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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Commissioner Linda Jones voiced her concerns about services the City is receiving from contracted attorney Scott Walker. Jones is frustrated with Walker’s response time to City staff and commissioners as well as his interpretation of what could be challenged as far as the mural ordinance is concerned. Jones dissatisfaction led her to suggest the City hire a second attorney from a different firm to reinterpret Walker’s interpretation of what is legally defensible regarding murals.

Jones penned a letter detailing her concerns saying that “issues are stacking up, therefore the City cannot proceed unless they proceed with writing ordinances, etc. themselves.”

Jones also said the attorney was not prepared on the proposed Bridlewood development presentation of July 14 as he said at that time that “this was just a presentation.” Her third concern was the continued disagreement as to the rights of artists and the citizens. She said citizens have few rights when it comes to the number of mural applications that can be submitted at one time. Her fourth complaint was turnover in Walker’s firm. “I believe we need an attorney with more experience; our staff does not have time to train new attorneys.”

Walker responded to each of Jones’ complaints. Walker pointed out that his firm has worked on over 70 projects for High Springs since January and an additional five special projects. He also said that he has implemented an email address exclusively for High Springs that will go to all of the attorneys involved with the City. Walker said he hoped that would improve communication. In addition, he has given the Commissioners and City staff his cell phone number and suggested that his legal assistant could be contacted in his absence if someone needs to talk to him personally.

In response to the Bridlewood comment, Walker said the presentation was just that and he didn’t believe it was appropriate to get into a lengthy un-noticed discussion about the project, especially since it would eventually come before the City Commission.

Regarding the mural ordinance, he said he is not hired to do what is popular or what even 100 people want to have him do, but instead to respond with an interpretation of the law. “There are people out there who look for cases like this to challenge,” Walker said. “My job is to present an ordinance that will pass constitutional muster to keep the City out of a lawsuit.”

Walker said he has been with the firm for 40 years and his partner for even longer than that. He added that several of his attorneys or staff members have been with the firm for several decades. He had earlier mentioned that one of his younger attorneys was watching the meeting on zoom to gain more insight into how she would handle different issues.

Jones specifically asked about a mural that recently went up in the historic district that apparently contained an aspect in the design that was considered a sign. Walker said the person who put up the mural was willing to remove the signage portion of the mural. Because the mural was in the historic district, he said a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Board should have been obtained prior to putting up the mural. However, he specified that the building itself was not a historic structure.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose suggested that clear timelines as to when an ordinance or project was due would help staff— a suggestion with which Walker said he agreed.

In response to a question if the contract with the City could be modified to hire a second attorney, Walker said it could be done, but a separate attorney would require putting out a Request for Proposals (RFP).

Commissioner Katherine Weitz made a motion to bring the item back for discussion after they had a chance to review the contract. The motion was seconded by Jones and passed unanimously.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Alachua County has approached High Springs to see if the City would be willing to share the cost of purchasing a local landmark. The purchase price of the Priest Theater is $300,000 - $350,000. Renovations just to bring the building up to code are estimated at $1.5 million. The cost to bring in equipment to shore up the building to keep it from collapsing is estimated to be $30,000 with an additional $8,000 per month to keep the equipment in place. The cost to replace the roof is another $300,000 - $500,000 and it is estimated to cost $100,000 per year for upkeep.

Anticipated funding would come from a combination of Wild Spaces Public Places and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds. Although some individuals prefer that the money be spent on roads, the two funding options cannot be used for road maintenance.

At the Sept. 8 High Springs City Commission meeting, the Commission took no action about the purchase, but did indicate that they would like to see what the County is willing to put into the project before making a decision. The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners heard this item at a Special Meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The idea of possibly helping with part of the $300,000 purchase was discussed, but no commitment was made. “We are now taking a look at it to advise the Commission at a future meeting,” said Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton.

The item is anticipated to be considered again at the next High Springs City Commission meeting scheduled for Sept. 19.

Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant

In other City business, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe was on hand to talk about the possibility of including High Springs in a regional wastewater facility proposed by the City of Newberry. If approved by the state, the proposed $40 million facility would serve Archer, Newberry and High Springs and may also serve Trenton.

The project site is approximately 92 acres just south of Newberry’s existing wastewater treatment plant facility. Marlowe said 40-42 acres would be needed for the facility. He would like to see the remaining acreage used as a wetland area with walking and biking capability, among other environmental options. Marlowe said that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has said they would pay for the lines to run from Archer to the Newberry facility if the project goes forward. “They may do the same for High Springs,” he said. “I’m not making any promises, but it is a possibility.”

The High Springs City Commission voted unanimously for staff to explore the possibility of being included in the proposed regional wastewater project.

Tractor Supply Site Plan

The commission also unanimously approved a 5.01 +/- acre site plan for a proposed Tractor Supply to be located on Santa Fe Boulevard. The parcel is located on the west side of Northwest U.S. Highway 441, approximately one mile north of County Road 236.

