Spring brings
more activity from Florida’s wildlife

Be Aware Of Wildlife
A young deer is seen in Florida. Spring is here. The FWC reminds people to be aware of wildlife and avoid conflicts with them.

Story and Photos Provided
By Lisa Thompson of the FWC
Published March 23, 2023 at 8:30 a.m.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds all residents and visitors in Florida that many native wildlife species are more active during this time of year.



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     By becoming more aware of spring wildlife activity, Florida residents and visitors alike can help conserve our native species and reduce conflicts with them.
     As spring brings warmer weather across the state, several species of wildlife become more active for migration, breeding, feeding and nesting. This increased level of wildlife activity means that people could be more likely to encounter wildlife and should take precautions to avoid disrupting these natural behaviors and prevent conflicts with wildlife.
     Here are tips on how to enjoy and help conserve Florida wildlife during spring. (Click on the underlined words to go to the website to read more.)
     • Bats – Spring is when bats start to give birth and raise their young. Bat maternity season starts April 15 and runs through Aug. 15. During this time, it is illegal to block bats from their roosts. If bats are excluded during maternity season, flightless baby bats can be trapped inside the structure and die. Now is the time to do final spring checks of your home for any entry points, ensure that no bats are present and make any necessary repairs. If bats are found, you should take steps to properly install a bat exclusion device before bat maternity season begins. Exclusion devices, which allow bats to exit a structure but block them from returning to roosts, are the only legal and appropriate method to remove bats from your home or building.

Be Aware Of Wildlife
Florida bears are potentially going to raid garbage cans and the like. Here the FWC provides advice how to avoid issues with these big, furry animals.

     • Bears - As spring temperatures warm, bears become more active, increasing the opportunities for potential conflicts with people. During this time of year, females are teaching their cubs what to eat and the skills necessary to survive. Help make sure that eating garbage, pet food or bird seed in your yard is not part of that learning experience by removing attractants from your property. If bears can’t find food sources in your yard or neighborhood, they will move on.
     • Gopher Tortoises - Spring days are a good time to spot a gopher tortoise, as Florida’s only native tortoise becomes more active, foraging for food and searching for a mate. If you see gopher tortoises or their half-moon shaped burrow entrances, it is best to leave them alone. You can help a gopher tortoise cross a road by picking it up and placing it in a safe location along the roadside in the direction it was heading. But only do this if it is safe for you to do so and remember the tortoise is a land animal, so never attempt to put it into water.
     • Injured and Orphaned Wildlife  - If you find a baby animal, it is best to leave it alone. Young animals are rarely orphaned; a parent may be nearby searching for food. You can report common wildlife you think could be injured or orphaned to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. For further guidance, you can contact the nearest FWC Regional Office.

Be Aware Of Wildlife
These manatees in the Santa Fe River are like the other manatees boaters need to avoid as best as possible. Spring is among the times that are critical to be on the lookout for manatees.

     • Manatees – As manatees leave their winter habitats and travel the waterways along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and other inland waters, chances of close encounters between manatees and boaters increase. Go slow and look out below for manatees when boating or using personal watercraft. For boaters and personal watercraft users, it is a critical time to be on the lookout for manatees to avoid collisions with these large aquatic mammals. Boaters should follow posted speed limits as many areas have seasonal zones in spring that reflect manatee migration patterns.

     • Nesting Waterbirds - Keep your distance from birds on the beach or on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Disturbance can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, which exposes their eggs and chicks to predators, sun exposure and other harm. Because shorebirds and seabirds build well-camouflaged shallow nests out of sand and shells on beaches, their nests, eggs and chicks are vulnerable to being stepped on unless people look out for them. Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, and pelicans also are nesting now on mangroves and tree islands.

Be Aware Of Wildlife
Large marine turtles start nesting on Florida beaches in spring. Help them continue as a species by reading methods to not hurt them.

     • Sea Turtles – These large marine turtles start nesting on Florida beaches in spring. You can help by keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles during their March through October nesting season. Artificial lighting can disturb nesting sea turtles and disorient hatchlings, so avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Turn out lights or close curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark to ensure nesting turtles aren’t disturbed. Clear away boats and beach furniture at the end of the day and fill in holes in the sand that could entrap turtles.

Be Aware Of Wildlife
Be on the lookout for snakes in spring.

