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Levy County employees
recognized for years of service

Employees Honored
Levy County commissioners and employees honored Tuesday morning are (from left) Levy County Commissioner Rock Meeks, Jason Hughes of Levy County Fire Rescue, Shernard Blake of Levy County Fire Rescue, Harry Sparks of Levy County Fire Rescue, Charles ‘Chuck’ Cook with Levy County Construction and Maintenance, County Commission Chairman Matt Brooks, County Commission Vice Chair Desiree Mills, Chance Cummings with Levy County Road Department, County Commissioner Tim Hodge, Robert Jordan with the Levy County Road Department, County Commissioner John Meeks, Jose Thomas with the Levy County Road Department and Catrina Sistrunk with the Levy County Tourist Development Department. (Not pictured – Tisha Whitehurst with the Levy County Tourist Development Department.)

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © March 22, 2023 at 7:30 a.m.
     BRONSON –
Nine employees of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners with between five and 35 years of continuous service to the residents and visitors of Levy County accepted certificates and pins Tuesday morning.


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     Commission Chairman Matt Brooks said complications from the global COVID-19 pandemic caused the County Commission to miss its program of regular recognition for employees who have served in five-year increments.
     Levy County Human Resources Director Jacqueline Martin called forth the following employees to receive awards from the various department Emergency Medical Service (Levy County Fire Rescue, or Levy County Department of Public Safety) Shernard Blake, 5 years; Jason Hughes, 5 years; and Harry Sparks, 10 year; 
Construction/Maintenance Charles “Chuck” Cook, 35 years ; Road Department: Chance Cummings, 5 years, Jose Thomas, 25 years and Robert Jordan, 25 years; and Tourist Development: Catrina Sistrunk, 5 years and Tisha Whitehurst, 10 years,
     Chairman Mills said he felt it is important to remember the milestones as these workers pass them. 
     Commissioner John Meeks said he is happy the recognition ceremony has been reinstituted.
     Recognizing the longevity of the contributions of the employees to the county is important, Meeks said. 
     Just like in all professions and trades, Meeks said, the longer a person is involved, the more knowledge and experience that he or she gains. The hands-on lessons learned from performing duties at a jobsite or dealing with the public is invaluable, he said.
     “I thank y’all for being here as long as you have,” Meeks said. "Chuck, here for 35 years. I’m only 45 years old.”
     Commissioner Meeks said he appreciates the dedication that Cook, and all of the employees have shown to the county.
     Meeks said the long-term employees in Maintenance and Construction know where all the pipes, cutoff valves and other things are to make sure something works.
     Interestingly, while the meeting was in action at the beginning, there was a humming noise broadcast over the speakers. Construction and Maintenance Department Director Jimmy Jones arrived and fixed the problem.
     Meeks said he appreciates the services of the men and women in the county EMS, and all of the employees in the county government services.       

Ellie Ray's RV Resort plans expansion
Pastor helps seal permit approval
Multimillion dollar project goes forward

