NCBDC employee funded for another year
Tri-County group set for Alabama trip
Leader balks at public records request

Agreeing to a photo opportunity late Thursday afternoon at the College of Central Florida Jack Wilkinson Levy Campus, just south of the City of Fanning Springs, the people present (in person) for the NCBDC Board of Directors meeting are seen here. They are (seated) NCBDC Secretary Joyce Wilson and NCBDC Treasurer Bob Krefting, and (standing, from left) Director Greg Galpin, Executive Director Scott Osteen, Vice Chair George Buckner III and Director Holly McGlashan. (Not pictured but attending the meeting via telephone were Director Richard Streeter and Director Phil Geist). Absent directors were Denny George, Melissa Saco, Mary Swoope and Daniel Vaudreuil. 

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 12, 2022 at 11:12 a.m.
CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion has agreed to extend the memorandum of agreement to keep Scott Osteen as the executive director of Nature Coast Business Development Council (NCBDC), according to information released Aug. 11.

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     Osteen enjoyed a $50,000 annual salary paid by the state agency that is designed to link employers and employees in Citrus County, Levy County and Marion County.
     The second $50,000 annual salary to Osteen was extended to cover the state’s fiscal year of July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, according to information at the monthly NCBDC Board of Directors meeting held Thursday afternoon (Aug. 11). Of course, that fiscal year started last month.
     Levy County taxpayers put an additional $33,200 into the NCBDC from Jan. 1, 2022, through June 30. Expenditures other than the salary of Osteen, which is covered separately by the state government agency – CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, so far in 2022, as of June 30, included $13,200 for consulting services; $7,500 for advertising; 2,421.48 for the vehicle lease for the vehicle Osteen drives; and $549.77 for travel as part of the total expenses of $27,167.18 from January through June.
     And the NCBDC appears to be relatively stable financially as of June 30, according to information provided at the Aug. 11 meeting. 
     The NCBDC had $40,457.75 in its Capital City Bank account and $45,954.21 in its Drummond Community Bank account, according to records. That is $86,411.96 in the two bank accounts combined.

     The August monthly meeting rolled July and August into one meeting, because there was no July meeting.
     Osteen found directors quickly making motions he suggested and then his method to call for a vote was to ask if there were any objections. No one voiced any, and that therefore was recorded as a positive vote by all members.
     Of all the government entity meetings ever covered by one Florida journalist since 1971, this is the first time the method of -- “Are there any objections to the motion?” And then not hearing any, that means everyone who must vote, voted "Yes," has been witnessed.

     Twelve people from three counties are going to Thomasville, Alabama, with that trip set for Sept. 21, 22 and 23.
     Dixie County and Gilchrist County are sending representatives to go with the Levy County economic development entity (NCBDC), which initiated the trip. Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day is providing insight into this small town’s economic development.
     The state NCBDC goals are to:
     * See how successful economic growth can occur while maintaining a small town identity.
     * Compare assets and challenges among the three counties – Levy County, Dixie County and Gilchrist County.
     * Revitalize a plan to create a Tri-County Area version of the NCBDC, although two months ago the NCBDC Board of Directors followed Osteen’s idea of not going forward with this project.

     A request for a copy of the public record of the agreement between NCBDC and the North Florida Economic Development Partnership, which includes a fee to be paid from NCBDC to NFEDP, was delayed.
     Osteen told the journalist requesting the public record that he had to check to see if that was excluded from the public’s right to view it.
     There is not an attorney present at NCBDC Board of Directors meetings.
     As part of his report about this agreement, Osteen noted “After not having any luck with our county attorney nor with the previous county attorney, I reached out to (attorney) Doug McKoy to have him review our contract with NFEDP. He has done that, and I have a copy here ready for us to sign later today.”
     From the conversation at the meeting, it was apparent that Osteen had sent the approved copy to each of the directors; however, there was no copy made available for view by anyone else at the meeting.
     The directors present approved the contract by a motion and second that was met with no objections, in contrast with directors present actually casting a “Yes” vote verbally as individuals.

     The Thursday afternoon meeting brought into focus the current and potential future members of the NCBDC Board of Directors.
     The current NCBDC Board of Directors are George Buckner III, Chris Cowart, Greg Galpin, Phil Geist, Denny George, Bob Krefting, Holly McGlashan, Dick Streeter, Melissa Saco, Mary Swoope, Daniel Vaudreuil and Joyce Wilson.
     Cowart, Geist, George, McGlashan, Streeter and Wilson have two-year terms that expire early next month (September). Cowart and George were absent from the Aug. 11 meeting, but the other people with terms ending next month agreed to serve two more years if called upon to do so.

     Osteen announced that he will be sharing an office with SCORE of the Nature Coast (Levy and Citrus counties) that is within the College of Central Florida Jack Wilkson Levy Campus, just south of the City of Fanning Springs.
     Osteen also announced his intent to have regular NCBDC meetings at the CF Levy Campus on the second Thursday of each month, starting at 3 p.m. Therefore, the next meeting will be Sept. 8.
     Osteen announced a plan that is still very much in the early formative stage where he would have a lunch and learn session with business owners from around the county. This will be similar to what some Chambers of Commerce do to help business interests meet with one another. These future NCBDC lunch and learn sessions will be by invitation only, and not open for general public attendance.


