News Cast for July 13th:
The Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners began review of their proposed $140 million budget this week.
Sheriff Noel Stephen requested a $26.3 million dollar budget, a budget increase of approximately $3 million.
The commission also supports a $25 million long term loan to fund the jail expansions.
Sheriff Stephen wants a 7 percent salary hike for employees so they can compete with the Treasure Coast.
He noted St. Lucie County has proposed a 12 percent salary increase and Martin County 14 percent.
“We can’t keep up with the coast. Since I started as Sheriff in 2017, our employees have seen an 11 percent increase.”
County Commissioner Terry Burroughs raised concerns about the jail funding. He said he was surprised to hear the recent $7 million state appropriation was a match to county funds.
He said he thought the purpose of the jail expansion was to reduce or keep the same the amount of jail employees.
He said he would support a separate taxing unit for the sheriff.
“We have got to figure out what we can afford for the taxpayers. I was focused on the law enforcement MSTU. You have been hammered by the public to do traffic control. That MSTU would provide you with the funds to provide those services, which you have been hammered on at the present time.”
The county tax base is up to $3.5 billion this year. The budget includes $4.160 dollar raises for each county employee.
Other capital projects include new sheriff radios for $2.4 million, expansion of the airport parking lot for $1.7 million, a fitness trail grant funded at the sports complex for $150,000 and $200,000 in grants for new basketball courts in Douglas Park.
The South Florida Water Management District public recreation forum focused on new primitive campsites coming to Okeechobee.
Two will be placed along the Kissimmee River south of Basinger. They can only be accessed by boat.
Mike Cheek said the Kissimmee River may also be part of a new designation from the Florida Paddler’s Association. They want to add the river to their route through Florida.
Cheek said it would not limit motorized boats on the river.
Hunters had concerns about closing district lands to alligator hunting this year. Due to ongoing construction projects they could not allow hunting after dark in certain storm water treatment areas.
A second rape case in a week was filed against Darrell Blackburn of Okeechobee.
A teenager had claimed Blackburn had forcefully raped her when she was 16.
Now an adult female claims she was taken from a local bar parking lot on May 24th of 2021, and raped.
The victim had consumed alcohol that night and had very few memories of the incident.
A friend said she had texted them the night of the incident with the word help and when located appeared to have been beaten up with her face swollen.
Deputies said they think the incident occurred at Nubbin Slough.
Detectives said they did collect physical evidence that tied the suspect to the incident.