News Cast for July 26th:

Okeechobee County Commissioners meet for their regular meeting this morning after six days of budget workshops and they will be looking to establish millage rates for the county and look at preliminary assessment rates for several county departments including solid waste and emergency management services. The meeting begins at 9 am in the Historic County Courthouse.

County Commissioners met up yesterday for their sixth county budget workshop and listened to more departments’ presentations. One of those departments was the tax collector’s office, presented by Celeste Watford. Watford says the Tax Collector’s budget this year is about a million dollars and no requests for any cuts. Watford says the reason for that is her budget is not completely funded by the county (Sixth County Budget 1). Watford says that her budget might be more if salary and insurance increases are accepted. Another budget discussed was the Guardian Ad Litem program, which is a group that is appointed to children in dependency cases to represent them and look out for their best interests. Circuit Director Paul Nigro says their budget this year is about $680 thousand dollars which mainly covers rent, utilities and equipment. Their request for an increase, which was granted, is to fund a project to create a new space for the program, preferably in the Fort Pierce area. Other budgets discussed include the Clerk of Circuit Court and Public Defender’s Office.

Last night was a very special night for the Okeechobee County Fire Rescue squad as they welcomed eleven new firefighters to the department in a special pinning ceremony held in the Historic County Courthouse in front of family and friends. One of the newest firefighters is 21 year old John Pieler of Port St. Lucie. Pieler decided to become a firefighter after hanging out at fire stations while growing up and an added bonus is his desire to work in Okeechobee; one of his favorite places. Fire Chief Ralph Franklin couldn’t be happier with the ceremony. The new firefighters went through a training and schooling which took over a year to complete. Some veteran personnel were promoted including Justin Hazellief who was promoted to Captain of Training and Earl Wooten becoming the new Deputy Chief.

An Okeechobee woman will finally be in court next month to face her charges after being out of the state since June.  56 year old Tina Darlene Ballard will be arraigned August 13th in circuit court after she fled to North Carolina to avoid facing charges including maintaining captive wildlife in a neglectful manner and culpable negligence causing harm when her spider monkey named Spanky attacked a Home Depot employee on June 4th. Ballard was returned to Okeechobee early Friday morning. Prosecutor Ashley Albright says while it may appear that way, it really hasn’t been a big ordeal to get Ballard back to Okeechobee. Ballard, who missed bond hearings last month and last week, was picked up at a North Carolina county jail after she had been incarcerated on a fugitive warrant. Her bond is set at just over $32 thousand dollars.

On the arrest report:

27 year old Heather Nicole Wofford of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for burglary and criminal mischief. Her bond has not been set.

35 year old Jeremy Dale Thomas of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on previous drug possession charges. He’s being held without bond.

29 year old Elmer Paul Leitner of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia after a traffic stop. He’s being held without bond.

46 year old Vinson Edward Gonzalez of Okeechobee was arrested for grand theft. His bond is set at five thousand dollars.

29 year old Justin Lewis Berry of Okeechobee was arrested on a warrant from St. Lucie County for criminal use of another person’s identification. His bond is set at $10 thousand dollars.

22 year old Veronica Nicole Garcia of Okeechobee was arrested for fraud. Her bond is set at $15 thousand dollars.

40 year old Lisa Christine Mullens of Okeechobee was arrested for failing to appear in court on past charges of petty theft and dealing in stolen property. She’s being held without bond.