By Jeff M. Hardison © March 21, 2023 at 3:15 p.m.
     TRENTON –
A pastor shared with the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners Monday night (March 20) his belief that bad actions by some visitors at Ellie Ray's RV Resort of Branford in the past should be buried.
     The Rev. Robert Osburn Sr. was the only person speaking during the public comment portion of this public hearing.
     Rev. Osburn is the pastor of the Beachville Advent Christian Church, which is a local Advent Christian Church in O'Brien. O'Brien is an unincorporated community in Suwannee County, off of U.S. Highway 129 at the intersection of Suwannee County Road 349, north of Branford.
     Osburn also serves as the chaplain at Ellie Ray's RV Resort.
     Osburn said he met Tom Sturgeon, the owner of the resort, and subsequently the preacher felt led by God to help the new owner change a previous culture there.
     The pastor said many people who live in the area know the past bad reputation of Ellie Ray’s.
     “We’ve heard the stories of fights and arrests that have been made on the property,” Osburn said.
     These past incidents resulted from people lacking a vision and casting off their restraints, he said.
     Sturgeon told Osburn that he wanted to change the culture, so that Ellie Ray’s RV Resort “… would be more of a family place,” Osburn said.
     The plan now, the pastor said, is to bury the past reputation.
     “In my 50 years of ministry,” Osburn said, “I have been taught, and I have seen, that it takes a minimum of three to five years to change the culture of a place. Respectfully, we’re not even into year one.”
     Osburn spoke about the first Diane Osburn Memorial Gospel Festival held in honor of his late wife on Nov. 11, 12 and 13, 2022. It featured local talent as well as more famous performers from the Tampa Bay Area and the Orlando Area.
     On this coming Sept. 15 and 16, the Rev. Osburn said, the plan is to have the second Diane Osburn Memorial Gospel Festival at Ellie Ray’s RV Resort. For this event, nationally-known Gospel recording artists Jeff and Sheri Easter, as well as Todd Tilghman, an American pastor singer, are slated to be at Ellie Ray’s.
     Tilghman is the winner of season 18 of a television talent competition known as “The Voice.” The Easter duo and Tilghman are currently scheduled to be among the performers in September at Ellie Ray’s RV Resort, Osburn said.
     Osborn spoke about pastors having meetings at the resort, as well as plans to build a chapel there.
     On a motion by Gilchrist County Commissioner Tommy Langford, seconded by County Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith, a Special Use Permit (SUP) application with several items incorporated in it was approved by a 5-0 vote with Commission Chairman William “Bill” Martin and commissioners Sharon A. Langford and Kenrick Thomas voting to approve the SUP, as noted in the Langford-Smith motion.
     Commission Chairman Martin said he hopes the plans to change the venue to become more family-oriented comes to fruition in the coming years. He was so impressed by Rev. Osburn’s presentation, he almost forgot to ask for other public comment. When he sought more comments, though, Chairman Martin heard none, and that is when Commissioner Tommy Langford made his motion to approve the SUP.
     Although Gilchrist County Attorney David M. “Duke” Lang Jr. was permitted to provide guidance in relation to the relevant laws and procedure for this SUP application hearing, the attorney announced a conflict of interest, where he exempted himself from providing the County Commission with any recommendations as a member of county staff.
     Lang said he will submit the form related to conflict of interest as required, and that form will show his reason as being his previous representation of the previous owner of Ellie Ray’s RV resort when it was sold to the current owner Sturgeon.

SUV Application Approval
     As noted above, several people worked to reach agreement on what became a consolidated SUV application with a three-year allowance. More details about the process, and what is now allowed via this SUP approval, other than the single member of the public who spoke about the application – the Rev. Osburn – is shown below.
     The single-most noted condition in the lengthy permit application hearing process was the requirement that each special event will require a permit application to be submitted and approved by Gilchrist County. As to whether County Administrator Bobby Crosby will approve the permit applications, or if a particular event permit application must receive a majority vote of the County Commission, will depend on the number of people anticipated to attend the event, as well as some land development regulations and other local laws.
     For the most part, it currently appears that the County Commission will determine which special events qualify and for how long certain county ordinances will be temporarily suspended for the property to better accommodate guests at the special events.
     In addition to County Administrator Crosby, Gilchrist County Community Development Director Tara Howell, North Florida Professional Services Project Manager Tori Humphries and EDA Consultants Director of Operations Stephanie Sutton worked on this SUP and spoke with the County Commission, although Howell was not at the Monday meeting.
     Dixie County Clerk Todd Newtown also was absent from this meeting, although his top deputy clerk for those duties – 
Deputy Clerk Kieran Bryan, who serves as secretary to the County Commission on behalf of County Clerk Newton – was present and active in her role.
     SUP applicant and owner of Ellie Ray’s RV Resort -- Tom Sturgeon, doing business as TRS Holdings LLC, was present at the meeting, too.
     After the meeting, Sutton, who has a Master of Business Administration, said completion of these improvements and changes will not be overnight. It will be years before the new wastewater treatment infrastructure and some other improvements are completed.
     Although Ellie Ray’s RV Resort has a Branford address, which is in Suwannee County, the physical location of the resort is on the Gilchrist County side of the Santa Fe River.
     Sturgeon is proposing a revision to the previously approved SUP site plan. The existing site has a marina, a restaurant-lounge, and RV spaces.
     On the 80 acres, there are currently 106 recreational vehicle (RV) sites and eight dwelling units permitted via previous action by the County Commission. The improved SUP application, which was approved Monday (March 20) allow another 54 RV sites, as this new SUP continues previous approvals.
     The 160 total RV sites approved in this new and improved SUP may be changed where one or more dwelling units would be exchanged for a certain number of RV sites as a trade-out for each added dwelling unit.
     That density control provision relates to this resort, which exists in a mixture of environmentally sensitive zoned parcels, and environmentally-sensitive and agriculturally zoned parcels, and limits being in place regarding RV sites and dwelling units within a certain acreage.
     In fact, during part of the hearing Vice Chairman Smith reminded the applicant that there is an existing dairy in the area, and there may be occasions where some unpleasant odors may be carried by the wind across the resort property.
     When the final site plan is presented, all of the finer points of the development will be clearly shown, such as the exact number of allowed RV sites and dwelling units.
     The SUP application approved Monday evening will include the following additional conditions and additional features along with the recommendations:

Requested SUP Additional Conditions.
     ● This SUP is to be active for three years, rather than the typical one-year limit, to allow Sturgeon to pursue grant funding opportunities for the proposed improvements, and time to develop a complete site plan application for the proposed improvements.
     ● Special events will be allowed even though they may not comply with the county noise ordinance on a set number of holidays each year. Those holidays are New Year's Eve-Day, Bike Week (April), Spring Break (varies February-April), Memorial Day. 4th of July, Labor Day, and Halloween. During discussion about this aspect during the public hearing, EDA Consultants Director of Operations Sutton confirmed that the RV resort will comply with the requirement for specific dates and applications for this allowance related to the noise ordinance. Commissioners expressed concern about Bike Week and Spring Break. Sutton said that the weekends or one or two days, rather than the entire weeks, would be acceptable to the property owner.
     ● The owner agrees to submit the specific dates to Gilchrist County in advance. Recommend approval for the SUP to include allowing the applicant to hold special events and extending the noise ordinance from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Each special event will require a permit application to be submitted and approved by Gilchrist County.
     This is a three-year SUP. Some infrastructure improvements are approved for the first time in this application or as a continuation from previously approved SUP application approvals.
     Infrastructure improvements, including a wastewater package plant and water treatment facility, and electrical updates are included in the plans, which are approved from the county government’s perspective.
     The addition of a left turn lane from northbound U.S. Highway 129 directing guests into the RV resort and the paving of 110th Street into the site are both approved by the County Commission via this SUP application approval.
     Nevertheless, Sturgeon must meet all requirements by state agencies, such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Suwannee River Water Management District for all other permitting from those agencies.
     Other approved infrastructure improvements in the three-year SUP include a clubhouse, a chapel, a fitness/recreation center and a recreational area is proposed to provide additional activity areas for registered guests.
     Anticipated outdoor recreation features include tennis courts, shuffleboard, a dog park and an additional swimming pool. The clubhouse and chapel will provide meeting places for groups and special events. The fitness/recreation center may include uses such as a gym or spa to serve registered guests. A clubhouse with parking was approved in a previous SUP.
     While certain infrastructure improvements are exclusively for guests, an addition of a park entrance store and gas station is approved and will be available for use by passersby on U.S. 129, and any other member of the general public.
     The park entrance store will serve as a key facility for the resort property, though, according to the SUP that was approved. This entrance store is currently planned to provide offices for booking and registration, a convenience store selling camping necessities and other goods, and also to sell fuel.
     Fuel storage is either above or below ground is to be determined by the necessary state agencies at the time of site plan permitting. The facility will provide a convenient location for guests and others to pick up necessities and refuel.
     The addition of an open, multi-use event area is expected to be a gathering place for special events, providing for up to 3,500 visitors, according to the approved SUP.
     The special events are to include outdoor live music concerts, festivals, rallies, and other similar events. Parking for these events will be provided at locations interior to the site. Portable restrooms will be brought in to accommodate guests accordingly for large events. This multi-use event area was previously approved in another SUP that is now incorporated into the most recently adopted Special Use Permit.
     Another infrastructure improvement approved in this SUP application is the addition of boat storage buildings and marina improvements. The storage area is anticipated to provide enclosed storage spaces for guests to store RVs, boats, and other watercrafts within buildings at the site.
     The marina is currently providing pontoon, jet ski, kayak, canoe and paddle board rentals. This approved addition will allow for additional storage area to support the marina.
      Additional outdoor storage and a dog park are proposed, too.
     Gilchrist County staff recommend approval of this Special Use Permit Application because it was seen as being consistent with the Gilchrist County Comprehensive Plan, Land Development Code and other applicable regulations, according to records.
     To see the March 2022 story about the $25 million project, and more Gilchrist County news from that County Commission meeting a year ago, click HERE.


Investiture of Eighth Judicial Circuit
Judge Sean Brewer set for April 28

By Communications Coordinator Christy Cain
Eighth Judicial Circuit, Court Administration
Published March 16, 2023 at 2 p.m.
- The Honorable Sean Brewer was elected to the Eighth Circuit bench on Nov. 8, 2022.
     He began his service on Jan. 3, 2023. His investiture is scheduled for Friday, April 28, at 3 p.m. in Courtroom 1B of the Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr. Criminal Courthouse.