Due to limitations on the site, the High Springs Plan Board approved a variance on Aug. 30 that granted the applicant a reduction in required parking spaces from 110 to 75 spaces and a reduction to the Highway Enhancement Zone Front Yard setback from 35 to 13 feet. City Manager Ashley Stathatos said that the site plan is consistent with the Land Development Code and staff recommended approval.

Citizens who had expressed concern about the lighting were told the lighting would be dark sky, meaning that the lights are directed to the ground. Another citizen concern raised was about proposed tree removals. Stathatos said the plan had not yet been addressed regarding trees, but that the City has a tree ordinance, which will be considered regarding the final plan review.

Mini-storage Facility to Expand

Clay Sweger of eda Consultants, Inc. requested a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) on the property known as People's Choice Storage High Springs LLC. The 8.01 +/- acre parcel located at 26029 W. U.S. Highway 27 is zoned C2 and already contains a mini-storage facility within an existing RV/boat storage facility. The original CUP was approved in 2017.

The total square footage of the two existing buildings on site is 10,850 square feet. The five new proposed buildings total 79,750 square feet. The Plan Board recommended approval at their July 26 meeting with conditions present in the original 2017 CUP. The 2017 conditions included provision of a landscape design to the Commission, permanent maintenance of all plantings/buffers agreed to and reassurance that vehicle maintenance not be allowed on the property.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to the new CUP with the existing conditions and the addition of dark sky lighting and that the emergency access entrance not be allowed to be a regular use entrance going forward.

City Budget Set at $17.6 Million

Following budget workshops over the past several weeks the Commission set the tentative ad valorem millage rate for Fiscal Year 2022-23 at 5.99 mills, the same rate set for FY22. Although the millage rate was not increased, property owners are likely to see an increase in their property taxes due to increased property values. Consideration of the final millage rate and budget is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Prior to budget approval, the Commission briefly discussed the $12,000 Commission salary increase included in the FY23 budget. Finance Director Diane Wilson reported that a survey of area commission salaries showed that High Springs’ commissioners were paid less than other similarly-sized cities. Wilson also suggested the $12,000 increase could be allocated differently in the future if the Commissioners decided to use the funds for another purpose.

K9 Brix Retiring

High Springs Police Department K9 Brix will be retiring early and going home with his handler, Officer John Frickie. Brix has been trained to locate marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana for medical use, Brix is no longer needed to fulfill that need for the department.

“FHP and other agencies are moving away from using K9s for sniffing out marijuana,” said HSPD Chief Antoine Sheppard.

Retraining the dog for other uses would take approximately nine months. As Brix would be older by that time, his usefulness to the department would be limited. His handler has agreed to pay the pro-rated value of the dog and plans to take him home to join his family permanently.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ three new officers have joined the High Springs Police Department (HSPD).  A special presentation was made at the beginning of the Sept. 8 High Springs City Commission meeting to welcome the new officers.  Police Chief Antoine Sheppard explained that although the officers are new, as they are hired, they go through a tough training program.  The training program consists of three phases that includes monitoring by three different field training officers.  The new officers are James Davis, Dennis Clayton and Markel Parks. 

Davis joined the HSPD on Feb. 2, 2022.  He was born and raised in Lake City, where he graduated from Columbia High School.  He worked for the Department of Corrections for several years before attending Florida Gateway College to pursue a career in law enforcement.  

Clayton joined the High Springs Police Department on April 18, 2022.  He was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he resided until his family relocated to High Springs, when he was six years old.  Clayton attended the High Springs Community School and later received his diploma from Fort White High School.  When he is not dedicating his time to his career with HSPD, he loves spending quality time with his family.  

Parks also joined the HSPD on April 18, 2022, but started his career in law enforcement in his hometown of Starke in 2018 with the Starke Police Department.  Parks worked for the Starke Police Department for four years before coming to the HSPD to further his career.  Parks enjoys going to the gym and practicing martial arts.

Following the introductions, Chief Sheppard administered the oath of office to each of the officers to a round of applause from the audience and Commissioners.

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TRENTON ‒ The swimming area at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is currently closed. The popular recreation area encompasses a collection of natural springs, including a large second-magnitude spring that produces an average of 44 million gallons of water per day. One of its most popular springs provides a pristine swimming area of crystal-clear water.

Due to the impact of heavy rains, the park had to close its spring swimming area on Friday, Aug. 26, as well as the suspension bridge until further notice.

According to State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) workers, heavy rains eroded and partially collapsed the seawall around the swimming area. The rains also created a mudslide that blocked access to the swimming area. There are concerns that more rains may cause the mudslide to pollute the spring head.