     • Snakes – Keep an eye out for snakes in your yard or when hiking, as they could be encountered more as the weather warms. What should you do if you come upon a native snake? Just give them space. Snakes don't purposefully position themselves to frighten people and usually try to avoid encounters.
     If you witness someone committing a wildlife violation, please contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text 847411 (Tip411) with keyword “FWC” and information about the violation.


Democrats Have Fun
Levy County Democrats
Levy County Democrats had fun in Cedar Key on March 18 as they celebrated and raised funds for the local political party. The Levy County Democratic Party had a True Blue Gathering in Cedar Key this weekend. In excess of 100 people danced to lively DJ music, outbid each other at a live auction, ate delicious food from The Island Room, enjoyed the friendship of many Democrats and other friends, celebrated some good news and discussed some legislative concerns. Kristine Switt, Chair of the Levy County Democratic Party, and helpers Joe Switt, Gussie Boatwright and Donna Bushnell planned and organized the fun event. Seen here, Kristine Switt, Gussie Boatwright and Joe Switt get into the swing of things on the dance floor.

Levy County Democrats
Brandon Peters shares a few words about his campaign for the Florida House of Representatives District 22, and he was given many praises for his effort by the people in the audience.

Levy County Democrats
The live auction run by Joe Switt, an auctioneer of extraordinary talent and grace, and this auction included a wide variety of items on which to bid.

Levy County Democrats
Kim Hudson of Levy County Education Association informs the people about several bills now in the Florida Legislature that will affect public school students and teachers in negative ways if they are adopted and signed into law by the governor.

Published March 22, 2023 at 8:30 a.m.
Information and Photos Provided By Donna Bushnell


Appleton Museum of Art announces
2023 summer art camp schedule
Registration begins April 3
Spaces fill quickly

Appleton Summer Art Camp
Children enjoy art projects and activities at the Appleton Musuem of Art’s Summer Art Camp. 

Information and Photos Provided
By CF Marketing, Public and Community Relations
Published March 13, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2023 at 9 a.m.
     OCALA —
The Appleton Museum of Art, College of Central Florida, is the place to be for ages 5 years and older to have a fun, art-filled summer vacation. From drawing to painting to fashion, there’s an art camp for every young creative to enjoy.

Appleton Museum of Art Summer Camp For Children
An art camper shows her work at the Appleton Museum of Art’s Summer Art Camp. 

Appleton Museum of Art Summer Camp For Children
Art campers enjoy their creative exercises at the Appleton Museum of Art’s Summer Art Camp. 

     These half-day camps are in person and appropriate for all skill levels; no experience is necessary! Registration begins April 3 at https://www.appletonmuseum.org/. Spaces fill quickly.
     Discounts on camp are available for those who are Appleton members at the Family/Dual Level or above. For questions about Summer Art Camp, contact Hollis Mutch, mutchh@cf.edu, or call 352-291-4455, ext. 1613.

2023 Summer Art Camp Schedule
June 5-9

     ● Shapin’ Up (Ages 5-7), 9 a.m.-noon
Be a shape detective to gather facts and collect evidence of how shapes are used in art. Use your discoveries to create your own shape sensations! $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Ashley Condie
     ● Florida Wildlife (Ages 8-12), 9 a.m.-noon
From the forest to the rivers to the sea, explore the wonderous wildlife that call Florida their home. Recreate the beauty of these creatures, great and small, in your own artwork. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Jeanne Baines
     ● Fashion Fun Jr. (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
It’s all about fashion! This week is full of dreaming, designing and creating wearable art using a variety of techniques. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Maritza Jauregui-Rodriguez
     ● Superheroes (Ages 13+), 1-4 p.m.
Artists assemble! Get inspiration from fine art, comics and movies to create an alternate universe through painting, drawing and three-dimensional art. WHAAM! $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Vanessa Fuller Brown

June 12-16
     ● Meet the Artists (Ages 5-7), 9 a.m.-noon
Through art and stories, pint-sized Picassos will be introduced to a new artist each day and use a variety of materials to make art. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Ruth Dexheimer
     ● Superheroes Jr. (Ages 8-12), 9 a.m.-noon
What’s your superpower? Get inspiration from fine art, comics and movies to create an alternate universe through painting, drawing and three-dimensional art. WHAAM! $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Vanessa Fuller Brown
     ● Horsin’ Around (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
Do you love horses? Learn all about this majestic animal and its history while creating your own equine inspired works of art. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Jeanne Baines
     ● Fashion Fun (Ages 13+), 1-4 p.m.
It’s all about fashion! This week is full of dreaming, designing and creating wearable art using a variety of techniques. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Maritza Jauregui-Rodriguez