Dixie County looks at revision
of its garbage pickup services
DCES chief talks about county growth

Dixie County Commission
Members of the Dixie County Commission are (from left) James Valentine, Mark Hatch Jamie Storey and W.C. Mills. Not pictured is County Commissioner Jody Stephenson who was absent from the Aug. 4 regular meeting.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 5, 2022 at 7:12 p.m.
Dixie County Commission Vice Chairman W.C. Mills shared his opinion about the county’s current plan to halt its garbage can rental program.


Dixie County Commission
Dixie County Commission Vice Chairman W.C. Mills tells County Manager Duane Cannon that if the revise garbage pickup plan cannot be formed so that it is not subsidized by the general fund, then he will not go forward with promoting it.

     There are currently between 90 and 117 dumpsters throughout Dixie County that are being used by residential customers and commercial customers via the county government’s garbage pickup service. Dixie County workers collect that garbage with trucks outfitted to empty the dumpsters.
     Some people pay their rental bills for the cans. Some don’t pay their bills. Hence the vote to stop the program because this county service is being run at a significant cost funded by paying customers who are not benefitting from this service.
     The Dixie County Board of County Commissioners currently is comprised of Chairman Jamie Storey, Vice Chairman Mills, and county commissioners Jody Stephenson, Mark Hatch and James Valentine. Commissioner Stephenson was absent from the Aug. 4 meeting.
     Dixie County Commission members present at the Aug. 4 meeting agreed to have a workshop to thoroughly discuss potentially continuing or restarting the dumpster service run by the county government. As of the Aug. 4 meeting, the service is set to end.


The workshop to consider continuation of the garbage pickup service by the county government is currently set for Sept. 1 starting at 2 p.m.

     Dixie County Commission Chief Financial Officer Jackie Johnson asked the County Commission members what to do about the upcoming budget in this regard. That program lost about $100,000 in this fiscal year.
     Vice Chairman Mills, who will be leaving office at the end of his current term that expires before the end of the next fiscal year, told her not to enter anything in the budget to be approved by the County Commission.
     However, there will be revenue coming into the program operated by the county, and there will be revenue going out to make the program continues to operate – therefore, there will be income and expenses on lines in the county’s budget for the fiscal year 2022-2o23, which begins on Oct. 1.
     Mills said if the new proposal shows the taxpayers having to subsidize the program, as has been the case since it began some years ago, then he is willing to be the first to surrender his garbage can back to the county government.
     He just thinks the program should be given another chance – for a year.
     Mills said that while the majority of the County Commission members agreed to stop this money-losing venture, where the county picks up garbage from some 90 dumpsters used by residential and business owners, he wants to give it another chance.
     At the meeting Thursday morning County Manager Duane Cannon said that based on research by the Solid Waste Department, the cost for each of the 90 dumpster sites would be $178.75 per month for once-a-week pickup of the four cubic-yard “cans” for the county to break even – if all people paid their bills.
     Waste Pro, the commercial venture in the garbage collection business, is said to offer a comparable price for residential service in Dixie County. There was no discussion about the government revising its business model to better compete with private enterprise.
     The workshop to consider this matter, and to discuss the finer points, such as the actual costs per-customer and if another county employee is needed to make sure payment is collected and to answer the anticipated complaints, promises to include some robust language.
     The concept of the workshop is to reboot the current program so that it works as intended, with users funding the service rather than users funding part of the service and the entire set of Dixie County property-owning taxpayers paying for the shortfall.
     There was some hyperbole during the first round of discussion at the meeting on Thursday, including that some current users will pay “any price” to keep the service as it exists for them.
     Another point at the regular twice monthly meeting where there was some heated discussion happened when Commissioner Hatch presented the question of the cost of the county continuing to mine its own lime rock from its rock pit in comparison to the cost of just buying lime rock from another source.
     Vice Chairman Mills said that he believes the county should keep providing its own lime rock. The two main reasons he mentioned were to keep county employees in the jobs they have, and because outside vendors probably would jack up their prices if the county stopped producing its own supply.
     Also, if the county stops its own process of lime rock mining, then restarting it may not be fiscally possible in the future.
     Other than County Manager Cannon being asked to look at the difference in costs of mining rock or buying rock, discussion about that matter essentially ended.

Dixie County Commission
DCES Chief Darian Brown explains from the podium why having good fire suppression capability is vital to Dixie County being inviting to future residents and business owners. Dixie County Clerk Barbie Higginbotham, who has untangled financial records that needed some work when she started, sits at the left at the dais with the four County Commission members present Aug. 4. Higginbotham is the clerk of the courts as well as the clerk and comptroller for the County Commission in Dixie County.