The park service is waiting for DEP to determine what can be done to repair the damage and rebuild the seawall to stabilize the surrounding area. There is no current estimate on cost or timeline for reopening the swimming area.

The park is still open for other activities including hiking and picnicking, but the popular swimming hole is off limits for now. The park is located in Gilchrist County about five miles west of high springs.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has tentatively set its upcoming fiscal year budget at $57,651,391. The City Commission held the first public hearing on the tentative increase on the millage rate and approval of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. Alachua finance director Robert Bonetti said the City is proposing 5.39 mills, which is 8.10 percent more than the rolled back rate of 4.986. The tentative 2022-23 Fiscal Year budget comes in at $57,651,391, which is an increase of $8,912,748 over the previous year. The final public hearing on the millage rate, which is based on yearly property tax assessments, is slated for the Sept. 26 Commission meeting.

In other budget related business, the Commission approved extending the city contract for residential solid waste and increasing the rate from $18.60 per single-family residence or each living unit to $25.60 to compensate for inflation and increased costs. The existing contract with Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. was established in 2016 and expires Sept. 30, 2022. The current contract provides for one final extension of four years, and at that point, a solicitation of bids through a competitive process will be initiated to provide services. The Commission agreed to amend and extend the Waste Pro contract until 2026.

In other City business, the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) will be paying the City of Alachua $320,400 to continue the School Resource Officer Program (SROP) for the four schools within Alachua's jurisdiction, Santa Fe High School, Mebane Middle School, Alachua Elementary School and Irby Elementary School. The SBAC requested that the City enter into an agreement for the 2022-23 school year. The agreement requires five School Resource Officers—one in each of the elementary and middle schools and two at Santa Fe High School. The share of funding for Alachua schools for this contact is $320,400, which represents a $20,400 increase from the previous year.

Each year the Alachua City Commission honors the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America with a proclamation celebrating the historic event. By Presidential Proclamation, Sept. 17 through Sept. 23 is designated Constitution Week. At the Sept. 12 Commission meeting, Mayor Gib Coerper presented Kay Hall, the Past Regent for the Gainesville Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, with the City of Alachua proclamation of Constitution Week. Hall offered a brief speech discussing the founding of the nation and uniqueness of the country’s democracy and Constitution.

In other business, Mayor Coerper read a proclamation declaring October as American Pharmacists Month. Coerper said pharmacists are important members of a healthcare team who are well versed in medications, the effects they produce in a body, and how they interact or interfere with each other to safely providing medicine to the public. Pharmacists also offer many other services as part of their commitment to helping patients live healthier lives. Coerper also stressed the important role the pharmacist played during the Covid Pandemic including offering testing along with medications and vaccines. Today, there are over 300,000 licensed pharmacists providing care and serving as patient advocates for ensuring the best and safest therapy for the patients they serve

In other City business, Joy Glanzer, Chair of the Opioid Task Force, spoke about an interlocal agreement for funding the task force. An estimated 70,630 people lose their lives to overdoses each year, and many communities are struggling to find funding to combat the epidemic. The Opioid Task Force is working to get all communities in Alachua County to provide funds to combat the epidemic and educate children in schools to the problem to keep them from becoming victims. The agreement is for the Children’s Trust to distribute funds on behalf of the municipalities that have entered into the agreement. The Opioid Task Force is asking for a $10,000 contribution from each community and have had agreements signed by High Springs, Micanopy, Archer and $15,000 from the City of Newberry. The Alachua Commission agreed to contribute $10,000 to the Opioid Task Force.

The City’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) will be seeing new faces as the Commission voted on approving three appointments to the five-member council. Santa Fe High School 11th graders Abigail Blumer, Emma Cedeno-Alonso and Keyosha Queen were elected for two-year terms. The purpose of the council is to stimulate and foster the active participation of young individuals in addressing the issues impacting the youth of the community. It also ensures that the leaders of tomorrow have input in the local government process today. The YAC also makes recommendations to the City Commission on policies and procedures affecting the community youths.

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ALACHUA ‒ Sallone Travonta Barbary, 38, was arrested on Saturday, Sept. 10, and charged with violation of probation, carrying a concealed firearm without a permit, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and cocaine possession.

The Alachua Police Department responded to a call about a vehicle burglary in progress in a residential neighborhood near Criswell Park. The victim said that an unknown male was inside his car and that he might have a gun. When officers arrived, Barbary was reportedly sleeping in the driver’s seat of the victim’s car.

The officer awakened Barbary and placed him in handcuffs. Barbara reportedly had a shoulder bag on the front side of his body. When it was determined that Barbary would be arrested, the bag was searched. Officers reportedly found a loaded pistol, a box of ammunition and a baggie with a white powdery substance that field-tested positive for cocaine. The pistol had previously been reported stolen in Alachua County.

