News Cast 8/5

News Cast for August 5th:

The millage rate and budget for the Okeechobee County School District has been tentatively set and in both cases, it’s looking pretty good. At their meeting Monday night, school board members adopted the tentative millage rate of 5.92 mills for this fiscal year for money to put toward educating students. The millage rate was less than the previous year by 0.67 mills. School Superintendent Ken Kenworthy says the reason for the lower millage rate is the ad valorem tax assessments are up for this year so there’s no need to have the millage rates as high to raise money for the school district. Kenworthy says he also projects that student enrollment will increase by nearly 225 more students this year than last and that always helps lower the millage rate. Kenworthy says it’s due to more families on the coast selling their homes and moving here.

The tentative budget for this year was set by the school board at $88.4 million dollars, an increase of nearly eleven million dollars from last year. Kenworthy attributes that to expenses being less than normal because of the COVID-19 shutting down schools and forcing students into online learning and that allowed for some money saving. The other factor was the Florida Power and Light (FPL) power plant opening in the north end of the county, which was a blessing for taxpayers and became another revenue source and increased tax bases by hundreds of millions of dollars which led to more dollars rolling forward, according to Kenworthy, for the year. There will be a public hearing on the budget and millage rate at next month’s school board meeting before both are officially adopted.

Okeechobee County is well over the nine and a half century mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County is now at 967 since March with six fatalities. 963 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 36. 86 county residents have been hospitalized. Those who have tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and going through routine contact tracing. Along with fever, coughing and shortness of breath, other COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for include chills, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a sudden loss of sense of smell or sense of taste.

Also as of yesterday morning, there are 497,330 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state since March and 491,773 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll stands at 7,402 with 27,952 people hospitalized.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm now every Tuesday thru Saturday. This number, which also doubles as the phone number of the County Library is manned by live personnel and callers can ask about county updates on the Coronavirus and what is being done. The hotline will not address questions about the virus itself or medical questions. The County Library phone number/hotline related to county updates on the Coronavirus is (863) 763-3536. Any questions related to the virus itself, please call the Okeechobee Health Department at (863) 462-5800 or the 24/7 Department of Health hotline at (866) 779-6121.

Remember, the key to avoiding the Coronavirus is good personal hygiene. Washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes or face with unwashed hands. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from someone when greeting them and not shaking any hands. Avoid shopping at peak hours and use delivery services instead.  Avoid places where there are 10 people or more.

If you need further information about the virus and recommendations for preventing it, please log on to the Department of Health at floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

On the arrest report:

19 year old Jacob Michael Hickman of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on several counts of burglary, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, theft of law enforcement equipment and dealing in stolen property. His bond is set at $180 thousand dollars.

44 year old Tony Ray Hammons of Okeechobee was arrested on charges of sexual battery on an underage victim. His bond is set at one hundred thousand dollars.

49 year old Ronald Michael Smith of Okeechobee was arrested for touching or striking another person. His bond is set at a thousand dollars.

28 year old Jimmy Paul Wellman of Okeechobee was arrested for battery, criminal mischief and petit theft. His bond is set at $15 hundred dollars.

31 year old Eric Andrew Pena of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and tampering of evidence. His bond is set at seven thousand dollars.