News Cast 2/2

News Cast for February 2nd:

I want to live with nature

A new resident of Okeechobee wants to live in Fort Drum in a tent.

She has five children and said outdoor living and camping is her personal choice.  She moved here from Minnesota.

Beatrice Hammond spoke at the recent Board of county commissioners meeting about issues she is having with county code enforcement.

“We have made the life choice to live in tents.  I know that is not a normal things.  We are getting notices from the county code enforcement that we have improper outdoor storage, that we have construction without a building permit and I have not constructed anything, unauthorized use of land,  and a condition that may constitute a safety hazard.”

She said she was told that her living conditions might reduce the value of property around where she lives.

County officials said current county codes require you to live in some kind of structure.

The next scheduled special magistrate hearing is February 21st.

“Unfortunately to live here in Okeechobee you are going to have to live in a home.  That is not rules we just made up.  They have been in existence for a long time,” Chairman David Hazellief said.

Highlands County Commissioners changed their five year capital improvements plans due to new state road projects.

The department of Transportation plans to resurface a section of US 98 from County Road 621 to the Kissimmee River bridge this year for just over $10.1 million.

They also plan to replace the Kissimmee River bridge over US 98 in 2027 for a cost of $13.4 million.

The state also plans to spend $2 million to design and engineer a section of state road 70 from the southern leg of County Road 721 to Lonesome Island Road.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a near $115 billion dollar budget.

It includes $26 billion for education and $1 billion for teacher salary hikes

He also wants to increase the pay of state employees by five percent and raise the beginning pay of corrections officers to $23 an hour.

DeSantis also informed residents he wants to eliminate sales taxes on many items this year for household items under $25, like detergent and trash bags.  Others with no sales taxes for one year include children’s toys, kid’s athletic equipment, pet food, oral hygiene products, toiletries, and children’s books.

He also budgeted $614 million for Everglades projects.

Thefts of 4-wheel drive vehicles in Buckhead Ridge, Okeechobee, Kissimmee River Estates, Lake Placid and other areas led to a 41 month jail term for one of the suspects.

Andrew Wheeler pled guilty to grand theft charges.

Authorities said 16 four wheel drive trucks were stolen between 2016 and 2018 in Okeechobee, Highlands, Glades, and Polk Counties.

Wheeler spent over 12 hundred days in jail awaiting trial.  He’ll also pay over 19 thousand dollars in fines and costs.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the trucks were worth over $300,000 and were stolen for the purpose of trading them to a drug trafficking organization in Highlands County for methamphetamine and other drugs.

Julisa Sanchez of Seminole Elementary School is named school related employee of the year for Okeechobee Schools.

She is a para-professional who works in the second and third grade.

Sanchez thanked her co workers for helping her to grow in her profession.

She says they brought out things in her she didn’t know she had.

“I am honored and profoundly grateful to be awarded this prestigious recognition tonight.  The gift of knowledge is the greatest gift you can receive.  Education opens up doors and most of all gives you options.  Having a strong background in education and counseling has allowed me to insure high levels of learning for all students.”

Others nominated for the award included Adilene Levins of Yearling, Sandra Bass of transportation, Nicola Coker of South, Tiffany Kane of Osceola, Joe Gaucin of the Operations Department, Flerida Alagarin of Okeechobee High school, Melissa Lujan of the Freshman campus, Jennifer Harden of the Okeechobee Achievement Academy, Ana Waldron of North, Denise Stratton of Everglades, Shannon Stone of the district office, and Chamel Hall Fryson of Central.

The principal of the year was Dr. Robyn Ziolkowski of Seminole.

Assistant Principal of the year was Brent Stuart of Okeechobee High School.

Heather Dobbs was district administrator of the year

Angela Hodges was named managerial supervisor of the year.

The S 131 boat lock in Lakeport is closed today for maintenance and is scheduled to reopen tomorrow.

Among arrests, Kelly Chapman was charged with multiple sales of fentanyl.  The Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force detailed two reports about occasions where she allegedly sold fentanyl in January.  She was also charged after a traffic stop turned up small quantities of fentanyl and methamphetamines.