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County Commission agrees
to fund 50 new kennels
for Levy County Animal Services;

Benefactor pledges
to reimburse lion’s share of project

Fubabce Officer Jared Blanton
Levy County Finance Officer Jared Blanton, CPA, sits in his office in the Levy County Courthouse on Tuesday morning (Feb. 19) during an interview. Blanton works in the office of Levy County Clerk and Comptroller Danny J. Shipp. Blanton helped the County Commission have the ability to properly accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations in reimbursement over time from Bob Echols, president of For Our Friends The Animals, where Echols has agreed to help the county significantly improve the holding area for stray dogs and cats in Levy County.

Story, Photos and Video
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 20, 2019 at 10:39 a.m.
Architectural Drawings Provided By Levy County Commission

The Levy Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to significantly improve the housing unit for animals at the Levy County Animal Services facility, located on the property near the solid waste transfer station between Bronson and Williston.

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Site plan for kennel building location in Levy County

Draft of kennel layout in Levy County

View of Kennel structure in Levy County
The drawings above are some of the architectural work before the first shovel breaks ground on the project. Levy County Animal Services Director David Weatherford promised there will be a groundbreaking ceremony when this project starts. During his professional career as the leader of Levy County Animal Services, Weatherford has continually improved the county’s handling of problems of cat and dog overpopulation, and other issues related to animals in Levy County.
Architectural drafts provided by the Levy County Board of County Commissioners

Needles The Community Cat in Jemlands Levy County

Needles The Community Cat in Jemlands Levy County
The two photos above are of Needles the cat. He is the first of many community cats that have been spayed or neutered in Levy County. This program is helping reduce the overpopulation of feral cats in the county. Needles is definitely a community cat, finding people in the unrecorded subdivision of Jemlands who feed him and give him water. He not going to be any female cats’ kitten-daddy, because of Levy County’s program to sterilize cats that are captured in the wild, neutered or spayed, and then returned to their lives as outdoor neighborhood cats. Needles has his left ear tip removed to show that he is not a viable kitten-maker. The City of Cedar Key adopted a similar program years ago to help control its cat overpopulation.

     In an interview Thursday morning (Feb. 21), County Commissioner Rock Meeks said the County Commission agrees with a plan to accept a significant donation for the project that will add 50 kennels, as well as add rooms for other needed operations in the department that provides the public service of the collection and management of stray and abandoned cat and dogs.
     An interview with Levy County Commission Vice Chairman Matt Brooks the day before (Wednesday, Feb. 20) reflected the same truth.
     Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks said in a telephone interview on Thursday morning (Feb. 21) that he is pleased the county has a partner who is willing and able to help improve the lives of Levy County’s furry friends while they wait for their forever homes.
     Robert M. "Bob" Echols of Ocala, the founder and president of For Our Friends The Animals, let the county staff know that he wanted to donate to help improve the facility for Levy County Animal Services. He is the friend of Levy County to whom Chairman Meeks referred.
     From the point where Echols let county staff know of his intent, architectural drawings have been created and discussion about the County Maintenance and Construction Department completing a lot of the work has happened.
     And then it came time to put this project in the budget.
     Finance Officer Jared Blanton, CPA, let the County Commission know, however, that County Clerk Danny Shipp, who is the comptroller for the County Commission, could not approve the project for $220,000, or so, because Echols and the For Our Friends The Animals is not the state government or federal government.
     Blanton explained that Comptroller Shipp is tasked with protecting the County Commission’s assets. When Blanton creates a budget, the revenue side of the ledger is as important as the expenditure side of the books. A private donor’s promise for reimbursement is not appropriate to budget for future expenses, Blanton said.
     Therefore, Blanton offered the County Commission a work-around. By transferring $300,000 from the capital outlay reserve for the project that is estimated in the $225,000 range for materials for completion, this is now able to be budgeted properly.
     Some of the cost of the project is being logged as the Levy County Maintenance and Construction Department’s labor costs. Jimmy Jones leads the construction and maintenance department, and that group’s work will be noted in this construction project.
     As Echols donates to the county, Blanton said, those funds will go back into the reserve part of the budget, from whence they were transferred.
     Blanton said the County Commission must, in this case, budget as if it was not going to be reimbursed by the donor. If this was money coming from the state or federal governments as a grant or as a grant-loan agreement, Blanton said, that would be different – because those bigger governments are more acceptable for that type of budgeting purpose.
     Given Echols’ continual proof of being trustworthy and of caring about the wellbeing of animals, Blanton said, the County Commission chose to accept his word as being equal to a grant from a larger government, rather than from a private interest.
     Blanton said that after this transfer, there is about $600,000 in that reserve fund.
     Meanwhile, Echols is well-established as a benefactor for animals in Levy County. He is the reason there is a Cat Room at Levy County Animal Services.
     To see the story on that 2016 Cat Room action, click HERE.