The officers also learned that Barbary is on felony probation for narcotics and charged him with violation of probation. Barbary has six felony convictions and was released in 2017 from a state prison sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was arrested in 2019 for DUI and narcotics possession and sentenced to four months in the Alachua County Jail, followed by three years of drug offender probation. The conditions of probation require him to abstain completely from alcohol and illegal drugs.

Barbary is being held without bail on the probation violation charge and on $55,000 bail on the other charges.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ Based on news accounts, it may seem there are more shark sightings — and attacks — than usual along the northeastern shores of the United States, but a University of Florida shark expert says that’s a misleading perception.

“Every summer, stories about shark attacks tend to get amplified, which can generate the false idea that things are different this year,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “Globally, we’re on track for a very normal shark-bite year, with about 70-80 unprovoked around the world.”

Unprovoked shark bites have increased slightly over the last 30 years, but Naylor attributes that to the growing number of people enjoying recreational ocean activities.

“Sharks don’t target humans,” he said. “Nearly every bite is due to mistaken identity. Sharks can’t see very well, especially in murky water, and they are simply following food.”

Naylor said changes in local conditions can contribute to increased marine activity within a region. Long Island, New York, is one area that has experienced five non-fatal attacks within two weeks in July.

“I’m sure for people in New York, it can feel like there is an uptick in shark attacks, especially when several occur in rapid succession at their beaches,” he said. “Five unprovoked bites happening in an area is odd but not a trend and shouldn’t cause people to avoid beaches around the world.”

Naylor, who is also program director of the “International Shark Attack Files,” is in high demand by reporters this time of year as media fascination and high-rated shark week TV programming capture the country’s attention. Naylor sees the elevated interest as an opportunity to teach people about the fish he has studied for nearly three decades.

“People are interested in sharks because they like to be frightened,” he said. “If we can help the general public see that they are remarkable animals that have been here for 400 million years with intriguing qualities, like one species that can live as long as 400 years and another that can clone itself, then maybe they’ll be amazed and forget to be frightened.”

Those wanting to learn more about sharks can visit the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), which is the world’s only scientifically verified database of all known shark attacks, covering the period from the early 1500s to the present. The ISAF provides an abundance of data and resources for those interested in understanding shark attack trends, the odds for being attacked by a shark and how to reduce your risk. Tips include avoid being in the water during low light hours, like dawn or dusk, when many sharks are most active and feeding; not wandering too far from shore; and always staying with a buddy since sharks are more likely to approach a solitary individual.

“We have added an interactive shark attack map, so you can choose any period of time going back more than 100 years and see for yourself the trends in unprovoked shark bites in any given area of the world,” Naylor said. “You can even narrow it down by species.”

Five facts from the 2021 ISAF:

  • The 2021 worldwide total of 73 confirmed unprovoked cases was in line with the most recent five-year (2016-2020) average of 72 incidents annually.
  • The U.S. has the most unprovoked bites in the world, with 47 last year.
  • Florida had the most unprovoked bites in U.S., with 28 last year.
  • Most bites are related to surfing and board sports.
  • The odds of getting bit by a shark are less than 1 in 4 million.

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MIAMI — Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis on Friday joined hundreds of competitors to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge®. Over 800 participants and counting, from 32 states and Canada, are beginning their search to find and remove invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. Participants are eligible to win thousands of dollars in prizes while removing Burmese pythons from the wild as part of the competition that kicked off today at 8:00 a.m. and runs through 5:00 p.m. on August 14. Additionally, the First Lady announced the milestone of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s python removal contractors removing more than 10,000 Burmese pythons from the wild in Florida.

“I am excited to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge® by going out into the Everglades to join those coming from near and far, both novices and professionals, to hunt pythons – today marks another year of innovative conservation strategies to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources for generations to come,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles. Our family will continue to support conservation efforts in the Everglades, and today I’m doing that by being one of the first out to hunt this invasive species.”

Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, FWC, South Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida host the Florida Python Challenge® to increase awareness about invasive species and the threats they pose to Florida’s ecology. The annual competition encourages people to get directly involved in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal.

“Florida’s wildlife and unique landscapes are like nowhere else in the world," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  "The proactive leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis has been instrumental in providing us with the resources we need to remove harmful invasive species such as the Burmese python, and events like The Florida Python Challenge® provide an opportunity for the public to become personally involved in this important effort to protect our spectacular natural resources.” 

“Thanks to the tremendous support of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, conservation and the protection of our natural resources in Florida remains a top priority,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Through the partnership we share with the South Florida Water Management District, python contractors, and the dedicated participants of the Florida Python Challenge®, we remain unified to explore and implement the methods to control this invasive species in order to make a lasting impact in the protection of our treasured Everglades ecosystem.”

“Removing invasive pythons from the Everglades ecosystem is one of our agency’s most important goals,” said Florida Depatment of Environemntal Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership in coordinating this effort among state agencies, the South Florida Water Management District and researchers to address the Burmese python infestation, and for giving the public an opportunity to engage in ecosystem restoration. The participants in this year’s Python Challenge will play a pivotal role in helping to preserve and protect the Everglades.”