Top DCES chief talks about county growth
     Darian Brown, the top leader of the Dixie County Emergency Services (DCES) gave the Dixie County Commission a wealth of insight Thursday morning.
     The DCES includes fire protection, ambulance service and emergency management for Dixie County. 
     DCES Division Chief of Fire Service Operations Roy Bass heads up the firefighters. DCES Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services Matt Ferguson leads the county in EMS matters. Division Chief of Emergency Management Scott Garner deals with hurricane preparedness, as well as every other disaster before, during and after the events.
     During the meeting Thursday, Chief Brown explained that every five years or so, this county’s fire department is evaluated to give it an ISO rating. Every department in the United States goes through the same process, he said.
     This rating determines if an insurance company can insure a structure in the county, and if so, then how much that insurance will cost.
     On Aug. 31, Chief Bass will be providing records to the evaluators, Brown intimated. 
     In comparison with the 2017 rating, the DCES has fewer volunteers and more career staff, Chief Brown said. The department has more trucks, although some of them are now five years older than in 2017.
     Chief Brown then spoke about other DCES-related matters.
     Dixie County received a check last month for $433,000 for a grant, Chief Brown said. He hopes to use this money to offset the increase cost of fuel this year.
     These funds are to be credited from January of 2020 through June 30, 2023, he said. The county commission’s finance director has assured Chief Brown that the county can apply these funds as they are meant to be applied for spending.
     Chief Brown said that while Gov. Ron DeSantis presented the county with a big cardboard check, actual money is not in the till yet, despite what the county rumor-mongers may say.
     “We do have $7.2 million that has been awarded to us to build two fire stations,” Chief Brown said.
     One of those is a $3.7 million addition to the current Dixie County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Cross City, he said, which will provide more office space there. Also, at the EOC, with this addition, Chief Brown hopes to create sleeping space for 10 personnel. Another hope for this improvement will be to have parking for all emergency apparatus currently at the EOC.
     The other $3.5 million will be for a station where there is an existing station with living quarters for eight to 10 staff members in Old Town, as well as three to five bays for apparatus and office space, too, Chief Brown said for the fire safety inspections and fire prevention operations.
     The County Commission approved 4-0 the first two task orders to start these two projects that Chief Brown anticipates being completed within 18 months.

Dixie County Commission
Dixie County Emergency Services Chief Darian Brown speaks in clear, unmistakable language as he tells the County Commission why the county residents, visitors and business interests are best served when fire suppression capabilities are proved to be at least sufficient for insurance companies to insure property. Dixie County Emergency Services' Fire Division is destined for review soon to determine the ISO rating, which in turn results in the insurance rates available for property owners. Chief Brown is known for his no-nonsense straight-shooting language, as well as for his passion to protect lives and property in Dixie County.

     While Chief Brown received the 4-0 votes needed on two task orders to start the construction process at two fire station locations, Commissioner Hatch commented about something that gave the chief a chance to speak about growth in Dixie County.
      Mandatory minimal requirements for a business owner to consider making a county into its home he said are – water and sewer services; the ability to have insurance – which means there must be a fire department.
     The ISO inspection will determine the cost of homeowner’s insurance for every home in Dixie County, he said. Too low of an ISO rating means the property cannot even be insured.
     “It will also determine the (insurance) rates for commercial businesses that want to come to this community,” Brown said. “And whether or not a business will even consider coming here. If they cannot get proper insurance for their $2 billion establishment, I promise you they are not coming.”
     Water service, sewer service and fire suppression are the three most critical foundational aspects before growth can happen, Chief Brown said.
     The chief said that some people wonder why there is a need for more firetrucks and firefighters. The reason for being prepared to suppress fires, he explained, is to have that ability, The ISO ratings show the level of that ability, and that determines property insurance premium rates.
Chief Brown said he did not know as of Aug. 4 if the Dixie County rating would improve in 2022 from when it was set in 2017.
     When the new station is built and staffed with paid firefighters, Chief Brown said, then that will improve the ISO rating for the Old Town Hammock Area. He does not anticipate being active then, but there are leaders in the DCES now who he thinks will still be onboard this team; so, they can request a review for improved rating.
     Chief Brown helped people understand one aspect of this rating. For numeric purposes, a paid professional firefighter is values at 300 percent more than a volunteer firefighter. It takes three volunteers to equal one paid firefighter, he said, in this ISO rating process.
     The difference in the two types is not so much in different training, but instead because the volunteer is not regularly on duty and is not always available, the chief added.
     “That (career firefighters or volunteer firefighters) is important ladies and gentlemen,” Chief Brown said. “It’s your money in your wallet and in your purse. That’s what it (career firefighters being counted during the ISO evaluation) saves you when we staff that station.
     “There is a distance – everything within a mile and a half and five miles, depending on the type of response and coverage, will change,” Brown continued.
     The chief said another element is water supply.
     Fire hydrants help area ratings too, he said. A structure that is within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant will enjoy a better rate than a structure that is farther away. 
     The chief said adding fire hydrants in Old Town Hammock will help the ISO rating there. Since there are no fire hydrants, people see several vehicles going to one fire. That is because each one can carry only so much water, he said.
     Usually, there is only one person on each vehicle. It’s not like an army of firefighters are going to extinguish each blaze.
     “Sometimes, I have to send an ambulance back to the station to get another truck,” Brown said. “So, we actually have to take turns shuttling them back home.”
     Vice Chairman Mills thanked Chief Brown for sharing all of the information about fire suppression in Dixie County.
     Mills said some candidates who are seeking to take the seat he is vacating wanted to know what the county did with the $10 million that the Florida Legislature approved, and the governor did not remove via a line-item veto.
     “When they get over here (on that side of the dais) they’ll understand,” Mills said. “They’ll say, ‘Dang. I just thought they were all a bunch of liars.’ But what people don’t understand is, what happens here ain’t what most of ‘em think oughta happen.”
     Mills added that what some people think should happen is perhaps what should indeed happen – he doesn’t know. There is a problem, he added, with people spreading incorrect information as if it were correct.
     Years ago, Mills said he told his wife that Facebook will be the ruin of the United States of America.
     “You get one or two on there that know more than everybody up here does,” Mills said. “Then you get to spreading that rhetoric, and so nobody understands the real deal.”
     Mills said this spread of disinformation causes people to become upset, and rightly so, he added.
     Mills then spoke about a young man who stopped him as the county commissioner was going into a restaurant to eat. That man told Mills just how wrong he and the other commissioners were for setting fees for fire service and other county services.
     “I said, ‘Young man, you’re talking to the wrong man at the wrong time about this,” Mills said. “I said just a couple of years ago, I lost a 37-year-old daughter and a granddaughter. So, don’t talk to me about it (setting rates for fire protection services).”
     People don’t know everything they need to know, Mills added.