In this video, Bob Echols cuts the ribbon to open The Cat Room in 2016.
Video by Jeff M. Hardison
All Rights Reserved

Participate in free workshop
about money and get
a free dinner, and potentially
win $100 electric bill payment

By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 19, 2019 at 3:29 p.m.
One of the 20 people who complete two, two-hour sessions of learning about money matters on two evenings will win a $100 utility bill credit - paid to Central Florida Electric Cooperative, Duke Energy, the City of Williston, Clay Electric or whomever.
     On March 7 and March 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. both evenings, the two-day Money Matters Workshop is scheduled to be presented by Bishop James Dixon of Catholic Charities.
     The free workshop is set to be at the Tri-County Community Resource Center, 15 N. Main St. (U.S. Highway 19), in Chiefland. 
     Free dinner is provided. This event is being sponsored by Tri-County Community Resource Center, Catholic Charities and the Partnership for Strong Families.
     This program is open to anyone who is 18 years or older.
     Bishop Dixon is said to be an excellent speaker. This program is part of a growing financial literacy program, endorsed by the Catholic Charities of Gainesville.
     It will cover topics such as budgeting, saving, credit-debit repair, as well as to explore why and how people spend money.
     Everyone will have a free dinner both nights. Everyone will learn valuable lesson both nights. One person who attends both evenings will win a $100 utility bill credit.
     Space is limited. Call 352-507-4000 to reserve a spot.

Dixie County provides
second Black History celebration

Dixie County Black History 2019
This portrait of Prince B. Oliver Sr. is among the photos that youth could view to learn about leaders in the community.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 27, 2018 at 11:39 p.m.
     CROSS CITY --
Caroline Walker and others provided the second annual Dixie County Black History Celebration in Cross City.

Dixie County Black History 2019
Carolyn Buggs was among the active adult volunteers at this event. Buggs was among the ladies involved in with the Ebony Women’s Club Inc. that exited decades ago in Dixie County. It is not active now, having seen a lack of interest from younger generations of African American women in the county. Buggs was the very first Black African Queen of the Ebony Women’s Club. She earned that crown for the competition in 1970.

     The event happened again at the Johnny Greene Park located on Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Cross City. That park was established in 2016.
     This event is mostly for the children and offers a chance to socialize, play on the playground equipment, enjoy food, compete in cake walks, and learn.
     Among the food items were snow cones, deep-fried fish, hotdogs, hamburgers and nacho cheese. There were soft drinks and water available to drink. It was all free.
     Adults enjoyed playing Bingo for prizes too.

Dixie County Black History 2019
Wilmonteen Smith was present from the start of the event. She was able to enjoy the company of generations of her family members there, all the way through her great-great grandchildren.