“I thank Governor Ron DeSantis and our First Lady Casey DeSantis for fighting to save America's Everglades and protect Florida’s natural resources,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member “Alligator Ron” Bergeron. “With the strong support we receive from the DeSantis Administration, we are removing record numbers of pythons from the Everglades while restoring this important ecosystem. Everyday citizens play a big part in this fight through the annual Python Challenge and add to the important work of our hardworking professional python removal agents. Let’s save the Everglades!”

“Wow, more than 10,000 pythons! Florida is making monumental progress on our Everglades restoration efforts and the fight against the harmful Burmese pythons thanks to the support of the DeSantis Administration,” said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “We are grateful for our partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the public during this year’s Python Challenge. Your efforts make a difference, and we appreciate the Governor’s and First Lady’s commitment to our precious natural resources.” 

Participants in both the professional and novice categories can win cash prizes of up to $2,500 for removing the most pythons. There will be additional awards for the longest pythons removed in both categories. This year, Edison National Bank is sponsoring thousands in cash prizes awarded to eligible active-duty military and veteran participants.

People interested in competing can still register through the final day of the competition, August 14, at FLPythonChallenge.org. There is a $25 registration fee and participants must complete a free online training to compete.

Visit FLPythonChallenge.org to register for the competition, take the online training, learn more about Burmese pythons and the unique Everglades ecosystem and find resources for planning your trip to south Florida to participate in the Florida Python Challenge®.

About invasive Burmese pythons

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida and negatively impact native species. They are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where they prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A female Burmese python may lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time. More than 17,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida since 2000. For more information on Burmese pythons, visit MyFWC.com/Python.

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TALLAHASSEE – Florida's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis warns Floridians of a recent cryptocurrency scam known as “pig butchering” or “pig slaughtering” in which victims are enticed to put more and more money into a fake cryptocurrency investment scheme only to “fatten them up” before a scammer disappears with vast sums of their cryptocurrency. This cryptocurrency scam is reportedly most often perpetrated on dating sites and social media as a new form of a romance scam.
 
CFO Jimmy Patronis said, “In Florida, we embrace emerging technology and innovation, but consumers must always stay on guard for scams especially as new financial products like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become increasingly popular. Reports say cryptocurrency scams have bilked millions out of unsuspecting crypto investors; many of which were scammed through online dating apps over the course of several months. Just like with any major financial decision, consumers should do research and never transfer funds to someone you think is suspicious, untrustworthy, and whose identity you haven’t verified. You may as well kiss your money goodbye. If you feel you have been the victim of a scam, report it immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com. Always remember, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it is.”
 
Three tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to avoid crypto scams:
 
• Only scammers demand payment in cryptocurrency. No legitimate business is going to demand you send cryptocurrency in advance – not to buy something, and not to protect your money. That’s always a scam.

• Only scammers will guarantee profits or big returns. Don’t trust people who promise you can quickly and easily make money in the crypto markets.

• Never mix online dating and investment advice. If you meet someone on a dating site or app, and they want to show you how to invest in crypto, or asks you to send them crypto, that’s a scam.

For more tips on how to avoid cryptocurrency scams, click here.

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TALLAHASSEE - On May 22, Florida angler, Dale Dew, caught the first pink-tagged bass of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) TrophyCatch 10-Tag Celebration. Dew will receive a $5,000 gift card to Bass Pro Shops and $1,000 to shop at AFTCO. This catch also means he has a chance to win an additional $10,000, which will be awarded at a ceremony this fall.

FWC biologists tagged this specific largemouth bass in February on Lake Griffin. Dew caught the fish near the same spot it was tagged, using a plastic worm. He successfully submitted his catch according to TrophyCatch rules.

Dew is originally from Antiqua and he and his family now live in central Florida. While he was not originally going fishing for the pink tag, he saw a sign about the promotion that day.

“It was the first time we heard about it, and we were like, ‘Whoa what’s this? We aren't going to catch it. We’re two guys who can’t fish!’” said Dale Dew, the first lucky angler to catch a pink-tagged largemouth bass. “We don’t have all the nice equipment or a nice bass boat but we got lucky and caught it! So, it could be any ordinary person who catches it. You never know, it’s crazy.”

Nine more pink-tagged bass are swimming in other waterbodies across the state: Newnans Lake; Lake George; Lake Talquin; Lake Walk-in-Water; Tenoroc Fish Management Area; Lake Trafford; Lake Istokpoga; Lake Rousseau; and Johns Lake. Anglers have until the end of September to fish for these special, prized fish.

To celebrate Season 10 of the TrophyCatch program, biologists with the FWC tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations across the state. Anglers should check the TrophyCatch website for rules and updates.