Dixie County Commission
Dixie County Manager Duane Cannon and Dixie County Attorney Chana M. Watson work during the Aug. 4 regular Dixie County Commission meeting. Watson was recently selected as the best of three applicants seeking the job formerly held by M. Michael O'Steen.

     Among the man other action, the County Commission by 4-0 votes approved four more special exceptions to zoning laws to allow recreational vehicles in four environmentally sensitive areas, one more RV special exception in an agricultural zoned area, and another pole barn in an area where a special exception is required to build it.
     No member of the public spoke during those public hearings. No person objected to any exceptions to building and zoning ordinances. Hence the changes happened.
     In yet another action, Dixie County Human Resources Administrator Angie Crowley was asked to establish a per-day fee and a deposit procedure for people or organizations to use the various community centers owned by Dixie County. As it stands, there appears to be a willy-nilly management practice, even to the point where an organization says it plans to use a facility, but never tells the county about a change of its plans, thereby taking the facility out of the available-for-use category, and yet not being used.
     And County Manager Cannon was approved for the 22 separate actions he requested of the County Commission.
     Just after 12 p.m. at the meeting that started at 10 a.m., the County Commission heard from Dixie County Attorney Chana M. Watson, who was approved as the replacement for former County Attorney M. Michael O’Steen, that some surplus land that the county sold at bid had an issue.
     A deed recording error showed a 150-foot wide swath on the eastern side of the property as belonging to two lots owned by different interests. The county obtained the property after its previous owner failed to pay property taxes and the process was completed.
     However, County Attorney Watson said, there is a problem with the title.
     Watson recommended delaying the attempted sale by the county of that property to that bidder until the deed for the property could be fixed to accurately reflect the actual land being sold by the county – with the entirely correct metes and bounds.


WPD honors man for service
Audit shows Williston’s financial health

Williston Police Department Det. Owen Confessore (left) shakes hands with Hunter LaRoche.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 3, 2022 at 9:12 p.m.
Among the actions at the most recent regular meeting of the Williston City Council, a man was honored for helping a stranger, and the city’s audit for the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 was reviewed.

Williston Police Department Det. Owen Confessore and Hunter LaRoche provide a photo opportunity after the presentation.

      After the brake system on a semi tractor-trailer malfunctioned and caused a fire, a worker at a Williston business took quick action to help preserve life and property on June 14.
     Hunter Laroche accepted a certificate of appreciation on Monday night (Aug. 2) from Williston Police Department Det. Owen Confessore on behalf of WPD Chief Mike Rolls and the WPD.
     Detective Confessore spoke to the audience at the regular twice-monthly meeting of the Williston City Council that Tuesday night before presenting the certificate to LaRoche.
     Both the WPD and Williston Fire Rescue were dispatched to Main Street (U.S. Highway 41) on June 14, the detective said, in response to a reported vehicle fire.
     As Confessore responded to the call, he said smoke billowing up from the scene on North Main Street, he said. On arrival, the responding law enforcement officer saw Troy Sparks, the owner of the semi. When the brakes on the truck locked up, it caused a fire, Det. Confessore said, and the man stopped.
     Sparks exhausted the fire extinguisher he had onboard the semi, but the fire continued, the detective said the truck driver told him. 
     The detective then shared more that the truck owner told him.
     LaRoche was seen running across the street where he works at Myhree Motors 461 N. Main St., Confessore said. LaRoche used the fire extinguisher he had carried to the scene, and he put the fire out.
     A couple of minutes later, the WFR arrived to check the scene for safety and add a little water, Confessore said.
     Mayor Charles Goodman, Confessore said, call WPD Chief Rolls to express the gratitude of Sparks for helping save his semi from more damage.
     Confessore said he has heard former WPD Chief Dennis Strow, as well as Chief Rolls and others say, “If you see something, say something.”
     The detective told listeners that LaRoche took that motto a step farther.
     “He (LaRoche) saw something, and he did something,” Confessore said. “He was over there working (at Myhree Motors), saw a man’s truck on fire, grabbed an extinguisher that Drew had for his employee’s there at Myhree Motors, ran over across the street and he did something.
     “There’s no doubt in my mind,” Confessore said, “that Hunter’s quick actions and getting involved with the fire extinguisher saved (the semi from) a lot more damage that could have occurred.”
     Sparks is the owner-operator of that semi, Confessore said, and by his action LaRoche saved the truck.