The Honorable Sean Brewer



     Judge Brewer began his nearly 25-year law career as an assistant state attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit and then joined the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.
     As an assistant state attorney in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Judge Brewer was a felony prosecutor in Marion, Levy and Alachua Counties.
     Judge Brewer served as an Alachua County Felony Division Chief, Division Chief of Crimes Against Women & Children, and Division Chief of Felony Gun Crimes.
     Circuit Court Judge Brewer is currently assigned to Alachua County Family Division and the following divisions in Baker County: Family Law, Injunctions, Juvenile Dependency, Juvenile Delinquency, Probate, Mental Health, Truancy, Circuit Civil, Mortgage Foreclosures, and Extraordinary Writs.
     The Eighth Judicial Circuit includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union counties.


Exploring Finances
New Law May Offer
Financial Opportunities

Published March 20, 2023 at 11:15 a.m.
     NEWBERRY --
Your own decisions and actions typically determine your financial strategies.
     But outside events can affect your choices, too. And that may be the case with the recent passage of the SECURE 2.0 Act.
     This piece of legislation covers many areas. But here are some changes that may be of interest to you, depending on your situation:
     If you’re a retiree …
     • Higher age for RMDs – The age at which you must take withdrawals — known as required minimum distributions, or RMDs — from your traditional IRA and 401(k) has increased from 72 to 73, effective this year. (If you turned 72 in 2022, but still haven’t taken your first RMD, you will need to do so this year.) And in 2033, the RMD age will increase again, to 75. You don’t have to wait until these ages before taking withdrawals, but the new age limits may affect your withdrawal decisions.  
     • Lower penalties for missed RMDs – If you don’t take at least the RMD for a given year, you could face tax penalties. Previously, this penalty was 50% of the amount you were supposed to have taken but now it’s reduced to 25%.
     • New options for qualified charitable distributions – If you’re 70½ or older, you can make a one-time qualified charitable distribution (QCD) of up to $50,000 to entities that previously couldn’t receive these QCDs, including charitable remainder annuity trusts, charitable remainder unitrusts and charitable gift annuities that meet certain criteria. Because QCDs are typically excluded from your taxable income and could satisfy some or all of your required RMDs, which are otherwise taxable, these expanded opportunities may prove beneficial from a tax standpoint. Consult with your tax advisor to determine if and how QCDs make sense for your situation. 
     If you’re still working …
     • Roth contributions to retirement plans – Starting this year, if you participate in a 401(k) or similar plan, you can take your employer’s matching and other contributions on a Roth basis. While these contributions will count as taxable income, they can ultimately be withdrawn, along with any earnings they generate, tax free, provided you meet certain conditions. 
     If you’re a business owner …
     • Increased tax credit for starting a retirement plan – If you have 50 or fewer employees, you can now claim a startup credit covering 100% — up from 50% — of the administrative costs of opening a 401(k) plan, up to $5,000 for each of the first three years of the plan. 
     • Employer contribution credit – You may now be able to get a tax credit based on employee matching or profit-sharing contributions. This credit is capped at $1,000 per employee and phases out gradually over five years. 
     • Military spouse tax incentive – If you have 100 or fewer employees who earn at least $5,000 annually, you can earn a tax credit of up to $500 for three years if you make military spouses eligible for a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or SEP IRA. You can receive the credit for the year in which the military spouse is hired, plus the next two taxable years.
     These aren’t the only provisions in the SECURE 2.0 Act that may be relevant to you, and some parts of the new law go into effect in the future. You may want to contact your financial and tax advisors to see just how you might ultimately be affected by this legislation, and how you could take advantage of it. 
     Publisher’s Note: Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by Edward Jones Financial Advisor - Sheila K. Smith, 25349 W. Newberry Road, in Newberry. Phone 352-472-2776.


Inglis authors
announce e-book publication
The Order is available now

The Order - the e-book
Above is the cover of the e-book as seen from a book-dealer's website.

By Jeff M. Hardison © March 12, 2023 at 4 p.m.
     INGLIS --
Long-time Inglis residents Richard and Janet Streeter recently announced the publication of their e-book The Order.

     This novel envisions an order to parallel universes and what happens when they interact. A character-focused plot, with a touch of humor, weaves itself through the themes of climate change and man’s place in the universe.
     The story crosses several genres, where the main character finds friendship and love as he deals with an impending ecological disaster, covert missions, espionage, and betrayal.
     In an overview of the book by Barnes & Noble, it notes in part “Cole Forrester has been troubled since childhood by paranormal visions of people and places that don't exist in his real world. He learns to adapt to these visions but becomes afraid of intimacy lest those close to him think he's crazy. He chooses a lonesome profession as a CIA field agent. It's not until he's extracted from his current CIA mission and inserted into a higher-level parallel universe, that he realizes his visions were not imaginary—he was seeing inside the world of another, more advanced society.”
     That overview concludes after some more about the book with “Fate takes our protagonist down a path of personal growth where he finds friendship and love as he deals with impending ecological disaster, covert missions, and betrayal.”
     The price listed on Barnes & Noble on March 12 for The Order was $3.99.
     This e-book (The Order) is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and many other dealer sites.


NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5
splashes down off of Tampa

Splashdown in the Gulf
Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina, left, NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, right, are seen inside the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft onboard the SpaceX recovery ship Shannon shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off of the coast of Tampa on Saturday (March) night. Mann, Cassada, Wakata, and Kikina are returning after 157 days in space as part of Expedition 68 aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Now, there are seven astronauts aboard the ISS rather than 11.
Photo By NASA/Keegan Barber

Information Provided
By NASA News Releases and Others
Published March 12, 2023 at 9 a.m.
After splashing down safely in their Dragon spacecraft off the coast of Tampa in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday (March 11), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s SpaceX Crew-5 completed the agency’s fifth commercial crew rotation mission to the International Space Station. The international crew of four spent 157 days in orbit.
     Tampa is the county seat of Hillsborough County and it is about 90 miles south of Inglis.
     National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina, returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted splashdown at 9:02 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Teams aboard SpaceX recovery vessels retrieved the spacecraft and spacefarers. After returning to shore, the crew will fly to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
     “Welcome home, Crew-5! This international crew has been conducting critical science experiments and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station that will help prepare us for future deep space missions and pave the way for our return to the Moon,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Each advancement these explorers make is not an achievement for one, but a giant leap for all of humanity.”
     The Crew-5 mission lifted off at 12 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time Oct. 5, 2022, on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the east coast (Brevard County). About 17 hours later, Dragon docked to the Harmony module’s forward-facing port. The crew undocked from the same port at 2:20 a.m. Saturday, to begin the trip home.
     Mann, Cassada, Wakata, and Kikina traveled 66,577,531 miles during their mission, spent 156.5 days aboard the space station, and completed 2512 orbits around Earth. The Crew-5 mission was the first spaceflight for Mann, Cassada, and Kikina. Wakata has logged 505 days in space over his five flights. 
     Throughout their mission, the Crew-5 team contributed to a host of science and maintenance activities and technology demonstrations. Cassada joined NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to conduct three spacewalks, preparing the station for and installing two new iROSAs, or International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Mann and Wakata teamed up for two spacewalks, also outfitting the orbiting laboratory for solar array augmentation.  
     During their time on station, the crew members also tested hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without using soil, released Uganda and Zimbabwe’s first satellites, studied how liquids move in a container in simulated lunar gravity to generate data to improve Moon rover designs, and tested an on-demand system to produce specific quantities of key nutrients from yogurt, kefir, and a yeast-based beverage. The astronauts grew dwarf tomatoes in efforts to address the need for a continuous fresh-food production capability in space and reinstalled the station’s bioprinting facility as a stepping stone in long-term plans to manufacture whole human organs in space. 
     This was the second flight of the Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the Crew-3 astronauts on its maiden voyage. Endurance will return to Florida for inspection and processing at SpaceX’s Dragon Lair, where teams will inspect the spacecraft, analyze data on its performance, and process it for its next flight. 
     The Crew-5 flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its return to Earth follows on the heels of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 launch, which docked to the station March 3, beginning another science expedition. 
     The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. This already is providing additional research time and has increased the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s microgravity testbed for exploration, including helping NASA prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
     The seven men remaining on the ISS now are Frank Rubio, Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, Stephen Bowen, Warren "Woody" Hoburg, Sultan Alneyadi and Andrey Fedyaev.


Publisher accepts award
Jeff Wins
Jeff M. Hardison, sole proprietor and publisher of HardisonInk.com, holds the most recent award he earned from the Florida Press Club (FPC). This award is third place in the statewide FPC Annual Excellence in Journalism Contest. This was in the category titled Online, Independent News Site, and it was for classifications that included all numbers of circulation size news sites. He is standing in front of some of the azaleas on the eastern edge of The Ink Pad.

Photo By Sharon Hardison © March 10, 2023 at 3 p.m.

By Jeff M. Hardison © March 10, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.
     JEMLANDS --
Jeff M. Hardison, sole proprietor and publisher of HardisonInk.com, found the certificate for third place in the statewide Florida Press Club’s Annual Excellence In Journalism Contest in his post office box in Chiefland on Friday (March 10). 