The TrophyCatch program rewards anglers who provide documentation of their catch and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos or videos of their catch to TrophyCatch.com, showing the entire fish and its weight on a scale, before releasing it back into the water. Participants are also automatically entered in a free boat drawing just for registering. FWC biologists use TrophyCatch data for bass research to make informed decisions about the management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch and release of trophy bass. The associated TrophyCare program promotes best handling practices for trophy bass to ensure that each TrophyCatch bass is released alive.

For the latest news about the TrophyCatch 10-TAG Celebration subscribe to the program’s topic email (select “TrophyCatch” under “Freshwater Fishing”). For more information about the TrophyCatch program or the 10-TAG Celebration, email KP Clements at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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TALLAHASSEE, - Today, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is encouraging businesses throughout the state to prepare for the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which begins June 1. DEO urges businesses to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season by visiting FloridaDisaster.biz, which provides business owners with resources to prepare for potential disasters, critical updates during a disaster, and post-disaster resources to help Florida’s businesses recover and Floridians return to work.

 During the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, which runs from Saturday, May 28 to Friday, June 10, business owners can also purchase some equipment to prepare their businesses for a disaster tax-free, including batteries, tarps and generators. A full list of eligible tax-free items is available here.

 “Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ strong leadership, Florida businesses have access to the resources they need to prepare for disasters and make a quick recovery following a disaster,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle. “FloridaDisaster.biz enables businesses to make the best decisions for their employees and business operations during disaster events, and DEO encourages all businesses to utilize this valuable tool.”

 Taking the steps to build a business disaster continuity plan, as well as encouraging employees to create a family emergency plan, can reduce the financial and physical impact that a disaster can have on businesses. 

For information about how to create a plan, what to include in a disaster kit, where to find storm updates, and more information, please visit the resources below:

  •  FloridaDisaster.org is maintained by the Division of Emergency Management, with resources and information about what businesses should do during and after a disaster.
  • FloridaDisaster.biz is a partnership between DEO and the Florida Division of Emergency Management that provides a hub for businesses before, during, and after emergencies.

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GAINESVILLE – The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention invites applications for its 13th Annual Cade Prize for Innovation. Inventors and entrepreneurs in Florida, Georgia and Alabama may apply June 1 – August 1, 2022. 

“The Cade Prize for Innovation supports an ecosystem of invention throughout the Southeast,” said Richard Miles, Cade Prize Committee Chair. “It rewards early-stage ideas with the promise to change the world and fuel billion-dollar economies.” 

This year’s Cade Prize is one of the largest cash prize competitions for innovation in Florida, awarding $64,000: $34,000 for first place, $13,000 for second place, $8,000 for third place, $5,000 for fourth place, $3,000 for fifth place and $1,000 for the People’s Choice. Each winner also receives $2,000 of in-kind legal services. 

Designed to help early-stage inventors move beyond invention and into the marketplace, the Cade Prize provides capital to help secure patents, licensing, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.  

The Cade Prize awards candidates whose work addresses critical issues impacting the Southeast: Agriculture/Environment, Health Care/Biomedicine, IT/Technology, Energy and a Wild Card category. Applicants do not need to have a working prototype. 

Since 2010, hundreds of inventors with groundbreaking inventions have applied for the coveted prize. Some have achieved great success. “Winning the Cade Prize helped take us from an invention to a sustained business,” said 2010 Cade Prize winner, Ethan Fieldman, co-founder of Tutor Matching Service.  

 Fieldman and his team developed Tutor Matching Service, a website and Facebook application matching college students with educators from around the world. “Winning the Cade Prize validated our proof of concept, led to industry-wide support and an explosion of sales,” he said. After many universities partnered with the company, it attracted a multi-million dollar investment from several venture capitalists to expand its offering to an app. In 2021, Fieldman sold the business to the Carlyle Group and enjoys staying connected with the Cade Museum team. 

To be eligible, individuals or companies may have no more than $500,00 in outside investment such as funding from investors in exchange for stock or convertible notes. R1 research universities in Alabama, Georgia and Florida are invited to nominate one entry for automatic inclusion to the first round of judging. Applications may be submitted virtually at cadeprize.awardsplatform.com with a $55 application fee. 

The first round of judging, to determine the 21 Fibonacci Finalists - named after the 11th century Italian mathematician who created the building blocks of Western mathematics – is August 15, 2022. The Fibonacci Finalists are invited to the Cade Museum in Gainesville, Florida for a public Q & A about their inventions on September 8, 2022. The Cade Prize Awards Ceremony takes place at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention on September 29, 2022.  

