They said the cost of background checks could deter some people from volunteering. Scott said eliminating them posed a risk to vulnerable seniors. Carole Green, secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs under Gov. Jeb Bush, agrees with Scott. READ MORE
Members of Southwest Florida's legislative delegation told local business leaders Wednesday they're satisfied they balanced the state budget this year without raising taxes or fees.
Lawmakers spoke to business leaders at a chamber luncheon in Fort Myers. State Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, who's served in the Florida House since 2004, said some really important laws were passed this year. She said she regrets some budget cuts, but lawmakers did what they had to do. READ MORE
Marco- Island’s beaches and sunsets have won it a place among six finalists in competition for the Most Beautiful Small Town in the United States in contest sponsored by USA Today and Rand McNally.
Two judges arrived Monday. Local boosters are treating the judges to a sailing and shelling excursion, a sunset dinner cruise and helicopter fly over. There’s also plenty of time in their schedule for beach combing. Communications Director for the Collier Visitor and Convention Bureau JoNell Modys said just being nominated is a shot in the arm for the community.
“It’s incredibly significant. Just through all the both traditional and social media exposure just raising the profile so that more and more people are aware of what a lovely place Marco Island is” she said.
Marco Island has a population of about twenty thousand. Other towns in the running include the northern California city of Pacifica, and our neighbors to the South Coral Gables.
The winner will be announced at the Destination Marketing Association annual conference in New Orleans at the end of July and will be featured in USA Today. The winner will be featured in USA Today.
Managers from the South Florida Water Management District held a news conference Friday in Moore Haven – a city on the Western Edge of Lake Okeechobee. They were on hand to answer criticism from competing interests for releases from the Lake.
Locally, the District’s management policies are blamed for a thick blue green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River caused by a lack of releases. The District’s Director of Operations, Tommy Strowd, said he understands the concerns of environmentalists, tourism officials and others.
“It’s shared in systems all across the district” he said.
“The good news that we’re seeing is because we’ve seen local rainfall over the past week that there are now releases from the basin into the Caloosahatchee estuary and we expect to see some benefit from that.”
Strowd says rainfall of up to five inches has been recorded in some areas along the river.
Meanwhile he says the region’s coming out of one of the driest dry seasons and twenty years - he says for the year to date the rainfall deficit is around 12 inches.
A science teacher from South Ft. Myers High School is onboard a NOAA research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico.
Steven Wilkie won a place on NOAA’s Oregon II research ship by submitting an essay detailing how he’ll use what he learns aboard the vessel in his classroom.
Wilkie is the only teacher among more than a dozen scientists operating trawl nets to count species and quantities of fish in Northern Gulf . He said he can’t wait to add what he learns to his curriculum.
“ I’ve actually written a grant with NOAA that allows me to get my students out in the marine environment in Lee County. So I’m indebted to NOAA and I hope I can bring some of the excitement and experience into the classroom from the ship” he said. .
Wilkie says the trip was cancelled last year because of the BP oil spill in the Gulf. He says this year particular attention will be paid to plankton and larvae to determine any impacts the spill had on those populations.
Health advisories have been posted along the Caloosahatchee River due to the presence of thick blue green algae. Swimming and fishing in the river are banned.
Drought and a lack of fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee into the river are the cause of the algae bloom. The South Water Management District controls releases from the Lake. Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida blames the bloom on the district’s lake management policy.
“Water continues to be supplied to agricultural entities south of the lake, while our river continues to be deprived of any flow whatsoever to maintain its health and the economies that depend on it” she said.
Hecker was among of group of Environmentalists who gathered along the shore of Caloosahatchee in downtown Ft. Myers Thursday. The group is calling on citizens to put pressure on the South Florida Water Management to allocate water fairly.
For its part – the water management district is holding a news conference Friday in Moore Haven - where the river meets lake - to explain how its trying to meet the needs of the the many competing interests reliant on water from Lake Okeechobee.
The impact of this year’s state budget is still being absorbed. In some communities there’s concern that government downsizing will hurt the overall quality of life.
Desoto County is such an example. The state’s juvenile justice facility, just outside the small city of Arcadia, is closing because of state budget cuts and it means the loss of more than 400 jobs.
Wheelers Café in downtown Arcadia is a popular local meeting place. Retired county employee Don Waters stops by once a week for the fried pork chop special. He’s concerned closing the DJJ -- as it’s known locally -- will impact the entire community.
“I have a friend that the housing market fell through so he’s not working. His wife works at the DJJ their daughter works at DJJ and when they lose their jobs there’s no income for that family,” he said. “It’s gonna hurt a lot of the businesses.”
About 35,000 people live in DeSoto County. Cattle and citrus are the dominant industries. There’s a large retiree population and a non-agricultural workforce of around 5,500, so a loss of 400 jobs is a significant hit. Barbara Galloway who’s a social services counselor at the DJJ likens the closing to an economic tornado.
“We had one lady who spoke at the county commission meeting who does taxes and she said well over half her clients are at djj so she doesn’t expect to stay open,” she said. “We all go out together to eat lunch – that’s not going to happen anymore.”
Employees facing lay-offs say the closure is eroding the community’s already small middle class.
Florida lawmakers balanced the state budget this year by cutting $3.8 billion dollars in spending. The budget resulted in $67 million out of the Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget, accounting for an 11 percent cut.
Lawmakers decided to trim the department by putting more money into prevention and intervention programs and closing several costly juvenile detention centers. Most will close by June 30. But, the DeSoto Dual Diagnosed Correctional Facility, surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire – serving some of the state’s most disturbed youthful offenders -- will close later.
The youth will be transferred to other facilities. But options for employees are limited. State lawmaker Paige Kreegel represents DeSoto County in the Florida House. As a Republican – he broke ranks with the majority – and urged colleagues and Florida Gov. Rick Scott to keep the facility open. Kreegel said given an unemployment rate of 11 percent in Desoto County putting that many people out of work doesn’t make sense.
“Right now they’re all covered by blue cross insurance,” he said. “When that stops now they’re a charity case, not only on state unemployment rolls but on Medicaid and you really haven’t saved a lot of money.”
Most of DeSoto County is represented in the state senate by one of the legislature’s most influential lawmaker s, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Republican JD Alexander. He did not return phone calls requesting an interview.
Scenario’s like the one in Arcadia have contributed to extremely low approval ratings for Republican Gov. Rick Scott who set the legislative agenda of balancing the budget by cutting state jobs and programs. But the 2012 election looms. Barbara Galloway, soon be laid off from the facility said in 2010 she voted a straight Republican ticket. Next time – she thinks probably not.
“Obviously something has to change in Tallahassee. This isn’t working. The way things are has to change,” Galloway said. “The state is in crisis, let alone DeSoto County.”
The Department of Community Affairs – known as the DCA - is holding a series of regional workshops to brief planners and others about changes to the Department made this year by the State Legislature. The first meeting is Tuesday in Sarasota.
The DCA has overseen growth management in Florida since 1985. This year state lawmakers, seeking to streamline government, removed the department from the process. Changes to comprehensive growth plans will be decided at the local level. Director of Governmental Relations for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Nicole Johnson, said it’s a whole new paradigm.
“We don’t know how everything is going to be operating and functioning and because the law was essentially effective the day it was enacted we’re now under these new rules so we really have to get a good grasp on how we move forward and how we’re effective in the future” she said.
Johnson said there’s concern among environmental advocates that removing DCA from the planning process will limit public input into requests for changes to long term growth plans. The workshop in Sarasota is the first of six DCA is holding around the state