     This award was in the category titled Online, Independent News Site, and it was for classifications that included all numbers of circulation.
     “I always enjoy opening these packets,” he said. “Florida Press Club President Anne Geggis took the time to mail this to me, when I was unable to attend the banquet in Daytona Beach in January. I am very grateful to her and the other volunteers who keep the Florida Press Club in existence.”
     Hardison said he is again honored that his peers in the profession of journalism found his work to be worthy of recognition on a statewide level. 
     This is the third of three years when the 13-year-old daily news website entered the annual contest and earned statewide honors from the Florida Press Club (FPC).


The Award
This is a close-up view of the certificate.

     It heralds the 10th statewide award Hardison accepted from either the FPC or the Florida Press Association (FPA), in the 10 times he entered annual contests with those two honorable groups.
     His first honor was when he earned second place in 1983 for weeklies of any circulation amount through the Florida Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, in the category of Investigative Reporting, when he was a reporter for The Jasper News.
     “I competed with reporters at all Florida weeklies 40 years ago -- back in 1983, regardless of circulation. I wrote a story which revealed a Hamilton County commissioner had used public funds for private gain,” he said.
     He also earned awards for his work as a reporter or editor of newspapers based in Chiefland, for Investigative Reporting; in Sebring for Environmental or Conservation; in Glades County for Community Service and Best Public Service as well as Front Page Layout; and in Naples for Best Full Use of Color.
     “I’ve been writing and editing for a very long time,” Hardison said. “My first story as a student journalist was published – more than 50 years ago, in 1972 at Northeast High School in my hometown of St. Petersburg. The first check for payment I accepted for writing was from the St. Petersburg Times in the summer of 1977.
      “One of my many hopes,” he added, “is that the United States of America remains as a country that is a democracy rather than to switch to some tyrannical form of government like the people suffer from in Russia, China, North Korea or other places.”


Division of Forestry
gives Levy County $94,579.5o
Rainbow Lake Estates
ordinance to be drafted

Forest Supervisor Mark Larson for Goethe State Forest (at the microphone), and Levy County Senior Forester Logan Deuel stand before the Levy County Commission before giving the commission a check for $47, 289.75, and giving the commission a check to pass on to the Levy County School Board for $47, 289.75. Commission Chairman Matt Brooks said he will be certain that Levy County Superintendent of Schools Chris Cowart gets the check for the school district’s benefit.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © March 9, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
     BRONSON –
Among the Levy County agricultural products grown, harvested and sold is trees, and the state of Florida is among the tree farmers.

     On Tuesday (March 7), foresters with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Forest Service gave Levy County Commission Chairman Matt Brooks two checks, each for $47, 289.75.
     One check is for the Levy County School Board and one check is for the Levy County Board of County Commissioners.
     Forest Supervisor Mark Larson for Goethe State Forest, and Levy County Senior Forester Logan Deuel went to the podium during the presentation at the Levy County Government Center in Bronson.
     Supervisor Larson brought the checks to Chairman Brooks.
     Through sound forest management practices, the Florida Forest Service is able to maintain the integrity of the forest environment while providing for the state's future natural resource needs. There are currently 38 state forests and one ranch, totaling over 1,167,787 acres.
     Florida’s State Forests span more than 1.1 million acres and serve as outdoor classrooms where people of all ages can explore and learn, as well as enjoy many recreational activities.
     State forests in one recent year brought in more than $million in revenue, including almost $5 million from the sale of timber, and more than $2 million from recreation fees paid by more than 18 million visitors to state parks.

Other News
Rod Hastings
Levy County Solid Waste Department Administrative Director Rod Hastings speaks with the County Commission about equipment. The five commissioners agreed to his requests. Hastings was commended for his excellent work at saving Levy County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