 June 19-23
     ● Paint Your HeART (Ages 5-7), 9 a.m.-noon
Do you LOVE to paint? We do, too! This week will focus on having fun and creating colorful works of art with paint. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Ashley Condie
     ● African Adventure (Ages 8-12), 9 a.m.-noon
Learn about Africa’s animals and the cultural arts from the many countries on this beautiful continent. From the giraffes of South Africa to stunning jewelry from Nigeria, get inspired and create a variety of unique two- and three-dimensional works of art. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: E. Marie Fielding
     ● Architecture FUNdamentals (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
What does an architect do? Learn about architecture while having FUN drawing, painting and designing buildings. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Michel Yeuell
     ● Printmaking and Illustration (Ages 13+), 1-4 p.m.
Use a real printing press to discover and practice different types of printmaking. Then, combine these artistic processes with illustration. Let’s see what we can create! $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Tasha Strigle

July 10-14
     ● Meet the Artists (Ages 5-7), 9 a.m.-noon
Through art and stories, pint-sized Picassos will be introduced to a new artist each day and use a variety of materials to make art. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Staci Moore
     ● Color Wonderful (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
Color your world this week with a kaleidoscope of art projects, including making your own kaleidoscope! Color awareness skills will be explored while creating brilliant works of art. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Maritza Jauregui-Rodriguez

July 10-21 (Two-Week Camp)
     ● Dig Into Clay Jr. (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
This two-week class will focus on clay every day! Learn the basics of hand building, glazing and more. $210 Appleton members; $245 nonmembers. Instructor: Jamie Roche

July 17-21
     ● Sketch It! Jr. (Ages 8-12), 9 a.m.-noon
Learn about perspective, shading, realism and using color to make drawings come alive. Explore different materials like charcoal, pen and ink, and even watercolor pencil. This is about what you want to learn with no pressure. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Kim Harac
     ● Painting Possibilities (Ages 13+), 1-4 p.m.
Spend a week discovering new painting techniques while creating with acrylics, watercolor and mixed media. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Jordan Shapot

July 24-28
     ● Myths & Legends (Ages 8-12), 9 a.m.-noon
What is a myth or a legend? You decide as they’ll be in your artwork this week. Get your imagination ready for a dream experience. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Michel Yeuell
     ● Wonky Sculpture (Ages 8-12), 1-4 p.m.
Do you like to build things? Work with wood, plastics and other assorted materials to make 3D sculptures. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: E. Marie Fielding
     ● Sketch It (Ages 13+), 1-4 p.m.
Love to draw? Learn about perspective, shading, realism and using color to make drawings come alive. Explore different materials like charcoal, pen and ink, and even watercolor pencil. $130 Appleton members; $150 nonmembers. Instructor: Cheyenne Rudolph
     The Appleton Museum, Artspace and Store are open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. A campus of the College of Central Florida, the Appleton Museum of Art is located at 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala, east of downtown on SR 40 (exit 352 east off I-75 or exit 268 west off I-95). Parking is free. For more information, call 352-291-4455 or visit https://www.appletonmuseum.org/.


FWC officers target marine debris
for removal in Cedar Key

By Ashlee Sklute of the FWC
Published March 13, 2023 at 10 a.m.
     CEDAR KEY --
Five officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) participated in “Operation Clear Out of Sight” to remove marine debris in and around Cedar Key.

     The officers partnered with the FWC’s Marine Debris Removal Program, the Florida Department of Environment Protection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to remove the debris.
     The officers and partners filled five large dumpsters, including a roll-back trailer, with the marine debris they removed. It is estimated one dumpster alone contained in excess of 1,600 pounds of removed debris.
     Lost and abandoned marine debris can trap marine organisms, visually pollute and damage sensitive habitats, and become a navigational hazard.
     Trapping and fishing debris might remain in the water during a closed season for many reasons. It can move during storms, making it difficult to locate; it can be snagged by passing vessels and dragged to another area; or it can be illegally abandoned by its owners.
     The FWC currently has two programs dedicated to removing lost and abandoned traps from state waters: the Spiny Lobster, Stone Crab and Blue Crab Trap Retrieval Program and the Derelict Trap and Trap Debris Removal Program. For more information, click HERE.
     There, you will find information about organized clean-up events, which must have prior approval.