CPA Helen Painter
Helen Painter, a CPA with the firm Purvis, Gray & Co., speaks to the Williston City Council on Tuesday night (Aug. 3). Painter specializes in audits of local governments, employee benefit plans, and not-for-profits. Among the many things she told the City Council members is that she worked with Williston Finance Director Stephen Bloom and Inframark – Infrastructure Management Services. There were three other auditors with Painter, and Kathryn ‘Katie’ Eno. Painter said Eno performed the lion’s share of the work from the Purvis, Gray & Co. part of this work. Painter said the annual financial audit for Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, shows Purvis, Gray & Co. can note that the City of Williston has attained an unmodified opinion, which in the world of financial audits is the highest attainable review. Painter provided management and leaders of Williston with a thorough review of the financial status of the city.


Allegedly screaming peacocks
ruffle neighbors’ feathers
Gilchrist Co. Commission hears plenty

Gilchrist County Commission
Members of the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners seen here near the start of the meeting are (from left) County Commissioner Kenrick Thomas, County Commissioner Marion Poitevint, County Commission Chairman Bill Martin, County Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith and County Commissioner Sharon Akins Langford.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Aug. 2, 2022 at 9:12 p.m.
     TRENTON –
The five members of the Gilchrist County Commission on Monday night (Aug. 1) heard about screaming peacocks, and they heard about a planned quiet retreat.


Gilchrist County Commission
County Administrator Bobby Crosby and County Attorney Duke Lang once again served the County Commission as all of the government employees worked to serve the residents and visitors in Gilchrist County. Here they are on Aug. 1, once again performing their duties during a County Commission meeting.

     Having cancelled the most recent previously scheduled regular twice-monthly meeting, the County Commission was jampacked with action to finish that night. And the commissioners did just that.
     The Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners is comprised of County Commission Chairman William “Bill” Martin (Dist. 2), County Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith (Dist. 3), County Commissioner Sharon Akins Langford (Dist. 1), County Commissioner Kenrick Thomas (Dist. 5), and County Commissioner Marion Poitevint (Dist. 4).
     While the action was jampacked in the evening, the meeting room was relatively vacant except for people who had vested interests, and a couple of the candidates seeking to take the post to be vacated by County Commissioner Poitevint.

     Like Levy County, the people are allowed to address the County Commission at the start and at the end of the meeting for some minutes. In Levy County, it’s three minutes. In Gilchrist County, the commission gives people five minutes.
     In Dixie County, the people get a few minutes but the public participation portion of that County Commission’s meetings is near to the very end. The would-be speakers in Dixie County must sit through most of the meeting before they can speak to their elected county representatives.

     First to speak during the public participation part of Monday night were Ron Jones and George Green, two representatives of CareerSource Florida Crown.
     CareerSource Florida Crown provides workforce services throughout Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist and Union counties.
From job postings to job fairs, to employed worker training and programs that help disabled veterans transition to a successful civilian career, CareerSource Florida Crown has a fully staffed Business Services Department and Career Center to help businesses and job seekers – all at no cost.
     Through a cooperative venture grant-funded with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs doing business as Elder Options, CareerSource Florida Crown is holding a training and outreach program to provide information and education to people 60 years and older in this four-county region.
     For more information about CareerSource Florida Crown call 386-487-1192.
     The dates, times and places for these training and outreach  sessions are:
     ● Aug. 18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Cross City, 16024 U.S. Highway 19.
     ● Aug. 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Union County UF/IFAS Extension Office, 15120 S.W. 84th St., in the City of Lake Butler.
     ● Sept. 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gilchrist County Woman’s Club, 2107 Gilchrist County Road 339 (Bronson Memorial Highway), in Trenton.
     ● Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Park View Baptist Church, 268 N.W. Lake Jeffery Road, in Lake City.

Gilchrist County Commission
Gail Saunders makes a plea for help from the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners to overcome what she believes is a nuisance set of animals. She learned Monday night that the best recommended action for her to find relief is to hire an attorney and use the civil court process for a possible remedy. Meanwhile, in the background, a writer for a Dixie County weekly newspaper is seen in action. Gilchrist County government now buys legal ads in a Dixie County weekly newspaper, because the former Gilchrist County weekly newspaper has gone out of business.