     In other news from this meeting, the County Commission heard from Levy County Attorney Nicolle M. Shalley about a meeting between Marion County officials and Levy County officials regarding Rainbow Lake Estates Municipal Service District (MSD), which is partly in each of the two counties.
     County Coordinator Wilbur Dean, County Commissioner Desiree Mills, and Levy County Attorney Shalley represented Levy County at the meeting.
     Shalley said county staff members learned that when the Florida Legislature created this MSD, Marion County was given authority to collect special assessments for road construction, including within the Levy County portion of the MSD. 
     There are two roads on the Levy County side of this MSD, which Levy County has maintained historically, she added, because those are essentially truck routes used especially by large farms in the area.
     Marion County uses funds from special assessments for roads to maintain roads, install signage and the like, Shalley said. Marion County also levies millage in both counties for recreational purposes. There is a clubhouse open to all property owners within Rainbow Lake Estates MSD, she said.
     As a result of the discussion, both counties agreed there was no need for an interlocal agreement. The one from years ago had expired, Shalley said.
     In the act by the Florida Legislature, Shalley said, Marion County government was given power to enforce the “old deed restrictions” when the subdivision was developed, and the developer left the area before meeting expectations of developing the subdivision completely.
     Marion County said it never has exercised that authority of enforcing old deed restrictions, including the enforcement against mobile homes or as they are known now manufactured homes from being placed in the MSD. Marion County asserted, Shalley said, that Levy County should exercise its authority on the Levy County side of the MSD in regard to zoning restrictions.
     Marion County sent Levy County its written request to have Levy County zoning match Marion County so that the entirety of that subdivision is under the same zoning codes, Shalley said.
     Shalley said Levy County has been on a path to allow mobile homes and manufactured homes in Rainbow Lake Estates – just as they allowed throughout Levy County; while Marion County prohibits this type of residential structure on its side of the county line in that MSD.
     “I think it’s up to you at this point which of those two options you would like staff to pursue,” County Attorney Shalley said.
     Commissioner Mills moved, and Commissioner John Meeks seconded, for the county staff to create an ordinance to have Levy County zoning match Marion County zoning in the Levy County part of the Rainbow Lake Estate MSD, even though that zoning is different from the rest of Levy County in regard to the allowance of mobile homes to be placed for residential use.
     The County Commission voted 5-0 to approve that motion.
     As a result, a proposed ordinance will be drafted. There will be one or more public hearing, and it can be predicted that people opposed to allowing mobile homes or manufactured homes in that part of Levy County will voice their opinion, again, as well the people who are in favor of allowing mobile homes in the Levy County side of the Rainbow Lake Estates MSD voicing their opinion, again.
     In still other actions, among the many things the Levy County Commission did on March 7 are the following:    
     ● Approved a request from County Coordinator Wilbur Dean for the County Commission to reappoint McSween Huber to the Board of Adjustments, District 1.
     ● Approved a request from Levy County Solid Waste Department Administrative Director Rod Hastings for the purchase of a used Caterpillar Pan for the construction and demolition waste site at the solid waste transfer site near Bronson, at a cost of $65,000 -- with trade-in credit of $35,000 for used large equipment.
     ● Approved a request from Levy County Transit Director Connie Conley to purchase equipment approved for the Shirley Conroy Rural Area Capital Assistance Grant (RCAP) from the Sourcewell Contract in the amount of $41,172.96.
     ● Approved to an amendment to the Nature Coast (Levy County) Business Development Council (NCBDC) agreement. The NCBDC is funded by the county with a $50,000 addition to that budget from CareerSource Citrus | Levy | Marion. The amended agreement includes different wording for accounting and auditing.
     ● Agreed to create a request for proposals of a food concession vendor for the cafeteria at the Levy County Government Center. Commission Chairman Matt Brooks mentioned that this may create a future where the general public also can use the government center’s cafeteria and dining room.


Dixie County grants requests for
two special exceptions and two variances

Zoning Issues
Dixie County Zoning Officer Julie Herring reads a document leading to discussion and action related to allowing a special exception or variance from county zoning ordinances.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © March 2, 2023 at 7 p.m.
As expected, with few or no objections, the four members of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners present for the March 2 meeting unanimously approved four zoning code alteration requests.

     Present for the regular twice-monthly meeting on March 2 were Commission Chairman Jamie Storey (Dist. 4), and commissioners Daniel Wood III (Dist. 2), Mark Hatch (Dist. 3) and David Osteen (Dist. 5).
     Vice Chairman Jody Stephenson (Dist. 1) was absent that Thursday morning.
     Zoning Officer Julie Herring read the descriptions of requests of the petitioners during the public hearings. After the unanimous approvals, there were subsequent resolutions passed during the regular meeting, which resumed after the public hearings.
     The first request presented was a petition by Edgar Dennison seeking a special exception to permit one recreational vehicle in an Agriculture zoning district on property at 117 N.E. 368th Ave., Old Town.
     Dennison’s property is in Chairman Storey’s district.
     Storey said he had heard one objection to the variance. After Dennison spoke with the woman objecting to the special exception to allow one RV, Storey said the woman called Storey  on the phone and said she was “fine with it,” Storey  said.
     All of the neighbors to this property do not object, Storey said, adding that he visited the site and the Dennison property is beautiful. Asking for a motion to approve, Storey heard Commissioner Osteen make the motion, seconded by Commissioner Hatch and there was a 4-0 vote of approval.
     The second request considered at the public hearing that morning was a petition by Anthony Salley Sr. and Donna Salley seeking a special exception to permit one recreational vehicle in a zoning district that is a Residential Single Family Mobile Home zoning district on property at 80 N.E. 156th St. Cross City.
     This is in Osteen’s district. There were no objections to the county government providing the special exception. On a motion by Osteen, seconded by Wood, this request met with a 4-0 vote of approval.
     A petition by Aaron A. Arnold requesting a variance for a reduction of setback from 10 feet to 4.5 feet for new construction of a boathouse on property at 166 S.E. 245th St., Old Town, was heard next.
     This is in Hatch’s district. There was no objection to the county granting the request. On a motion by Hatch, seconded by Osteen, this met with a 4-0 vote of approval.
     A petition by William G. Krause and Ashton Krause requesting a variance for a reduction of side setbacks from 10 feet to zero feet to allow for stairs and an overhead walkway for a new home at 287 S.E. 241st St., Old Town, brought no objections.
     This is in Hatch’s district. On a motion by Hatch, seconded by Wood, it met with a 4-0 vote of approval.


