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Fellsmere sees revenue rise, may be hiring
week of July 24, 2014

Property values in the city of Fellsmere have increased by nearly 4 percent over last year, which means the city can lower the tax rate and still hire two staff members.  At a budget workshop with the city council Wednesday evening, City Manager Jason Nunemaker presented his case for rolling back the property tax – millage – rate and hiring an additional full-time police officer and a part-time public works employee.  He is proposing – and the council appears ready to approve – a lower tax rate of 5.5309 mills, down from the current rate of 5.6190. With the increase in property values, property owners can expect to pay about the same in city taxes as last year. If the Council were to keep the current tax rate, owners could expect to pay a bit more given the increase in property values.  “I’m actually optimistic moving forward,” Nunemaker said, explaining that there seems to be an increase in interest in developing in Fellsmere and businesses coming in. He added, though, that he doesn’t know how long the uptick will last due to what’s going on at the state, national, and international level. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff Loar’s budget request is challenged
week of July 24, 2014

July is the month of local government budget battles and this year’s face-off is a familiar one with Sheriff Deryl Loar asking for millions more than the county is willing to spend.  This year, Loar asked for an increase of $2.2 million or 5.6 percent, for total spending of $42.9 million. His department was set to get an increase of $810,185 to pay  for 3 percent raises for employees when commissioners met for budget talks Wednesday last week, but no more than that, according to County Administrator Joe Baird. Baird added that the Sheriff just got $800,000 approved mid-year for new vehicles.  “The Sheriff’s full request is $1.4 million more than the recommended amount,” County Budget Director Jason Brown said.   The 3 percent salary increases will bump two of Loar’s go-to men, Director of Community Affairs Jeff Luther and General Counsel Jim Harpring, up to $102,278 per year, plus benefits. Undersheriff Bud Spencer is set to earn $110,184 in the coming year. Sheriff Loar himself is set to get an even larger salary increase of 5.22 percent to $134,182, as set by state statute based on county population. READ FULL STORY


Top gun industry execs compete at county range
week of July 24, 2014

“They are the gun industry,” said Match Director Russ Thurman, publisher and editor of FMG Publications, as he provided a tour of the 12th annual Shooting Industry Masters event, which took place last weekend at the Indian River County Shooting Range in Sebastian, which was a big deal for the county.  They came from all over the country, 400-plus top execs of the American gun industry, representing more than 80 companies, many of whose names everyone recognizes – Smith & Wesson, Colt, Browning, Winchester, Ruger, SigSauer, Walther and Beretta among them.  The event was closed to the public. The press had to be on “The List” and were asked to wait at the deputy-guarded entrance while credentials were verified. Capt. John Burdock of the Sheriff’s Office shuttled media reps to the site, aboard the Cammo BadBoy super-cart owned by Dr. James Betancort, the county SWAT team medic. READ FULL STORY


Accused murderer pleads poverty, gets a public defender
week of July 24, 2014

Assistant Public Defender Alan Hunt was appointed to represent Michael Jones on the first-degree murder charge for strangling Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve last month after Jones claimed he was $500,000 in debt and had been fired from his job.  On the application for criminal indigent status filed with the court by Jones on June 26, he claimed to have $8,000 in savings, a half-million in unspecified debt and no place of employment, as a hand-scrawled note revealed, “Was employed. Was notified no longer am.”  Despite supposedly working in “wealth management” or as an unlicensed “attorney” at PNC on Ocean Drive, Jones swore to the court on the form that he had zero savings, zero invested in stocks and bonds and zero equity in real estate.  Colleagues in the Indian River County Chamber’s Young Professionals Network group say Jones told them he had massive student loans for undergraduate work and for law school. The University of Georgia was able to confirm that Jones earned a four-year degree in business administration in 2005, followed by a Master of Public Affairs in 2007. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian pharmacist honored in Washington, DC
week of July 24, 2014