     Gail Saunders of the Rolling Oaks Subdivision spoke to the County Commission about “screaming peacocks” that cause her distress, because their calls keep her awake at night.
     Beyond that, from what she said Monday, there are few moments of quiet from the many, many peacocks that have come to invade her peace. Essentially, her homelife is shattered by the nearby birds seemingly never-ending calls.
     Saunders brought peacock feathers to present to the County Commission, but the five commission members declined the gift. She gave County Clerk Todd Newton pictures for the public record. 
     A decade ago, in July of 2012, Saunders collected signatures on a petition for the removal of a peacock flock from the Rolling Oaks Subdivision, she said.
     Back then, there were an estimated 25 peacocks roaming on property owned by her neighbor Karen Cutler, Saunders said. Saunders wanted Cutler to build a pen to contain the peacocks.
     In April of 2015, there was a civil case brought by Gilchrist County against Cutler in regard to the peacocks. The judge ordered the property owner to contain the peacocks on her property, Saunders said.
     A six-foot fence was erected around the property, Saunders said.
     Peacocks fly, Saunders said, and they roost in trees, and they have no natural predators to reduce their population. 
     Saunders said she erected an eight-foot tall privacy fence on her property where it adjoins the corner of the property owned by Cutler. This cutback the volume of visits by the neighboring peacocks, but it did not stop them from coming onto her property, Saunders said. And, she added, the fence does not stop the sound of “peacock screams.”
     Some people refer to this sound as peacock calls. These calls of the peacock are heard in background audio for Tarzan movies and other jungle films, as well as being heard in some parts of the Tri-County Area of Dixie County, Gilchrist County and Levy County.
     This past June, Saunders called Gilchrist County Animal Control and was told peacock management is a code-enforcement issue, Saunders said. Saunders completed a complaint form with Code Enforcement and on July 12 spoke with the Gilchrist County Code Enforcement officer, she said.
     That is when she learned this is a civil matter to be decided in court, according to Gilchrist County Attorney David Miller “Duke” Lang Jr.
     Saunders then spoke about the matter for another five minutes before Commission Chairman Martin let her know her time was up, but that he would give her three more minutes.
     During part of her tirade, Saunders alleged that the judge’s order has “never been enforced.”
     Gilchrist County Manager Bobby Crosby explained to the resident that the case is closed. A fence was erected, Crosby said, and parties were given 90 days from the day of the order to bring the matter to the judge again. The judge’s order has been met, Crosby said.
     Attorney Lang said he knows of no way to capture free-roaming peacocks.
     Under the current structure of animal control in Gilchrist County, Lang added, the county government cannot capture the peacocks.
     “Our suggestion was,” Lang said, “the best idea was for Ms. Saunders to hire an attorney and bring a private nuisance action against her neighbor, to have the Court intervene, to have those peacocks removed.”
     Lang noted for the County Commission that Gilchrist County government has done as Saunders requested initially.
     The county attorney noted that Saunders is the lone complainant about this matter in that part of the county so far, as documented as of Monday (Aug. 1) with Gilchrist County Code Enforcement.
     Saunders turned around from the podium and looked to the back of the meeting room and asked for a show of hands by other residents of the area “... who can attest it’s horrible.”
     County Manager Crosby mentioned that Florida Statutes require code enforcement complainants to be documented in writing, rather than by a show of hands. 
     “I don’t believe this is the proper forum for her to address her complaint, under citizens’ (public) participation,” Lang said.
     The attorney told the County Commission that the county government has its hands tied to rectify the situation for Saunders, who appears to be unwilling to hire an attorney and file a private nuisance action against the alleged offender.
     Steve Davis, a man who said he lives about eight houses away from Saunders, said he has a problem with these particular peacocks.
     Davis then asked the County Commission if it was legal to shoot and kill peacocks.
     Davis was told to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to find the correct answer to that question.
     Davis said he has called the GCSO before to lodge other complaints about noisy dogs that bark after 10 p.m. – more during the cold weather when sound travels more through the air.
     Verbal complainant Davis added however, that he is not going to call the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office at 11 at night to go where nobody is, to witness this nuisance noise from peacocks.
      Commission Chairman Martin said he is familiar with the sounds peacocks make and how they are loud. 
     The County Commission expressed its understanding and sympathy for people who dislike the sound of peacocks, but in this instance the county is unable to overcome what Saunders and Davis have deemed to be nuisance noise.
     The County Commission appears to concur with County Attorney Lang as to the single best remedy for Saunders and others. 

     The Gilchrist County Commission set tentative budget hearing dates, as well as tentative general millage rates, the tentative Municipal Service Tax Unit (MSTU) rate and the tentative Fire Special Assessment rate.
     Before the regular meeting on Monday night, the County Commission members spoke late Monday afternoon with Gilchrist County Clerk and Comptroller Todd Newton, Gilchrist County Finance Director Richard Romans, Gilchrist County Administrator Bobby Crosby, Gilchrist County Attorney David Miller “Duke” Lang Jr. and Gilchrist County Fire Chief James Campbell during a workshop regarding the budget.
     In fact, the workshop discussion went into the projected starting time of the regular twice-monthly County Commission meeting by about 15 minutes.
     The proverbial bottom line is that people will see Truth In Millage (TRIM) notices, which will be mailed to property owners from the Gilchrist County Property Appraiser’s Office.
     TRIM Notices are not the final tax bill. The County Commission and other taxing authorities can reduce the tentative amounts they presented to the Property Appraiser’s Office. However, no taxing authority can increase the tax rate higher than what it notes for the tentative rate.

