News Cast 10/17

News Cast for October 17th:

Guilty of three charges

An Okeechobee jury convicted James Hodges of first-degree murder and other charges for killing 43 year old Paul Murphy of Jupiter back in May, 2019.

The verdict returned on October 14.

Sheriff investigators said a $5,000 marijuana debt led to the killing.

Murphy had come to Okeechobee to collect the debt but was offered a John Deere tractor instead.  He rejected the offer.  Neighbors of Hodges reported hearing gunshots.

He was reported missing and his body was found inside an SUV partially submerged in a canal off Cemetery Road.  He was shot four times.

Sentence will be handed down on November 9th.

Affordable housing needs continue to be discussed by the Okeechobee County Commission’s Affordable Housing Committee.

They put the finishing touches on a local housing plan.

They suggest using vacant buildings or converting existing buildings into affordable housing.

Annette Hartman told her fellow committee members that there is a shortage of new teachers and school board employees partly due to a lack of housing.

“I have had a lot of calls from new teachers with no place to live.  They are young and they aren’t likely to purchase something in their first year.  I know a lot of the new teachers are renting rooms from veteran teachers.  They literally have no place to go.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried requested a federal disaster declaration for 17 counties after Hurricane Ian caused widespread damage to farms and ranches.

Farm and ranch losses in Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Okeechobee, and Osceola County are included in the letter to the US Department of Agriculture.

The storm impacted some 4 million acres of agriculture damaging citrus groves, dairies, nurseries and livestock.

Nearly 3 billion is being sought for Florida agriculture.

Homeowners and renters in Glades County are now eligible to apply for FEMA individual assistance due to hurricane Ian.

They join Highlands, Hendry, Osceola and Okeechobee counties.

FEMA urges you to file a claim as soon as possible.

Disaster assistance can help when insurance does not cover all of your disaster related expenses.

You can apply at disaster assistance.gov

Okeechobee native Sylvester Humphreys will be honored by having his name placed on the Harlem Cemetery near Clewiston.

The community activist worked 46 years in education including jobs for Hendry County, and the Seminole Tribe.

He graduated from Okeechobee’s Douglas Brown school and passed away in 2020.

He was the first black man hired to teacher in Hendry County Schools.

His widow Isabelle Humphreys said her husband spent a lot of time advocating for the cemeteries including a children’s cemetery.

“We have a veteran’s cemetery and one for the adults.  He worked very hard in the community, he cherished the community so much.  I felt the cemetery should be named after him.”

Commissioners also expressed concerns about grants for rural broadband requiring a 50 percent local match.

Hendry Commissioners also approved an over $98 million dollar budget.  The tax rate was reduced to 7.1 mills.

The property taxes collected will increase by 8.14 percent.

The Visit America and the Brand USA act were passed by the US House to provide more funds and resources to promote international tourism.

Congressman Darren Soto said international travelers have a big impact in Florida.

He said 7.1 percent of jobs in  Florida are connected to the tourism industry.

Soto said the tourism industry continues to recover but continues to lag behind other industries in Central Florida.

“The travel and tourism industry was one of the hardest industries hit during the pandemic.  Domestic travel has increased but we are still a long way from recovery.”

Okeechobee has reported a record amount of tourist bed taxes this year as more visitors go to rural areas.

The bill creates an Assistant Secretary to the Commerce Department that focuses on international travelers.