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Hurricane debris removal
progresses in Gilchrist County
New $1 million Extension
facility is coming
The Gilchrist County Commission on Oct. 2 agreed to a photo opportunity just before the meeting commenced. Seen here (from left) are County Commissioner Kenrick Thomas, County Commissioner Tommy Langford, Commission Chairman Bill Martin, Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith and County Commissioner Sharon Akins Langford.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Oct. 2, 2023 at 10 p.m.
TRENTON – Information at the regular twice-monthly meeting of the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners on Monday evening (Oct. 2) unveiled several positive aspects of this county government.
Debris removal from Hurricane Idalia is progressing well, and the county might not have to dip into its own general fund for the estimated $1.5 million cost of clearing roads and neighborhoods.
In other news from Gilchrist County at the Oct. 2 meeting, advances continue on every front as the five elected officials took action to bring results.
One key project to benefit Gilchrist County in regard to its agricultural interests, including 4-H and FFA as well as row crops and other aspects of this economic engine is a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Gilchrist County Extension Office.
County Commission members – Chairman William “Bill” Martin (Dist. 2), Commission Vice Chairman Darrell Smith (Dist. 3) and commissioners Sharon Akins Langford (Dist. 1), Tommy Langford (Dist. 4) and Kenrick Thomas (Dist. 5) voted unanimously that evening on every motion brought for their votes.
Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office Deputy T. Sanders is the deputy assigned to be on duty for the County Commission meeting. Deputy Sanders protects and serves all of the residents and visitors of Gilchrist County, just as all of the deputies under the command of Sheriff Bobby Schultz serve as One Team – One Mission.
New Extension Office
During his time on the agenda, County Administrator Bobby Crosby mentioned that staff recommends payment of $75,440 by the County Commission to Locklear & Associates.
This is in regard to the $1 million grant awarded for the new UF/IFAS Extension facility to be built in Gilchrist County.
This payment is for the design and civil work, Crosby said.
All of these expenses are covered in that grant, Crosby said.
On a motion by Commissioner Thomas, seconded by Commissioner Tommy Langford, the County Commission voted 5-0 to approve the payment.
Commissioner Smith said he was looking for information about when the project will be completed.
Locklear has completed quite a lot of the work already, Crosby said.
Gilchrist County Grants Coordinator Ryan Clemons said the grant lasts for four years to spend it all, and there are 18 months to “get under contract,” which has been accomplished.
Crosby said Locklear has not pressured the county for payment, but staff wanted to complete the payment for a set of actions in a task order. The county administrator said the county did not want to feel like it was taking advantage of Locklear & Associates.
Crosby said that within four months there is a potential of having a draft of the project plan, and then there will be the process of advertising and accepting bids.
There is a hope to have construction start withing the next seven months, according to what was said at the meeting.
Commissioner Smith said everyone is excited to see the first phase complete, but there is anticipation for phase two as well.
The people of Gilchrist County are grateful for the efforts by Florida House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tempore Charles Wesley "Chuck" Clemons Sr. (R-Newberry, Dist. 22) and State Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island, Dist. 6) for the grant, and to Gov. Ron DeSantis for not line-item vetoing it.
Smith said there are other things the county would like to see funded to be added to the future Gilchrist County Extension Office.
The Gilchrist County Legislative Delegation Hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25 at 10 a.m. with Sen. Bradley and Rep. Clemons. The two capital projects this County Commission is asking the Florida Legislature for this session are funding to help the Solid Waste Department improve its facilities and phase two of the UF/IFAS Extension Office.
Gilchrist County Emergency Management Director Ralph Smith speaks about FEMA setting up at two fire stations’ parking lots. And he provided updates on the progress of hurricane debris removal. Director Smith said that by the county hiring an independent contractor to assist in this mission, the entire cleanup may be funded by federal and state money, in part because the county is fiscally constrained.
As usual Gilchrist County Administrator Bobby Crosby and Gilchrist County Attorney David Miller ‘Duke’ Lang Jr. help the County Commission understand issues to be addressed in the county.
Gilchrist County Clerk Todd Newton provides a review of revenue and expenditures in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2023. There are 60 more days, though, for those costs and income to be recorded. The fiscal year is Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. Among the other items County Clerk Newton brought for consideration was the state aid to libraries agreement. This grant was approved for acceptance and the County Commission spoke well of its public library system.
Among the other actions approved by the Gilchrist County Commission at the Oct. 2 meeting are:
● One meeting in November – Nov. 4, starting at 4 p.m.; One meeting Dec. 4, starting at 4 p.m. and possible one on Dec. 18 at 4 p.m. if needed; and meetings on Jan. 4 and 18, both starting at 4 p.m.