     The County Commission approved three separate requests made after completing public hearings to reach their decisions.
     A request by Jessica Junkin, as applicant, and CHW Professional Consultants, as agent for Community Church Development Corporation, owner, and CHW Professional Consultants Inc., as agents for Getaway House Inc., Getaway High Springs LLC, and Gilchrist Getaway Springs, as contract purchaser, sought approval of a Preliminary Site and Development Plan.
      This Preliminary Site and Development Plan is in an existing Overnight Recreational Park, and it will allow a “Getaway Tiny Cabin Outpost” consisting of up to 45 prepositioned “Tiny Cabin” campsites and supporting infrastructure located on approximately 89.83 acres, more or less, at 1679 N.E. Gilchrist County Road 337 and 7680 N.E. 15th St., High Springs (Gilchrist County). This property is located in Section 26, Township 08 South, Range 16 East, Gilchrist County.
     The tiny cabins are on wheels.
     County Attorney Lang recommended approval of the amendment to the previously approved Special Use Permit for this existing Site Plan.
     This will allow an Overnight Outpost offering up to 45 prepositioned "Tiny Cabins" in an Agriculture (A-2) land use district on the Future Land Use Map.
     The county attorney noted he recommend approval with conditions of the request for revised or amended preliminary site and development plan approval:
     Among those conditions, is that the Preliminary Site and Development Plan be granted for the requested usage as set forth in the application.
     Without the requestor even asking for it, however, the County Commission granted this permit for two years rather than the standard one-year approval, because many developers are facing delays from construction supply shortages.
     The development is limited to installing up to 45 prepositioned "Tiny Cabins" on stabilized gravel sites; to repurpose existing structures for a back-of-the-house facility housing a meeting room, laundry areas lor cabin lines, and accessible restroom; to allow a parking area for day-time staff, and to provide an on-site residence for staff housing. No other structures other than those presently existing or approved under this Preliminary Site and Development Plan application shall be constructed.

No special events (i.e. carnivals, fairs, music festivals, outdoor concerts) or temporary uses on the subject property shall be permitted.

     Other conditions required before the approval was granted showed there shall be no shared communal recreational spaces such as picnic areas, playgrounds, swimming pools or event centers.
     The prepositioned Tiny Cabins are and shall remain the property of Getaway House Inc., or its assigns, shall obtain and keep in full force and effect the proper license sticker for each Tiny Cabin, which are classified by licensing officials as Recreational Vehicles.
     The tiny cabins, however, are not permitted to be routinely pulled on and off the development site like traditional Recreational Vehicles.
     The maximum length of stay per guest is seven consecutive calendar days and only for pre-booked reservations made through the Getaway website. No walk-ins shall be permitted.
     There are other conditions, but the applicant had no issues with any of the county’s requirements. This development promises to be a quiet getaway for people who don’t mind confined quarters for their vacation.
     The second public hearing was a request by J. Ayers Construction, as agent for owner, Ben Keeler/Keeler Roofing LLC, requesting Amended Site and Development Plan Approval for a new addition on Lots 14, 15 and 16, Tyler Creek Business Community, a subdivision in Gilchrist County.
     This request is for an approximately 40 feet by 50 feet addition to the end of the existing building with concrete. The request was granted.
     The third public hearing of this regular twice-monthly Gilchrist County Commission meeting was a request by Duke Energy Florida, as applicant and contract purchaser, and Loncala Inc., owner, seeking Preliminary Site and Development Plan approval to construct and operate a new and separate generation substation located to the south of its existing (Ginnie Springs) substation.
     This generation substation will connect to a new solar farm project that will be constructed in the City of High Springs, located on approximately 6.11 acres, more or less, together with a 50-foot utility easement, at Northeast 80th Avenue, High Springs, Gilchrist County.
     That request was approved.

     The future Gilchrist County Jail is set for groundbreaking on Aug. 30 in the morning at the construction site, which is going to be adjacent to the existing structure.
     Among the other action Monday night, the Gilchrist County Commission approved:
     ● Payment of $126,099.20 of the estimated total cost of about $10.5 million for construction by Allstate Construction Inc. of the new Gilchrist County Jail.
     ●Payment of $208,428.20 to GAPCO Industries Inc. of Hampton, Georgia, for materials used on the new Gilchrist County Jail.
     ● Advertising requests for proposals for engineering services. County Administrator Bobby Crosby explained that while the county is pleased to continue using North Florida Professional Services for engineering, there are times when another engineer is required because the same engineering firm is not allowed to perform separate functions on certain projects.
     ● Payment to cover closing costs of $25,000 for Michelle Honeycutt through the SHIP. Florida Housing administers the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program (SHIP), which provides funds to local governments as an incentive to create partnerships that produce and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing.
     ● Payment to cover costs of $25,000 for Deborah Jones through the SHIP.
     ● Payment to cover costs of $39,105.70 to Jimmy McGee as reimbursement for rehabilitation construction cost through SHIP.
     ● Gilchrist County Tourist Development Council meeting agenda items from the meeting of July 11.
     ●An increased benefit for life insurance for every Gilchrist County employee. The previous benefit was $10,000. The new benefit will be for $25,000 in life insurance, which the county covers completely in premium payments. This increased benefit is hoped to attract people who want to work for the county government.
     ● The purchase of $18,212.50 in firefighting gear from Municipal Emergency Services (MES), as requested by Gilchrist County Fire Chief James Campbell. His purchase is covered completely by grants, and the price is reduced by “piggybacking” on a Lake County purchase contract with MES.


Levy County 4-H
Summer Camp proves successful

Levy County 4-H Day Camp
Children feed a giraffe at a local zoo during the All About Animals day camp.
Photos Provided By Levy County 4-H Agent Jessica Emerson
By Jeff M. Hardison © July 30, 2022 at 3:12 p.m.
     BRONSON –
After 2020 where there was no Levy County 4-H Summer Camp and the summer of 2021, when camp was a modified version due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the summer of 2022 heralded a success story in that program, according to information provided Friday (July 29) by Levy County 4-H Agent Jessica Emerson.

Levy County 4-H Day Camp
A 4-H camper shows off the bream he caught at UF/IFAS Fisheries.