     Joining Walker on the committee to make the event come to fruition for the second year were Wilmonteen Smith, Heddie Johnson, Robert L. Robinson, Jenesia Teague, Angela Carter, Chelsea Carter, Connie Carter, Elsie Carter, Florence Carter and others.
     While the event started revving up Saturday afternoon, Smith, who is 82 years old, shared some insight about certain aspects of black history in Dixie County. She especially addressed education before 1957 and after then, through May of 1969 when the Prince B. Oliver High School closed.
     Smith's mother Lona Evans was paid $25 a month in 1957 so that the Prince B. Oliver High School would have students in the 11th and 12th grades. Before 1957, there was no school in Dixie County where black children could attend 11th and 12th grades.
     In fact, Smith said, back before then the black schools would be called training schools or vocational schools "... because they said we could not learn. We had to be trained."
     Before the Prince B. Oliver School existed for black children to attend school separately from white children, the Putnam Paper Co. built the Dixie County Training School, where Smith attended.
     The Putnam Paper Co. also built The Putnam Lodge in Shamrock, Smith said, and that lodge had the first elevator ever to exist in Dixie County.
     Eventually, the Putnam Paper Co. moved to Palatka, she said, and Shamrock’s population quickly dwindled.
     “Back then,” Smith said. “There was no Cross City. It was Old Town, Shamrock and Eugene.”
     The Putnam Paper Co. took the elevator with them when they went to Palatka, Smith said, and they renamed the company the Putnam Lumber Co.
     As for the Dixie County Training School, Smith said, that burned down.
     Before 11th and 12th grades were added for the Prince B. Oliver School for black children, Smith and other Dixie County mothers would send their children to schools in Orlando, Gainesville, Leesburg, Tallahassee and Perry.
     In 1964, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, establishing a federal policy that prohibits racially segregated public accommodations and imposes penalties for racial discrimination in the workplace.
     Although the law has remained in effect for more than a half-century, some people seek to revert to a time before these rights were attained by and for all Americans.

In this eight-second video, Robert L. Robinson and Debbie Hagan Sweem are seen as the make some of the shredded ice for snow cones.
Danielle Fusco, 10, watches as Robert L. Robinson and Debbie Hagan Sweem make shredded ice for snow cones. Sweem is a member of the Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition and she helps in its Friday Night Done Right programs, including as a Snow Cone Technician.
These are some of the gifts that people could win playing Bingo at the Black History Celebration in Dixie County on Saturday.

Dixie County Black History 2019
Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition Event Coordinator Rebecca Fusco mans the information booth at the event. Notice the red carpet leading to the desk and the red velvet ropes. Fusco said this gives an elegant feel to people who seek information from the Coalition. To the left in the picture is something that looks like a small trampoline. However, it is a chair. This is an inviting object, too, she said, that many people enjoy using as they sit and chat with Coalition staff and volunteers.

Black History Dixie County 2019
Jenesia Teague, a committee member for this event, heralds her second year of leading the Cake Walk fun. Here she is seen with just some of the many cakes available to win in the competition. It is a relatively simple game. It’s a cake walk.

Carolyn Cohens leads
a discussion about
Black History in Levy County;

18th annual event packs courtroom


Cedar Key Lions
dine and dance
on Valentine's Day

Cedar Key Lions Club
Susan Rosenthal stands with some of her magnificent dessert creations.

Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 15, 2019 at 4:19 p.m.
     CEDAR KEY --
The Cedar Key Lions Club has hosted a Valentine’s Day Dinner-Dance on Thursday night (Feb. 14) at the Cedar Key Community Center.

Cedar Key Lions Club
Adrianne Doty of The Island Room lifts a cover to show some of the wonderful food provided by the chef there.

Cedar Key Lions Club
Relatively early in the evening, it became clear that having a chair at the table would be a premium. It was very cozy for all of the attendees.