This year’s Cade Prize is sponsored by Scott R. MacKenzie, Florida Trend, Modern Luxury, James Moore Certified Public Accountants and Consultants, Community Foundation of North Central Florida, and Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk law firm. To learn more about the Cade Prizevisit cademuseum.org/cadeprize

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It’s high time the local business owners speak up. I am a small business owner in High Springs for seven years now, and before that, helped run the High Springs Art Coop for six years. As we all know, our area is growing at a crazy rate. People have discovered our area for the treasure it is, as we all have at one point, so we have to learn to accept change in a reasonable way. The key word is reasonable.

Landlord greed with unreasonable rents kills business, most of all small business. Even big business suffers. I remember a story before Covid of the famous Barney’s of NYC, an icon for years that closed because the owners of their building raised the rent. They were already paying a million dollars a month!

Locally, look how the lovely town of Alachua went from being a vibrant historic downtown that we in High Springs envied and now it struggles to make it. Why? I feel it is because of large land owners who own the majority of real estate. They get renters in the first year at a low rate and after a year jack up the rent. I was told by a previous store owner than they over charge for utilities, too. These small places can barely make $1,000 to $1,500 a month total and most don’t bring in a monthly salary for themselves. How are they going to pay over $2,000 a month rent? Shame on what has happened in that lovely town.

Micanopy is another depressed town because of unreasonable people and then just look at downtown Gainesville. I wonder how long all those huge apartment houses will sit empty because of the humongous rents they are charging.

We can still save High Springs. We can make it a model historic small-town success. Here we have a few local hero landowners who are logical, honest and smart business owners. They charge rents that these small businesses can sustain.

The Barber and Grady families in our town are a blessing to all who rent from them—unlike some of the newbies who have bought up some of our buildings. The newbies’ unrealistic expectations can kill small businesses, or no one will pay such high rents, so their structures remain empty.

For example, in downtown High Springs there is the corner spot where River Run Olive Oil sat. It is a prime location, and here it is another year that it sits empty. The original owners sold because they wished to retire.

Across the street from me is the largest group of modern local store spaces. There was a quilt store there for a bit, but she couldn’t sustain the high rent. The same with rentals on the other side of her, the buildings have sat empty for years now. The owner is from Miami and thinks she is going to get Miami prices. All of these are prime real estate, front and center on Main Street and empty.

The main inspiration to this letter is The Florida Springs Institute. It is our local nonprofit, which does so much good protecting and bringing awareness to our local waters. I understand they are being kicked out of their corner space by their landlord. I heard they weren’t even given the offer to stay at a higher rate. The landlord is going to put someone in there at a huge increase in rent.

Although the landlord professes to support the springs, it seems that is the bottom line is taking precedence. We will see if the “new” business can sustain the ridiculously high rent or will downtown have another empty store front?

I had to say something and bring attention to this issue, even though I don’t think there is much we can do. The town is at the mercy of landowners who decide the bottom line. We can only hope and pray that our little town of High Springs continues to grow with sweet businesses that add to our charm with newbies coming who want to add to our world.

We are not against “reasonable” change. We welcome new and younger people looking to share in our small-town dream. Younger entrepreneurs bring vitality and freshness. We are just asking new and old landlords to keep it real and not let the over inflated prices for everything else invade common sense business practices. We expect you to make “reasonable” incomes, just not overpriced ones.

The future is determined right now. We either jack up rents, run the little charming business out and we get replaced by offices, empty stores and decay, or we support the small-town flair, encouraging the entrepreneur and make a small local business possible for everyone.

Remember that a store that sits empty for years produces zero rent. The more spaces that are filled, the better it is for all businesses.

Tina Corbett

High Springs, Florida

It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.

Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.

Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.

On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.

By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.

We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.

Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.

Together, we can help #StopSuicide.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.

On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.

The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.

Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair

Florida Commission on Human Relations

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Floridians,

This week, I announced the new Mental Health Care Service webpage on the Department of Financial Services (DFS) website, which aims to provide resources and assistance to mental health services for consumers. This past legislative session, HB 701 was signed by Governor DeSantis and establishes new communication duties for health insurers and HMOs and creates reporting requirements for DFS.

I’m proud to provide Floridians with resources they need to seek vital treatment so they can live a healthier life. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, mental health challenges are on the rise nationwide, especially within our first responder and front-line healthcare communities. Thank you to Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for stressing the importance of mental health resources in our communities.

On Tuesday, I recognized, October 12th, as National Savings Day and urged Floridians to make saving a priority to secure their financial well-being. Saving is the cornerstone of a strong financial foundation. Setting money aside each month allows families to handle unexpected costs or prepare for future expenses, like college tuition. As your CFO, I remain focused on ensuring all Floridians have the tools they need to make their hard-earned money work for them. For information about financial literacy programs available through the Department, please visit Your Money Matters, which is a one-stop shop for tips and resources to help Floridians manage their finances wisely.

