News Cast for April 4th:

Okeechobee County officials and the public welcomed a new fire training tower with a special ceremony.

It will keep most of the training here in Okeechobee. Previously personnel had to go to Fort Pierce costing the county time and money.

The state provided $500,000 to help with the costs. The county provided about $80,000.

Chief Earl Wooten said he was glad to see the facility opened.

“This fire tower is crucial because it provides a safe and controlled environment to practice real life fire fighting techniques with an actual fire inside.”

They do plan to add more training facilities like one to do vehicle extraction at the facility.

It is located between the fire station and emergency operations building on NW 6th Street.

Wooten said it was a tremendous opportunity to train and protect the community.

“It will be very beneficial to the community for many years to come.”

Highlands County deputies are now wearing body worn cameras to record interactions with the public.

Sheriff Paul Blackman said they used $200,000 from a drug bust to use for some of the costs.

He said it was a lengthy process to get the cameras.

“Our community ahs been asking about body cameras for several years. Up until this year it was simply too expensive, not only to buy cameras and data hardware, but to pay for public record requests of the footage.”

Blackman said the cameras will educate the public, improve transparency and should help with the trust and confidence in the jobs deputies do each day.

The cameras are required to be on whenever a deputy is set to interact with a member of the public.

Congressman Scott Franklin wants our veterans to get specialty care from the Veterans Administration quicker and more efficiently.

He said the current federal laws require a referral for a veteran within three days and an appointment scheduled within one week.

Franklin said the VA has not been telling the truth about the wait times veterans face for care.

“We are trying to get more transparency into the process. We want them to act faster. If we can’t get them in to get the care,

we will give them the option to go out and get it done somewhere else.”

The Veteran’s Administration doesn’t like that because they want every veteran to be beholden to them so they can grow their bureaucracy and budget, Franklin added.

The Okeechobee Utility Authority Board approved a dollar per hour raise for employees.

Employees will also be eligible for merit raises this year.