News Cast 7/15

News Cast for July 15th:

Brace for a larger tax bill 

Okeechobee County Commissioners support keeping the tax rate at 8 mills this year. 

They discussed but did not go forward with a new taxing unit to fund the sheriff. 

The sheriff proposed a 6.7 percent operating budget increase this year. 

The county tax base grew by just under 12 percent. 

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said law enforcement needs the additional revenue. 

“The Sheriff is having a hard time doing the job.  The MSTU is one way for him to offer the services the people are requesting.” 

He said it would give the county more funds to address quality of life issues like parks and recreation. 

Sheriff Noel Stephen said inflation has also impacted his budget with higher gas prices and grocery prices. 

He noted the $850,000 coming from the state to increase starting pay of deputies and sworn corrections guard will also cause local costs because many veteran employees make between $38,000 and $45,000. 

“There was no consideration for those folks.  That $7,000 increase in the starting pay did not result in any questions about those folks.  My budget director and major undershot the number to increase that pay.  We want to keep pay parody and the added cost is $327,000.” 

Commissioner Brad Goodbread was non-committal on whether he would support the new MSTU for the sheriff. 

“I’m not coming down on either side of it.  I have an open mind.  My main trepidation is we add another taxing vehicle.  Its not that much on people today but in the future there is a chance that it is weaponized.” 

The county will also ask the Florida Department of Transportation to fence a retention pond on NW 6th Street due to the risk of having children swimming there. 

A single vehicle crash on the Martin Grade has claimed a life. 

The Florida highway patrol said an Okeechobee man was east bound Thursday morning at 6:15 am when the pickup veered off the south shoulder, struck a tree, and burst into flames. 

The road was closed for several hours for the investigation. 

The governor signed a bill that impacts soil and water conservation districts like the one in Okeechobee. 

The bill made supervisors requalify for office with less than 48 hours notice. 

The bill also requires the non-paid volunteer supervisors to be actively involved in agriculture or have retired from agriculture within the past 15 years. 

The supervisors are up for re-election in November.  They have combined for over 50 years of service to the district. 

District administrator Audrey Kuipers said they work closely with federal and state agencies on education and conservation. 

She noted they are researching whether the supervisors must live in separate districts identical to county commissioners. 

Under the current maps, three of their supervisors live in the same county commission district. 

“We are hoping that it is determined that the law does not change the fact that they serve at large.” 

A 17 year old Okeechobee boy charged with a June home invasion robbery. 

He and another teen learned the victim had come into a large amount of money from a lawsuit settlement. 

They wore masks, entered the home and assaulted the victim, sheriff deputies said on June 8. 

They looked for the second suspect for about a month and pursued several leads while at the same time eliminating some of them. 

They searched for video camera footage and other information. 

The teen reportedly confessed to his family about his involvement and they told deputies. 

Over 100 grams of fentanyl, and over 30 grams of marijuana and tobacco intercepted as it was attempted to be smuggled into Okeechobee correctional. 

Sophia Hyatt, 28 of Bradenton, had the drugs in her waist band when searched by a K-9. 

She claimed she got the drugs in Orlando and was paid $3,200  to deliver them.