     The 2019 event was sold-out as always, but there seemed to be even more people than chairs. Perhaps, this was to encourage more dancing than onlooking.
     Pictures were taken of sweethearts together by Lion Steve Priessman. People donated a recommended $5 for the pictures, although some donated less and some donated more.
     All of the many officers and members of this Lions Club who were at the event helped make it a resounding success again this year.
     Dinner was prepared by The Island Room and included a fresh salad, rolls, potatoes, vegetables, a beef brisket and a seafood dish that included shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels.
     The desserts were absolutely divine. All of the desserts were homemade by Lion Susan Rosenthal.
     Rosenthal created an angel food cake with Jell-O and strawberries inside and surrounded by whipped cream. Coconut cake, chocolate-covered cherries, German chocolate cake and homemade candy were among the treats she brought to make the evening enjoyable.
     Adult beverages were available for a donation. Some drank those more than others; some donated more than others.
     There was a silent auction as part of the activities to raise funds for the club.
     A number of couples enjoyed chances to dance the night away too.
     For the people who were fortunate enough to buy tickets before they were sold out, it was a wonderful event that evening.
     The extreme closeness of people at the tables made it even more cozy than one might imagine on Valentine's Day. Of course, this offered plenty of opportunities to meet new friends.


Williston man plans to run for
Florida House District 22 seat

Joe Harding
Joe Harding

Photo Provided

By Jeff M. Hardison
© Feb. 8, 2019 at 2:39 p.m.

A man who is a Williston native said he plans to seek the post currently held by Rep. Charlie Stone (R-Ocala, Dist. 22) after the incumbent departs from office, due to term limits.
     Joe Harding announced for the Ocala Star-Banner on Feb. 4 that he plans to run in the race in November of 2020. An Ocala man previously announced the same intention in the same daily Ocala newspaper, according to that publication.
     On Feb. 7, Harding sent his Feb. 4 announcement to
     "Defending the Second Amendment and reducing healthcare costs top Harding’s conservative agenda," are at the top of the news release.
     Those are federal issues and he is planning to run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, a state legislative agency, however it shows voters his inclinations.
     Harding noted that he is "a conservative Republican and seventh generation Floridian who was born and raised in Williston."
     Harding cites ending illegal immigration, outlawing sanctuary cities, and supporting agriculture as key components of his platform. Also topping his agenda are defending Second Amendment rights, protecting all human life, and addressing skyrocketing health insurance and prescription drug costs.
     “Throughout my career, I have seen the negative impact of government overreach firsthand,” Harding noted. “Wasteful government spending and growing bureaucracy do nothing but stifle innovation and job creation. Too much government involvement in the wrong issues is harmful, but so is inaction on issues like opioid addiction, which I’ve also had the experience of witnessing firsthand in friends and employees.”
     Harding noted that he "learned the value of hard work and good stewardship of resources" in his family with 11 siblings, who were "raised by his pastor father and home-schooling mother."
     While studying construction management at Florida International University, he worked multiple jobs to support himself, eventually working his way up into project management roles in which he managed multi-million dollar budgets, diverse clients and demanding timelines, he said in his press release.
     Currently, Harding owns and operates a lawn maintenance company, and horse boarding and training facility, he said.
     Harding and his wife Amanda have three children, he said.
     Florida House of Representatives District 22 includes all of Levy County and the western part of Marion County.


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Berlon Weeks in Bronson Florida
Berlon Weeks is seen standing in his office at Weeks Bail Bonds in Bronson on Feb. 19, 2019. This is moments before singing the Jingle.

Bronson Train Depot Art by Ed Rowe
He wanted to have his picture taken next to the artwork by Ed Rowe of Bronson, in which Rowe depicts the old train depot that used to be in Bronson many years ago.

Photos by Jeff M. Hardison © Feb. 19, 2019 at

108th Jingle Singer

Berlon Weeks of Weeks Bail Bonds in Bronson sings the jingle on Feb. 19, 2019. If you want to sing the jingle, just let Jeff M. Hardison know or send an email to The daily news website publisher asks people to sing it, too, and some of them agree to sing it. (Thanks people!)
Published Feb. 19, 2019 at 3:09 p.m.

© Video by Jeff M. Hardison, All Rights Reserved
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