● Gilchrist County will pay 25 percent of the Guardian Ad Litem expenses and Levy County will pay 75 percent of those costs in the fiscal year (which started Oct.1), based on the traffic from the previous year. There were 507 of these cases in Levy County and 170 in Gilchrist County/
● North Florida Professional Services was approved for a $9,835 payment to help Gilchrist County as the county seeks a grant to fund a needed drinking water system at Hart Springs to repair or replace the current drinking water facility. This fee to NFPS is in the budget. The cost estimated to be funded by a grant for a new water tank and system is $150,000 to $160,000.
● Two fire stations in Gilchrist County were approved for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up tents for people to register for FEMA assistance.
● Approval of the Norfleet Sand Pit Reclamation Plan as explained by Gilchrist County Attorney David Miller “Duke” Lang Jr. Attorney Lang said this action started in July with a Special Use Permit that was granted by the County Commission. Staff had recommended the approval, which was unanimously granted.
● Approved attorney Ronald Stevens of Bronson to again be the Value Adjustment Board attorney. The VAB is scheduled to meet Oct. 26 at 9 a.m. in the County Commission meeting room. This is when people who contest the appraised taxable value of their property can bring that before the VAB for consideration.
New ER opens in Silver Springs area
By HCA Florida Ocala Hospital
Published Sept. 30, 2023 at 9:30 a.m.
OCALA – HCA Florida Ocala Hospital announces the opening of a new freestanding ER as part of HCA Florida Healthcare’s continued expansion across the state.
Opening yesterday (Friday, Sept. 29), HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency, an 11,000-square-foot facility at 3741 E. Silver Springs Boulevard, on the west side of Silver Springs Boulevard, provides a full range of medical services for children and adults.
This new, state-of-the-art ER will be staffed with board-certified emergency medicine physicians and nurses, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, just like an emergency room that is housed within the walls of a hospital. Physicians and colleagues will treat a range of general and specific conditions including infections, chest pain and broken bones.
“As the Marion County community expands, the need for 24/7 emergency care close to where people live and work is paramount,” said Alan Keesee, HCA Florida Ocala Hospital CEO. “We are excited to establish a new health care location for all in need of emergency medical care.”
HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency will enable HCA Florida Healthcare to offer patient-centered, high-quality care to more Floridians and expand access to HCA Florida Healthcare’s advanced treatments, innovative technologies and experienced care teams. Designed to meet the community’s growing health care needs, HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency will feature:
● A separate pediatric entrance and waiting area
● 11 private treatment rooms
● CT capabilities
● Digital ultrasound
● Digital diagnostic & portable X-rays
● On-site laboratory
● Telemedicine technology with a specific focus on stroke care and behavioral health
Care Like Family, 24/7/365
Patients visiting HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency can expect the same level of care as a hospital-based emergency department. Should the patient require in-patient treatment, HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency is part of a leading healthcare network across the state, including hospitals, physician practices and specialty care across the state to create a connected and collaborative healthcare experience for patients and their families.
“We want to be here for all families in Florida, and with HCA Florida Silver Springs Emergency, we can expand access and bring quality care closer to home for patients in Marion County,” Keesee said. “While our approach to treatment has advanced, we continue to deliver collaborative, local care our communities expect and deserve.”
Popsicles in the future for CKS students
Oct. 2-6 canned food drive planned
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 29, 2023 at
CEDAR KEY – Students at Cedar Key School (CKS) may be enjoying popsicles in their future.
From Oct. 2 through 6, CKS DECA is asking students and community members to bring in a canned food item or non-perishable item to the school to support the Cedar Key Food Pantry, CKS Cedar Business, Hospitality, & Tourism Educator Nicole Gill noted in a recent press release
DECA is an acronym for Distributive Education Clubs of America. DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.
Additionally, CKS DECA members are partnering with UF/IFAS to collect jars of unopened peanut butter for the Peanut Butter Challenge, Gill said.
“If we collect 200 items, every student on campus will receive a popsicle on Friday Oct. 6 during their sixth period or recess!” she added.
Volunteers sought to
provide free tax assistance & tax prep
All Tri-County Area taxpayers benefit
Training in November and December
By AARP Foundation Tax-Aide
Published Sept. 28, 2023 at 6:30 a.m.
TRI-COUNTY AREA – An organization that helps people file their federal income taxes is seeking compassionate and friendly people to join its team of volunteers.