Williston honors
State Champion Boys Basketball Team

Williston’s state champion boys varsity basketball team is pictured with its coaches. Seen here are (from left) Assistant Coach Kori Lamb, Head Coach Jim Ervin, senior Jethian Merced, senior Greg Maxwell, freshman Marcus Appling, junior Javon Brown, sophomore Jackson Islam, junior Reggie White, senior Kyree Edwards, junior Kyler Lamb, senior Corey Jelks, sophomore Nekhei Seabrook, freshman Deandre Harvey and Assistant Coach Carl James Sr. Not shown is junior Quincy Parker.

Story and Photos
By Terry Witt, HardisonInk Correspondent
© March 12, 2023 at 10 a.m.
Williston honored its state champion basketball team Saturday (March 11) with a celebration at Homestead Park, a City Council proclamation read by the mayor, a ride in a city fire truck and finally a net-cutting ceremony in front of hometown fans at the school gymnasium.

     “These men we have before us are the pride of our city. Let us appreciate the effort they put in and all they have accomplished,” Williston Mayor Charles Goodman said as team members and their coaches lined up below him at Homestead Park.
     The 2023 Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A State Champions – the Williston Middle High School Red Devils finished the season 25-7. They beat Chipley (Washington County) High School Tigers 58-49 in the championship game in Lakeland (Polk County) using their well-honed defensive skills to win the school’s first state championship title in varsity basketball in school history.


Reggie Williams starts the net-cutting ceremony by slicing off the first piece. Each player on the team cut off a piece of the net for a keepsake from their state championship run.

Williston Mayor Charles Goodman presents Head Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Jim Ervin with a proclamation commending the Williston Middle High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team for its state championship season.

Members of the 2023 state champion Williston boys basketball team accept congratulations in front of an admiring crowd at Homestead Park.

Williston City Manager Terry Bovaird (left), City Council President Debra Jones and City Clerk Latricia Wright (right) stand with Coach Jim Ervin for winning Williston's first basketball state championship, as Coach Ervin holds the proclamation from the city.

Assistant Coach Carl James Sr. holds the trophy as Lenora Folston, sister of the late Isaac JeWade ‘Ike’ Floyd who played in the 2011 final four FHSAA state championship series for Williston but was later lost in a tragic car wreck on Dec. 17, 2011. Folston said players on this year's team talked about her brother during the season. She said other players from the 2011 season spent time with this year's team encouraging players to strive for the championship.

Members of the state championship team ride on top of a Wiiliston Fire Truck for the trip down Main Street to the Williston Middle High School gymnasium for the final festivities of the day.

Part of the fun at the gymnasium was having the younger children shooting buckets at the far end of the gym and community and team members shooting baskets at the other end.

     Coach Jim Ervin, in his third year as head varsity boys basketball coach, said the team was intensely coached to employ a stingy defense. They held every team to a score in the 40s, he said, a tactic that worked well in the semi-final game of the state tournament when the Red Devils beat Franklin County 54-37 and against state runner-up Chipley, which never cracked the 50-point mark.
     “That probably was the key to our season – defense. We always said if we hold teams in the 40s, we will win every game on the schedule,” Ervin said. “If you look at it, the teams we held in the 40s, we won every basketball game. Our key all season was playing defense and that got better as the season went. You can get a lot of easy baskets on the other end by playing good defense and scoring in transition.”
     Ervin said he preached playing team ball throughout the season. In the early going, he said the Red Devils were playing more like individuals than a single unit, but as the season progressed, they came together as a family and got better every game.
     The Red Devils were 6-0 in the district and at one point had an 8-0 winning streak. They never trailed in the state championship game against Chipley, the team Ervin felt was their strongest opponent.
     He said Greg Maxwell, a senior guard for Williston, contributed a great deal throughout the season to the basketball program. He is being offered college basketball scholarships. Ervin and Maxwell are waiting to see who makes the best offer. Ervin said Kyree Edwards also made a big contribution to the team.
     “Kyree Edwards came in as a football player and a non-basketball player and became a team leader in the locker room and the court,” Coach Ervin said. “I’ve got to give Kyree Edwards a lot of credit for how we bonded at the end of the season. The bonding is important. In any sport if you can’t play as one, you’ll struggle especially when it comes to tournament time.”
     Team members traveled on a charter bus to Lakeland and stayed in a hotel for their entire time in the tournament, courtesy members of the Williston community who quickly raised $9,500 for the trip. Players weren’t given a lot of fun time in Lakeland. 
     Their mission was to win a state championship. They stayed on task, practicing two or three hours every day during the state tournament at two college gyms - Florida Southern gym or the Southeast University gym, courtesy of those two schools.
     “There wasn’t much free time when they had just enjoyment,” Ervin said. “One night we went bowling. Other than that, we were on a mission to win a state championship.”
     Eight members of the championship team will return for next season. They will begin preparing for what they hope will be back-to-back state championships with weightlifting on Monday. Six of the returning star members of the team play nothing but basketball. Two other basketball team members play football as well as basketball.
     Ervin complimented his group of dedicated assistant coaches -- Adiener Feliciano, C.J. James Jr., Carl James Sr., Kori Lamb and Rafaheal Salgado. He said he likes to surround himself with talented assistant coaches willing to lend their skills and time to make the team better. He said they made enormous contributions in training the players.
     The head coach also thanked the community for supporting the team for the entire season. When the team played games in other communities, Ervin said Williston fans nearly always outnumbered the hometown fans. He said it made a great deal of difference for his young men to see the community was behind them.