Pharmacist Theresa Tolle, owner of Sebastian’s Bay Street Pharmacy, has received two impressive honors in recent weeks, both testaments to her outstanding work as a pharmacist and a community leader.  Tolle has been chosen speaker-elect of the House of Delegates, representing the 60,000-plus members of the American Pharmacy Association (APhA). She will serve as speaker-elect for one year, followed by a two-year term as speaker and APhA Trustee.  “I believe in being a servant-leader,” Tolle told the delegates upon accepting the position, “and returning a portion to the profession which has afforded me so much.”  Tolle is participating this week in the Health on the National Mall event in Washington, DC, as one of the 15 independent pharmacists chosen from thousands across the country to share practical insights into health issues. READ FULL STORY


Higher tax rates approved despite ‘slush fund’ protest
week of July 17, 2014

Despite vehement protests from some members that the city appeared to be creating an unneeded “slush fund,” the Sebastian city council, on a 3-2 vote, has decided to increase the property tax rate from the present 3.7166 to 3.8556. The annual so-called TRIM notices (notice of proposed property taxes) with the higher rate will be sent to all property owners in August. However, last week’s vote does not necessarily mean that property taxes will actually go up. The city council could at a later date still approve a lower budget that does not require any – or a lower – tax increase. The city council had to choose between three different millage rate options, a rolled-back rate of 3.5446 (to generate the same amount of property tax revenues as the prior year); the previous year’s rate of 3.7166, and the higher rate 3.8556, recommended by the Budget Advisory Committee, which would include several new spending projects. City Finance Director Ken Killgore explained that, for purposes of the TRIM notice, the higher rate was the safest choice: if, after all budget meetings and public hearings had taken place, it was found that a higher rate than the one submitted for the TRIM notice was necessary, the city would be required to inform every property owner via registered mail that the millage rate had been underestimated, costing money and likely damaging public confidence. Setting the millage rate “at the most you can stand, the highest possible rate,” said Killgore, “leaves you some wiggle room.” READ FULL STORY


Republicans raffle off rifle to raise money
week of July 17, 2014

North County Republicans apparently see nothing wrong with raffling off firearms to raise money. The raffle of an AR-15 rifle raised over $3,000 for the North County Republican Club Scholarship Fund last week. Tony Mahon held the winning raffle ticket and was presented with the prize during the club’s regular meeting July 8 at Capt. Hiram’s in Sebastian. Mahon donated the rifle back to the club, and members then bid on it. After a brief bidding battle, member Jim Hill won it for $650. Although the AR-15 is considered a common assault rifle, the AR stands for the original manufacturer, ArmaLite. Raffle tickets had been available since last November, said Club President Ted Pankiewicz, who went on to explain that the club, not wanting to offend anyone, was careful to choose appropriate locations to display the gun and sell the tickets ($5 each or five for $20). “We tried to avoid conflict. We went to three gun shows and the Fellsmere Frogleg Festival,” he said. “We felt events like Downtown Friday and the Clambake would not be appropriate.” Pankiewicz said that, except for a disapproving look from one passerby, no one voiced any complaints at any of the locations where raffle tickets were being sold. Pankiewicz said events such as the raffle fund club scholarships for North County students. This year the club awarded a $1,000 college scholarship and a $1,000 trade school scholarship. READ FULL STORY


No challengers yet for two city council seats
week of July 17, 2014

Two two-year Sebastian City Council seats will be open for the Nov. 4 General Election, with the terms of council members Jerome Adams and Vice-Mayor Jim Hill expiring. To date, Adams has pre-qualified and Hill has said he will seek re-election, although he has not yet filed the appropriate paperwork. At present, no challengers have filed although some are expected. Last April, Army veteran Hamilton McWhorter had announced his intention to run, but he recently withdrew. City Clerk Sally Maio said official qualifying will take place between Aug. 21 and Sept. 5. All campaign signage for the Nov. 4 election must be specifically requested, and can be in place only from 75 days before the election to five days afterward. At the July Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting, County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said votes may be cast in one of three ways: READ FULL STORY


Captain Christy Lenz teaches eco-tour passengers about lagoon
week of July 17, 2014