Levy County 4-H Day Camp
Participants practice casting techniques before putting their lines in the water.

Levy County 4-H Day Camp
Campers grill many things during the Grill Masters day camp, including zucchini.

Levy County 4-H Day Camp
Campers work on crafts during Crafty Cloverbuds.

© July 30, 2022 at 3:12 p.m.
Campers enjoy a beautiful day on canoes in the Suwannee River, which is part of their time at Manatee Springs State Park.

© July 30, 2022 at 3:12 p.m.
Levy County 4-H Campers make new friends during summer day camps.

     This summer, Emerson noted, Levy County 4-H hosted children between the ages of 5 and 13 years old, during the seven weeks of day camps. Camp themes this year consisted of Ag Discovery, All About Animals, Cooking Around the World, Healthy Living & Wilderness Adventures, Crafty Cloverbuds, Grill Masters and Fishing, Emerson said. 
     Levy County 4-H Agent Emerson said she is excited about the future of the day camping program, and she is eager to see the participation in the program grow.
     The planning process for 2023 summer camps has started and the 4-H staff members are excited to share new opportunities with campers, Emerson said. 
     This year, campers took many field trips to local agriculture producers, she said.
     Among the total spectrum of field trips, the day campers went to the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station at Cedar Key. They toured a local zoo. Campers participated in local day hikes. They visited the University of Florida Meat Lab. They learned, too, at, the UF/IFAS Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.
     During the seven-week sojourn of fun and learning, campers also visited Silver Springs, the Cedar Key fishing pier, and they went canoeing as they launched from Manatee Springs State Park to paddle on the Suwannee River, Emerson said.
     Through these field trips, campers were exposed to many learning opportunities and chances for fun that many may not have had otherwise, Emerson added.
     The youthful campers who attended these day camps not only had fun while learning, but they were given opportunities to improve valuable life skills, Emerson said. The activities provided during day camps gave those participants chances to work as teams, foster a good sense of self-esteem, and practice sharing and communicating with others -- all while instilling belonging among all campers, Emerson said. 
     Information about the 2023 summer camps will be publicized in April.
     “We urge those interested in attending camps to register early once registration opens to ensure your camper’s spot!” Emerson said, adding, “The 4-H program is an all-inclusive youth organization that offers a variety of youth involvement ranging from school-based programs to community clubs. Students are encouraged to join 4-H and find their passion by exploring the many opportunities the program has to offer.”
     For more information about the Levy County 4-H Program, and for enrollment information, please contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office at 352-486-5131.


Poverty-reducing agency
presents information

Central Florida Community Action Agency Chief Executive Officer Caroline W. Ruff-Looney provides the Levy County Commission with information on.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © July 21, 2022, at 10:12 a.m.
     BRONSON --
Caroline W. Ruff-Looney, who on Jan. 25 was announced as the new chief executive officer of Central Florida Community Action Agency (CFCAA), shared information with the Levy County Board of County Commissioner at the regular twice-monthly commission meeting on Tuesday (July 19).


Caroline W. Ruff-Looney (at the podium) answers a question for Levy County resident Renate Cannon (seated) during the July 19 meeting.

     CFCCA CEO Ruff-Looney spoke about the private, nonprofit, community-based organization whose purpose is to reduce poverty and help low-income individuals and families become self-sufficient in Alachua, Levy and Marion counties.
     CFCAA is committed to helping people strengthen their lives through community partnerships. The agency has offices in each of the three counties it serves.
     The mission, vision and core values of the CFCCA were shared with listeners by the community-oriented leader who noted the following.
     Mission: Our mission is to promote economic mobility by helping people living in poverty achieve self-sufficiency.
     Vision: We envision a future where the citizens we serve achieve and maintain a standard of living above the established federal poverty guidelines.
     Core Values: 
     ● Respect -- Treat everyone with dignity and respect
     ● Customer-Focused -- Implement a customer-focused approach by removing barriers to self-sufficiency and economic mobility
     ● Excellence -- Maintain a high level of excellence in service delivery and operations
     ● Advocacy -- Exhibit strong leadership in advocacy efforts to improve the lives of individuals and communities
     ● Innovation -- Promote innovation by creating an inclusive culture that embraces change and creates unconventional ideas
     In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” and created the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. Working with the poverty task force created by President John F. Kennedy, President Johnson created the Office of Economic Opportunity to administer a wide variety of poverty prevention and alleviation programs created under the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, the community action agency leader said as she spoke to the County Commission.
     CFCCA was incorporated in 1981, is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, she said.
     There are 15 members of the CFCCA Board of Directors, including Chiefland City Commission Lance Hayes and Levy County Housing Planner Marlon Gayle, who leads the State Housing Initiative Partnership program in Levy County.
     There are 22 employees for the CFCCA, Ruff-Looney said.
     The agency helps 11,000 individuals in 4,200 households annually, she said.
     During the COVID-19 global pandemic, Ruff-Looney said, the agency was able to provide up to $5,000 in rental assistance per household. As she went over figures, Ruff-Looney said the average monthly rent in Levy County is more than $1,000.
     CFCCA can help residents with utility issues through its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
     The top four community needs this agency sees now for Alachua County, Marion County and Levy County are employment, housing, transportation and education.
     For more information about CFCCA, visit the website https://www.cfcaa.org/.


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