Spring is here
Some spring flowers show weather is ahead of the calendar. Spring actually starts on March 20.
Photos By Jeff M. Hardison © March 10, 2023 at 3 p.m.


Levy County parks
opening March 18 and April 1

Information Provided By Office Manager Susan Billings
Levy County Mosquito Control and Levy County Parks & Recreation
Published March 8, 2023 at 9 a.m.

     BRONSON – Two parks that are popular destinations and which open each spring are set to open soon.

Blue Springs Opens March 18
     Levy County’s Blue Springs Park, 4550 N.E. 94th Place, Bronson, is scheduled to open March 18 for Spring Break and the 2023 Season.
     The park will open at 10 a.m. with gates closing at 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
     Park Admission is $2 per person -- cash only.
     Concessions will be available or bring your own picnic items.
     Pavilions are on first-come/first-serve basis.
     Alcoholic beverages are prohibited. Park rules and regulations will be enforced.

Henry Beck Park Opens April 1
     Henry Beck Park will open for the 2023 Season on Saturday, April 1.
     The park will be open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
     Admission and hours of operation are the same as stated above for Levy County’s Blue Springs Park.
     The office phone number for Levy County Mosquito Control or Levy County Parks & Recreation is 352-486-5326.


Report horseshoe crab
sightings to FWC for science 

Horseshoe Crabs
Story and Photo Provided
By Carly Jones of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Published March 6, 2023 at 9:30 a.m.
It’s almost spring and that means it’s peak mating season for horseshoe crabs.

     Help biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) gather valuable information about these ancient creatures by reporting sightings on the online survey. 
     Click HERE for the online survey. 
     Horseshoe crabs mate by pairing up with a smaller male attached to a larger female. They then crawl onto the beach up to the high tide line, the female digs a nest and lays her eggs, all while the male is attached and fertilizing the freshly laid eggs. They mate year-round but it is most common to see mating groups along the shore of sandy lower-wave action beaches in March and April as well as September and October. Beachgoers will have the best luck spotting horseshoe crabs around high tide, within a few days of a new or full moon. 
     Reporting horseshoe crab sightings provides valuable information to the FWC about habitat use, population distribution and environmental conditions for nesting. Although horseshoe crabs have existed for more than 450 million years, scientists are still learning about Florida populations. Public sighting information helps FWC researchers target nesting beaches for the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program, a citizen-science based initiative to collect data throughout the state. 
     If you see a horseshoe crab on its back, you can help it flip back over by gently picking it up (holding both sides of the shell), turning it over and releasing it back into the water. Simple actions like this help conserve this species and the many other species that depend on it.


2023 Earth Day Art Contest
set for 4th through 12th graders
March 1- April 10

Earth Day Contest 2023
Information and Graphic Provided
By Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Published March 4, 2023 at 3:34 p.m.