During a dozen years serving with the U.S. Air Force, Sebastian resident Christy Lenz visited some of the most beautiful and exotic places on the planet – Australia, Okinawa, Korea and the Philippines. A graduate of Vero Beach High School, Lenz joined the Air Force and became part of a test program, which introduced 200 women into the previously all-male military police. Confident and smart, Lenz was well suited for the challenge, and after two successful years, crossed-trained in the customs service, and made a name for herself. It was during her eight-year tour at her favorite duty station, Anderson AFB in Guam that she met and married husband Gary (also in the Air Force), had two children – and somehow found time and energy to play softball for the base team. In 1987, the family was transferred to KI Sawyer AFB in Maine, from where they retired, he after 20 years in the Air Force, she after 12. They lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for several years, during which Lenz earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Northern Michigan University in Marquette. After many snowy winters as Uppers (You-pers), the Lenzes returned to Florida. “We knew we wanted to settle in Sebastian.” READ FULL STORY


Sebastian taxes will likely be going up next year
week of July 10, 2014

Heads up: If the budget advisory committee of the city of Sebastian will have its way, city real estate taxes will be going up to a millage rate of just under 4 per $1,000 of assessed value.  At its June 30 meeting, the Sebastian Budget Review Advisory Committee voted to recommend to the city council several additions to the proposed 2015 budget which would increase the millage rate from 3.7166 to somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.9 percent-plus, according to city Finance Director Ken Kilgore.  Kilgore made the initial presentation of the City Manager’s proposed 2015 Budget and Capital Program, and listed several items for which, so far, no funds have been assigned: maintenance positions to be restored; police positions restored or matching funds for the COPS grant (if approved); contingency funds for All Aboard Florida issues; contingency funds for  Indian River Lagoon issues;  street resurfacing.  After lengthy discussion with Kilgore, City Engineer Frank Watanabe and City Manager Joe Griffin, the committee decided to recommend an additional  $100,000 for lagoon issues, $100,000 for street resurfacing, $50,000 for All Aboard Florida issues and $15,000 for the City’s share of the COPS grant. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian puts on great 4th of July celebration
week of July 10, 2014

July 4, 2014, was a “very Sebastian day.”  The Sebastian Freedom Festival, organized by the Sebastian Lions Club, started bright and early – at 8:30 a.m. – with the traditional parade. Leading the parade was Councilwoman Andrea Coy, driving a snazzy red convertible, chauffeuring Grand Marshall Anjani Cirillo, President of the Sebastian Clambake Foundation.  There were floats, Scout units, all the other city council members, veterans groups, churches, the Sebastian River High School Sharks band and football team, local candidates, cute little kids, airboats and businesses. The Re/Max Crown Realty of Sebastian float took top parade prize. Designed by Sherri Sproch, the creative unit was a salute to the Blue Angels and all veterans, and featured large, model Blue Angels Boeing F/A-18 Hornets with “smoke” shooting out of their tails, a hot air balloon complete with fiery ignition, and a huge jeweled crown atop the cab. READ FULL STORY


Board takes on large oyster mat project
week of July 10, 2014

With newly re-appointed  member Alan Northcutt heading the project, the Sebastian Natural Resources Board, at its July 1 meeting,   began formulating plans for the Oyster Mat project the City Council has tasked it with accomplishing.  The City’s Environmental Specialist Cynthia Watson will serve as adviser and liaison with the Council, as the project moves forward.  The Board has set a goal of assembling 2,000 16” x 16” mesh oyster mats, and board members have divided the project’s  initial tasks among themselves: developing a Scope of Work; accomplishing an environmental assessment; the actual mat construction process; mat storage; a project timeline; gathering volunteer groups for the mat assembly. Watson is looking into grant availability for project funding requirements. READ FULL STORY