4-0 vote extends
subdivision development deadline

Chiefland City Commission
Chiefland Vice Mayor Norman Weaver (left) first says he thinks curbs and gutters should be required before a subdivision development continues and then he changes his mind Monday night. City Manager Laura Cain said the City Commission in 2019 allowed preliminary plat development to continue on the subdivision after deferral away from the curb and gutters requirement shown in the Land Development Regulations during the meeting Monday night (Feb, 13).

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 15, 2023 at 8:45 a.m.
A group known as “Viking Investments” potentially may purchase property that had been approved for subdivision development in Chiefland adjacent to Charles Strickland Recreational Park, according to information shared at the Monday night (Feb. 13) meeting of municipal government in Chiefland.

     Back in November of 2019, according to records, Chiefland City Commission members approved the preliminary plat application for David Infinger for the Oak Ridge subdivision
     “Viking Investments is potentially purchasing the property and would like to take over the project where Mr. Infinger left off,” according to what Chiefland City Manager Laura Cain noted for the City Commission.
     No development was started on this project as of Feb. 13, according to what City Manager Cain noted for the city leaders.
     The Land Development Regulations in Chiefland show that the subdivider shall submit seven copies of the final plat and a letter requesting final plat approval to the building and zoning director within 12 months after approval of the preliminary plat; otherwise, approval of the preliminary plat shall become null and void unless an extension of time is applied for and granted by the City Commission.
     Given that the preliminary plat was approved in 2019, and no final plat has been submitted yet, it may appears as if development has stopped.
     Commissioners voted on Feb. 13 by a 4-0 vote to grant a 12-month extension to Infinger for the plat approval process to continue; however, if “Viking Investments” purchases the project, those investors will need to approach the city to work with that firm rather than the initial developer – Infinger, according to what was shared Monday night.
     Oakridge Subdivision is currently seen as being constructed in two phases, with about 47 residential units in one phase and 36 residential units in the other phase, according to what was said Monday night. The City Commission, back in its 2019 approval of the preliminary plat – some years ago – allowed the developer a deferral away from Land Development Regulations requiring curbs and gutters.
     Infinger told the City Commission that the Suwannee River Water Management District had approved that part of the proposed subdivision.
     Early in the discussion Monday night, Vice Mayor Norman Weaver said he thought curbs and gutters should be required. He changed his mind, though, after discussion included that this would cause the developer to restart a significant part of the process to make this project actually reach final plat approval, and subsequent construction.

Other action
     City Commissioner Lance Hayes was absent from the Feb. 13 meeting. In other action, the four City Commission members present were Mayor Chris Jones, Vice Mayor Weaver, and city commissioners Rollin Hudson and Lewrissa Johns.
     The City Commission members present approved, among other things, the following activities by 4-0 votes:
     ● Permission for Police Chief Scott Anderson to apply for the COPS grant to hire two more police officers. The COPs awards cover 75 percent of the entry-level salary and fringe benefits of new policemen the first year; 50 percent of that funding the second year; and 25 percent the third year.
     ● Permission for Police Chief Scott Anderson to apply for the USDA grant to buy two new police interceptor vehicles. The fiscal impact to the city would be adding $28,389 to the budget for 2023-2024. Chief Anderson explained that the city has seen an increase in crime in the past three years, and he provided the number of various crimes and arrests.
     ● Agreed to table discussion about what the city wants to do in regard to amending the City Charter, which was approved in 1984. As noted, Commissioner Hayes was absent and the other four felt it should be discussed with a full City Commission present. Just as his son attorney W. Blake Fugate had advised the City Commission at a previous meeting, City Attorney Norm D. Fugate again intimated that the Chiefland City Charter is functional. Unless there is a need for meaningful, substantive changes, the municipal leaders must ask themselves if they want to spend money on legal fees, advertising purchases, and added cost for a special election or added cost to put it on a municipal election, the city attorney commented.




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