Tax-Aide will provide the training and support to help each volunteer learn new skills. Participants will get a great feeling from helping those in need.
The program seeks individuals to volunteer in person. Volunteers come from a variety of industries and range from retirees to college students. All levels and types of experience are welcome. Volunteers fill a variety of roles, including in the following categories:
● Counselors work with taxpayers directly by filling out tax returns. If you have no previous experience, you’ll get the training you need and will also receive IRS certification.
● Client Facilitators welcome taxpayers, help organize their paperwork, and manage the overall flow of service.
● Technology Coordinators manage computer equipment, ensure taxpayer data is secure, and provide technical assistance to volunteers.
● Leadership and Administrative volunteers make sure program operations run smoothly, manage volunteers, and maintain quality control.
● Communications Coordinators promote the program to prospective volunteers and taxpayers.
Tax-Aide provides tax preparation help for anyone free of charge. Neither volunteers nor taxpayers need to be members of AARP, and there is no sales pitch for other services.
Tax volunteers can study online in November and December, and a formal training class will be scheduled for January 2024.
Because of the complexity of the United States Tax Code, many taxpayers overpay their taxes or turn to paid tax services they cannot afford.
Some individuals may forgo filing their taxes and miss out on the credits and deductions they’ve earned because they are unable to pay for assistance. Tax-Aide volunteers can help by providing necessary services in communities where there is the greatest need.
Last year, in Levy County, Dixie County, Gilchrist County and Taylor County, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers completed 641 returns and helped 1,231 people file their tax returns.
Refunds to those taxpayers were $845,717. Tax-Aide applied for $290,326 in credits. This would not be possible without the volunteers who make an indelible mark on the taxpayers they work with and the communities where they live.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide has grown since its inaugural team of just four volunteers in 1968 and has served more than 68 million taxpayers since its inception. The program has volunteers in every state who typically number more than 30,000.
To learn more about the volunteer opportunities, visit aarpfoundation.org/taxaide or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277), or email Bob Burkhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is offered in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Zach Bullock seeks election
to Levy County Commission
List shows Levy County candidates
who have filed for 2024 election
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 23, 2023 at 3 p.m.
LEVY COUNTY -- Zach Bullock, 43, a Republican from Williston, recently announced his plan to run for election to Levy County Commission in District 5.
A review of records in Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones Office shows Bullock has filed to seek election.
Levy County Commissioner Matt Brooks, a Republican from Williston, is currently the commissioner in that district. Brooks recently announced his plan to seek election as Levy County Clerk.
Bullock currently is a member of the Williston City Council.
The Levy County constitutional officers’ seats that open for election in 2024 and the candidates who have filed their intention to seek reelection or election to them as of Sept. 23:
Levy County Commissioner Dist. 1
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County Commissioner Dist. 3
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County Commissioner Dist. 5
● Zach Bullock, a Republican from Williston
Levy County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller
● Brian Gore, a Republican from Chiefland
● Matt Brooks, a Republican from Williston
Levy County Property Appraiser
● Jason Whistler, a Republican from Chiefland
Levy School Board Member Dist. 2
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County School Board Member Dist. 4
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County Sheriff
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County Superintendent of Schools
● No candidate filed yet
Levy County Supervisor of Elections
● Tammy Jones, a Republican from Bronson
Levy County Tax Collector
● Michele Langford, a Republican from Bronson
Levy County Director of Human Resources Jacqueline Martin prepares to tell the Levy County Commission members about employees to be honored for their years, and in some instances decades, of service to the residents and visitors of Levy County.
Story and Photos
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 20, 2023 at 3 p.m.
LEVY COUNTY – Levy County Director of Human Resources Jacqueline Martin called the names, the departments in which they served the residents and visitors of Levy County, and the number of years they served in this county government during a relatively big ceremony Tuesday (Sept. 19).
Levy County Commission Chairman Matt Brooks, Vice Chair Desiree Mills and commissioners John Meeks, Tim Hodge and Rock Meeks shook hands with each employee and thanked them for the years of service after the workers accepted their certificates and pins.
Members of the Levy County Commission go down the entire line of employees, shaking hands and thanking each of them for their service to the people of Levy County.
Chairman Brooks said he thinks the many employees who are with the county, and some of whom have served for decades with dedication, speaks volumes about the Levy County Commission and the county as an organization.
Brooks said he hopes younger generations for people come forward to absorb some of the knowledge of these veteran employees – to continue the high level public service by people in Levy County government to the residents and visitors of this county.