New tool to track water pollution
week of July 10, 2014

The city of Sebastian has a new device to help test water quality in various areas of the city, to see how much the city itself is contributing to lagoon pollution.  City environmental specialist Cynthia Watson and City Engineer Frank Watanabe introduced the handheld water quality testing device, the DR 900, at the June 25 city council meeting, and said they’re already using it.  Watson and Watanabe unveiled a testing schedule they have established, which will use data from previous city outfall samples as a base and compare them with ongoing figures generated from measurements using the new device.  So far, said Watanabe, “the machine is doing a pretty good job,” producing data in line with previously gathered data. Existing data comes from tests taken at Periwinkle Pond in 2009; in the Collier Canal in 2011; and at the Washington Street and Cleveland Street outfalls this year.  Tests were performed for Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen and phosphorous, in milligrams per liter. Watanabe said samples from the five locations will be tested for nitrogen, phosphorous and nitrates on a regular basis, possibly quarterly or even monthly. READ FULL STORY


Nurse’s grieving co-workers: no warning signs
week of July 3, 2014

“It’s been a rough week,” said Sebastian River Medical Center Certified Nursing Assistant Nicole Yorks as a small group of Diana Duve’s co-workers gathered after a candlelight vigil last Friday night to remember their slain friend and three other local women killed late last month.  “The night shift is very close, it’s been very difficult” since Duve didn’t show up for her shift on June 22, the Sunday night after she went missing.   She had left What-A-Tavern in Vero Beaach early Friday morning with on-again, off-again boyfriend Michael Jones.  Duve’s absence has left a gaping hole in the gang that keeps the hospital running overnight. Hospital administrators called in grief counselors when the news hit that Duve, missing for three days, had been found beaten and strangled to death in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of a Melbourne Publix. READ FULL STORY


Hospital turns 40 this year
week of July 3, 2014

This year marks four decades since the Sebastian River Medical Center opened its doors as a community hospital, and a great many changes have taken place during those 40 years. The highly regarded 154-bed facility – serving the community with more than 100 physicians, 500 nurses and staff and 200-plus volunteers – began as the dream of Dr. Kip Kelso, and his fortuitous visit to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Kelso, a Roseland resident, had long dreamed of bringing a first-class hospital to Sebastian, and was fascinated by the futuristic medical clinic built to serve the fair’s 80 million visitors. It was a prototype built by the Atomedic Foundation: a fully operational local healthcare facility which could be built in months, not years, easily configured to meet special local needs, while costing only a fraction of a traditional hospital, and still providing the best of care and cutting-edge technology. The windowless structure was framed primarily with lightweight steel. Interior and exterior walls were aluminum “sandwiched” with polystyrene foam panels.  So intrigued was Kelso that he purchased it, and had it disassembled and shipped, by barge, to Sebastian. After a long battle with the Florida State Board of Health, a temporary permit was finally granted, but, before the scheduled grand opening, fire destroyed what would have been Sebastian’s first hospital. Undaunted, Kelso assembled a group of consultants and developers and, at last, in February, 1974, the 103-bed hospital opened its doors. A management agreement was signed with American Medicorp later that year. READ FULL STORY


City’s public works gets new dump truck
week of July 3, 2014

Sebastian’s Public Works Department is getting a new dump truck, just in time for the 2014 hurricane season if any kind of major post-storm cleanup will be needed this year.  Among the consent agenda items, the Sebastian City Council, at its last regular June 25 meeting, unanimously approved, without any discussion, the purchase of a 2015 Ford F-650 dump truck.  The new truck will replace the city Public Works Department’s present out-of-service truck, a 1993 model which is, according to papers prepared for the city council meeting by City Manager Joe Griffin and his staff, in “poor condition with clutch, transmission and drive issues.”  The truck, which features a 16-foot dump bed, was described in the briefing papers as “an essential vehicle for daily Public Works use as well as a primary vehicle for hurricane cleanup.”  The vehicle will be purchased under the purchasing contract of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, which entitles the city to a volume purchasing discount, at a net cost of $68,557.  The purchase of the truck was the main expense item on the city’s capital budget for the coming 2015 fiscal year. READ FULL STORY


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