs $15,000 just to have enough proper bunker gear alone.
County Coordinator Freddie Moody mentioned he had spoken with Cedar Key Volunteer Fire Chief Robert Robinson about Cedar Key firefighters covering Rosewood and the like. Moody suggested to that chief, as he is suggesting to Chief Harris, to wait until Chief Harrell takes his post.
Then there can be a meeting of the chiefs to iron out finer points about coverage areas, and eventually a formula for funding might be created.
Meeks sought to help CFR through the coming fiscal year of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2017. He asked Harris what he wanted.
Chief Harris said he would like to see the county increase the CFR budget by $56,000 for the coming year – which would put CFR back at the 2011 amount it received from the County Commission.
On a motion by County Commissioner Lilly Rooks, seconded by County Commissioner Mike Joyner, Chairman Meeks’ suggestion to give CFR another $20,000 in the coming fiscal year was approved by a 5-0 vote.
This means CFR is looking at $222,325 from the county to cover calls outside of the city and inside of the city, and it is budgeted for 203,000 for calls by the city taxpayers for the coming year, according to the budget workshop discussion on Tuesday afternoon.