Commissioner Rock Meeks, after the names and years of service were said by Human Resources Director Martin that he sees that is 11 employees with 225 years of service to the people of Levy County.
Levy Procurement Coordinator Alicia Tretheway (left) takes pictures as Levy Road Department Administrative Coordinator Alice LaLonde (right) takes pictures of employees from that department who were honored on Tuesday for their years of service.
Here is a group picture of all the employees (and one son) as they were honored Sept. 19 at the regular County Commission. One honored employee is not in the picture because he was not in attendance. These workers stand with the members of the Levy County Board of County Commissioners as part of the recognition ceremony that Tuesday morning.
The employees, the departments that they are in now and the years of service in Levy County government follow: David Weatherford with construction and maintenance, 35 years; Michael Fowler with public safety (fire-rescue), 5 years; Ryan Tietjen (holding 4-year-old Lawson Tietjen) with public safety (fire-rescue), 10 years; (absent) Robert Allen with the road department, 25 years; Charles “Charlie” Bedford with the road department, 25 years; Joseph “Donnie” Crews with the road department, 30 years; Arthur Seckinger with the road department, 25 years; Clinton Studstill with the road department, 25 years; Martin Watson II with the road department, 30 years; and Grady Mills with Levy County Transit, 15 years.
(from left) Ryan Tietjen holds his son Lawson Tietjen, 4, as Michael Fowler and David Weatherford stand and are recognized, too, as part of the group of employees honored on Tuesday (Sept. 19). (Not pictured is Robert Allen with the road department due to his absence from the ceremony that day.)
(from left) Arthur Seckinger, Donnie Crews and Charlie Bedford stand and are recognized as part of the group of employees honored on Tuesday (Sept. 19).
from left) Grady Mills, Martin Watson II and Clinton Studstill stand and are recognized as part of the group of employees honored on Tuesday (Sept. 19).
Supervisor of elections says
to leave election codes alone
Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones speaks to the two members of the Levy County Legislative Delegation on Sept. 12.
Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 13, 2023 at 7 p.m.
BRONSON – Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones told Florida House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tempore Chuck Clemons Charles Wesley "Chuck" Clemons Sr. (R-Newberry, Dist. 22) and State Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville, Dist. 9) on Sept. 12 that they can leave the election laws alone this session.
“The Florida Supervisors of Elections request that no substantive changes be made to Florida’s Election Code during the 2024 Legislative Session,” Levy County Supervisor of Elections Jones said.
The state’s elections supervisors have worked diligently during the previous three sessions to bring the codes up to the point they are today, Jones said, through Senate Bill 90 in 2021, Senate Bill 524 in 2022 and Senate Bill 7050 in 2023.
“Each of these bills have parts still working through court challenges,” Jones said, “and all have requirements for the state to promulgate rules – many of which supervisors are still waiting for final rulemaking to be completed.”
She said every Florida supervisor of elections is ready to go and on the button for the three statewide elections in 2024 – the Presidential Primary Preference, the Primary Election and the General Election.
Election laws traditionally have not been changed in election years, and the supervisors of elections want to stay with that status quo, Jones said. There may be things in the future that need to be tweaked and changed, but this session is not the time to do that, she added.
“I know you all (legislators) wear many hats,” Jones said. “I know that today with all the people speaking. You must be very knowledgeable in every area of every law. So, that’s very impressive.
“But I want you to know that I am the election expert,” Jones said. “I wear that hat every day. So, please use me.”
Jones offered to let these leaders know how things affect voters, She pleaded with Clemons and Perry to call her with any questions or to ask anything about elections.
“We want Florida to shine again, like we did in ’22,” Jones said.
Looters target coastal Dixie County
Sheriff gets curfew requests
Dixie County Sheriff Darby Butler speaks about looters who came to coastal communities after Hurricane Idalia hit. On Thursday (Sept. 7) two more were arrested, he said.
Story and Photo
By Jeff M. Hardison © Sept. 8, 2023 at 8:45 a.m.
CROSS CITY – Near the outset of the Thursday night (Sept. 7) regular twice-monthly meeting of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners, Dixie County Sheriff Darby Butler provided an update on crime as a component from the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.
Sheriff Butler told about assistance from state law enforcement agencies and other counties’ sheriffs’ offices to help protect life and property in Dixie County from local and visiting criminals.
During his presentation, Sheriff Butler mentioned looters coming from everyone from Wisconsin to Manatee County as they try to steal from people hit hardest by the hurricane in coastal Dixie County. There are criminals from within the county, too.