On April 22, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will join the global celebration of Earth Day.
     This yearly observance mobilizes efforts of more than one billion people across the world who are dedicated to the protection of the environment for future generations. Join DEP and Earth Day 2023 in our mission to recognize efforts in building and sustaining Florida's environment including it's air, water, land and ecosystems.
     Within this theme, fourth through twelfth grade students are encouraged to participate in Earth Day 2023 by joining a statewide poster contest. The theme of Earth Day 2023 is "Invest in Our Planet."  
     Students are asked to design a poster that reflects how they take care of the environment. Rules and Guidelines are available online. Visit the DEP website for more ways to observe Earth Day 2023.
     The 2023 Earth Day Poster Contest is from March 1 through  April 10.
     Any materials can be used as long as the work is original and done as a drawing, painting or digital piece. Entry forms must be included along with the submission. 
     Winning students will be selected from each age group (fourth through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade, and ninth through twelfth grade) in each of DEP's six district regions and will receive day-passes for entrance to a Florida State Park.
     Regional winners will be entered into a statewide contest for a full-size printed poster of their art. The winners will be announced in late April 2023. For a full list of contest guidelines, please visit DEP's Earth Day website by clicking HERE.


Dixie County tourism increases
Possible new license fee proposed
for some businesses in Dixie County

Kay Mc of TDC Dixie
Kay McCallister of the Dixie County Tourist Development Council (TDC) speaks to the County Commission on March 2.

Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © March 3, 2023 at 11:30 a.m.
     CROSS CITY --
Kay McCallister of the Dixie County Tourist Development Council (TDC) told the Dixie County Commission on March 2 that tourism increased by 20 percent in 2021-2022 in comparison with the previous year.

     Most of the tourists in Dixie County, McCallister said, are oriented toward eco-tourism, and those folks enjoy and respect the lifestyle of rural North Florida, McCallister said.
     Like every other TDC in the state, Dixie County’s marketing agency is funded by what is known as a “bed tax.” Tourists pay a certain percentage of their bills at hotels, motels, RV resorts, bed and breakfast establishments and the like, and those funds go directly toward the purpose of attracting more tourists to the county.
     Putting tourists’ heads in beds is the prime directive of most TDCs in Florida.
     Jobs in agriculture, jobs in government and jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries are among the top economic engines in Dixie County.
     Also in her report to the County Commission, McCallister asked the five elected leaders to consider a type of fee-collection method that is not used in the TDCs of Levy County or Gilchrist County.
     She wants all providers of services where the TDC receives revenue from the bed tax to be required to be licensed.
     “This license could be worded,” McCallister said, “so that it helps protect the county in liability.”
     She said this license will be recorded with Dixie County Emergency Services and the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office for use as emergency contact information. 
     McCallister said this application process can include the users see county and state regulations related to their industry, including the requirements and methods for them to collect and pay the state sales tax and the tax for tourism development.
     Other issues related to tourist accommodations relate to proper parking, staying within noise limits and not allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages by underaged individuals, McCallister said.
     There is a problem with the proposal, McCallister said. It will require more Dixie County government resources to administer the license sales, as well as the enforcement of the proposed new local legislation. For instance, Dixie County Tax Collector Michelle F. Cannon may become involved with the process as far as the preliminary suggested plan by McCallister shows now.
     Tax Collector Cannon may offer a method to pay the TDC license fee online, or this online option may be connected with the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners’ website.
     This TDC license concept is still in its infancy.
     McCallister said she has spoken with companies that will perform these actions as independent contractors for the Dixie County government. 
     “Most of them charge a very high fee for this service,” McCallister said. 
     Instead, McCallister suggested finding a local worker to perform the job and they would be paid with some percentage of the TDC licensing fee. This fee amount she first mentioned was $50, although she did not say if that was a monthly or annual fee.
     McCallister shared a method to locate Dixie County businesses that are required to pay the bed tax, if a worker wanted to commit to an offer of a commission for whatever service comes to be in that aspect of this concept. 
     McCallister said the TDC board determined that assuring the bed tax and sales tax are coming to Dixie County as they should is important.    
     Dixie County Commissioner Mark Hatch said parking by tourists is a problem in some areas. They park on neighbors’ property, and they block egress and ingress that may be needed by emergency first responders.
     Hatch said the proposed $50 TDC license fee is too low of a fee to move forward with this plan.
      Hatch said that moving forward with this initial concept, assuring better parking scenarios and being certain to cover the administrative costs of the Dixie County TDC license are vital.
     With that, County Commissioner Hatch’s motion for the county staff to move forward with this action was seconded by County Commissioner David Osteen. That motion met with positive votes from those two gentlemen and County Commission Chairman Jamie Storey and County Commissioner Daniel Wood III. County Commission Vice Chairman Jody Stephenson was absent from the March 2 meeting.



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