A week earlier during a press conference in Taylor County on Aug. 30, Gov. Ron DeSantis told would-be thieves that law enforcement in the Sunshine State would not tolerate anyone taking advantage of disorder in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.
The governor mentioned that some Taylor County residents may go farther than law enforcement officers in regard to keeping their property out of the hands of thieves.
“People have a right to defend their property,” DeSantis said.
During that press conference, he mentioned that in this part of Florida, there are many advocates and proponents of The Second Amendment, intimating that thieves may be wounded or killed by property owners.
Unless a person feels his or her life is threatened, though, it is illegal in Florida to shoot another person.
Two actions on Sept. 7 by the Dixie County Commission, which is comprised of Commission Chairman Jamie Storey (Dist. 4), Vice Chairman Jody Stephenson (Dist. 1), County Commissioner Mark Hatch (Dist. 3), County Commissioner David Osteen (Dist. 5) and County Commissioner Daniel Wood III (Dist. 2), were approval for Dixie County to end its curfew in coastal communities; but also to allow the sheriff on his own initiative, without a need for a special County Commission meeting, to resume the curfew if he found a need.
The Town of Horseshoe Beach, Sheriff Butler said, decided to end its curfew on Sept. 12 at 6 a.m.
After a recommendation from County Manager Duane Cannon, who spoke about what to the County Commission could do and what he recommended, on a motion by Commissioner Osteen, seconded by Commissioner Hatch, the elected leaders voted 5-0 to make Sept. 12 at 6 a.m. to be the time to end the curfew in all of the unincorporated coastal communities like Suwannee in Dixie County.
Sheriff Butler said he has spoken with Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett to have consistency in Jena and Steinhatchee in regard to curfews for that Taylor County city and the unincorporated parts of Dixie and Taylor counties where they share a border on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico as well as along the river bordering northern Dixie County.
On a motion by Osteen, seconded by Commissioner Wood, the County Commission voted 5-0 to allow the sheriff to restart the curfew in coastal communities if the criminal activity rose to the point where it reached to cause the curfew to be imposed earlier.
As he began his presentation, Sheriff Butler expressed his appreciation for everyone in the community, and for the people who came to Dixie County to battle through and to overcome the obstacles presented by the hurricane.
Restoration to a pre-hurricane point is not yet complete, he intimated, adding that many people are exhausted from working to return to a normal lifestyle. Nevertheless, by working as a united community, Butler said he believes the people of Dixie County can overcome any obstacles.
The Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) increase their presence in Dixie County immediately after the storm, he said, and the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) joined the ranks of law enforcement officers here.
Now, the sheriff said, some of them are going to start leaving Dixie County.
The CCSO contingent marks its last night in Dixie County as responders to the disaster on that very night (Sept. 7), Sheriff Butler said, adding that “Citrus County took a hard hit” and they came to help in Dixie County anyway. So, they are the first to return to their homes after more than a week in Dixie County.
On Sept. 10 at 6 a.m., Sheriff Butler said, the 31 or 32 members of the SCSO will be returning to their home county as they leave Dixie County.
The FWC remains as the last added law enforcement force to be departing from Dixie County, Buter said, because this agency has the strongest set or water assets to help the coastal communities.
(On July 1, 1999, the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission and the Florida Marine Patrol were combined to create the FWC. The merger created the largest state conservation law enforcement entity in North America.)
“We are fighting looters, not only at night now,” Sheriff Butler said, “but just as I walked in (to the County Commission meeting room), we got two more (looters) out of the town (unincorporated community) of Suwannee. So, that is a concern, and we’ll continue to fight that fight.”
The FWC added elements will be in Dixie County until 6 a.m. on Sept. 14, he said.
Sheriff Butler mentioned deputies with DCSO did not have power at their homes, some homes that had holes in their roofs, but they served on duty. He commended every member of the staff of the DCSO for their public service through this trying time, which is not done but is moving toward that end.
After the Sept. 14 move by most of the FWC law enforcement agents, there will still be an added presence to allow some relief for DCSO deputies, he said.
At points where some forces are departing from Dixie County, the sheriff intimated, the criminals may see opportunities.
Dixie County Emergency Services Division Chief of Emergency Management Scott Garner told the sheriff that he needs 24 to 48 hours’ notice for Chief Garner to have help from the Florida Division of Emergency Management for state aid to have a state mission of an FWC contingent on the coast of Dixie County.
The sheriff reminded listeners to be alert to potential thieves. They pretend to come in as day workers. Thieves are “refining their skill sets” when they realize a curfew exists, so that they can steal during daylight hours.
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