Lastly, in recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I encouraged Floridians to 'Be Cyber Smart' and raised awareness in an effort to stay safe and secure online. Recently, officials are warning consumers of a new scam where fraudsters are creating fake Google Voice accounts to scam people without being detected. Scammers are always searching for new ways to trick their next victim and using fake Google Voice accounts is their latest ploy. I encourage all individuals and businesses to take action today to 'Be Cyber Smart' and learn how to protect your identity online to ensure you don’t fall victim. Learn about the latest scams and report signs of fraud immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com

Jimmy Patrons

State of Florida CFO

With Memorial Day behind us and Independence Day on the horizon, I’m happy to report that our state parks have never been more popular.

Our beaches – two of which were recently named among the 10 best in America by beach guru Dr. Beach – and our springs have attracted a record number of visitors, and we expect that trend to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Not only that, but our campsites are filling up too as more people discover the joys of camping and RVing.

As it turns out, now is a great time to plan an overnight stay. June is National Camping Month, and the Florida Park Service has just launched a new reservation system that provides our visitors with quicker, easier access to their favorite parks.

The new system shows clearly which parks and sites are available for camping and provides online users with a streamlined process for making reservations. Additionally, campers can now reserve same-day accommodations, which is something that we’ve been wanting to implement for a long time.

The changes will also be apparent at each park’s ranger station, as we’ve updated our point-of-sale system to be more modernized and, most importantly, faster. That means less time at the park gates and more time inside the park.

You might also notice welcome additions such as the ability to be notified when a site becomes available. And, in the future, we’ll be looking to add expanded reservation capabilities for Florida residents.

When thinking about your favorite parks, you might remember an unforgettable paddling adventure or boat tour. But take a moment to consider the park operations needed to offer our visitors the best experiences possible.

Food sales, camp stores, kayak rentals, ferries and trams are services that we could not provide if not for a specially selected group of businesses – many of them owned locally. These companies and their employees are a part of our park community, and they’re just as committed as regular park staff to making your visit safe and enjoyable.

The business that helps us with reservations is just one of our partners that help make 800,000 acres, 30 springs and 100 miles of beaches special places to visit.     

Eric Draper

Director, Florida State Parks

 

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MIAMI — Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis on Friday joined hundreds of competitors to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge®. Over 800 participants and counting, from 32 states and Canada, are beginning their search to find and remove invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem. Participants are eligible to win thousands of dollars in prizes while removing Burmese pythons from the wild as part of the competition that kicked off today at 8:00 a.m. and runs through 5:00 p.m. on August 14. Additionally, the First Lady announced the milestone of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s python removal contractors removing more than 10,000 Burmese pythons from the wild in Florida.

“I am excited to kick off the 2022 Florida Python Challenge® by going out into the Everglades to join those coming from near and far, both novices and professionals, to hunt pythons – today marks another year of innovative conservation strategies to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources for generations to come,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles. Our family will continue to support conservation efforts in the Everglades, and today I’m doing that by being one of the first out to hunt this invasive species.”

Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, FWC, South Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida host the Florida Python Challenge® to increase awareness about invasive species and the threats they pose to Florida’s ecology. The annual competition encourages people to get directly involved in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal.

“Florida’s wildlife and unique landscapes are like nowhere else in the world," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  "The proactive leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis has been instrumental in providing us with the resources we need to remove harmful invasive species such as the Burmese python, and events like The Florida Python Challenge® provide an opportunity for the public to become personally involved in this important effort to protect our spectacular natural resources.” 

“Thanks to the tremendous support of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, conservation and the protection of our natural resources in Florida remains a top priority,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Through the partnership we share with the South Florida Water Management District, python contractors, and the dedicated participants of the Florida Python Challenge®, we remain unified to explore and implement the methods to control this invasive species in order to make a lasting impact in the protection of our treasured Everglades ecosystem.”

“Removing invasive pythons from the Everglades ecosystem is one of our agency’s most important goals,” said Florida Depatment of Environemntal Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership in coordinating this effort among state agencies, the South Florida Water Management District and researchers to address the Burmese python infestation, and for giving the public an opportunity to engage in ecosystem restoration. The participants in this year’s Python Challenge will play a pivotal role in helping to preserve and protect the Everglades.”

“I thank Governor Ron DeSantis and our First Lady Casey DeSantis for fighting to save America's Everglades and protect Florida’s natural resources,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member “Alligator Ron” Bergeron. “With the strong support we receive from the DeSantis Administration, we are removing record numbers of pythons from the Everglades while restoring this important ecosystem. Everyday citizens play a big part in this fight through the annual Python Challenge and add to the important work of our hardworking professional python removal agents. Let’s save the Everglades!”

“Wow, more than 10,000 pythons! Florida is making monumental progress on our Everglades restoration efforts and the fight against the harmful Burmese pythons thanks to the support of the DeSantis Administration,” said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “We are grateful for our partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the public during this year’s Python Challenge. Your efforts make a difference, and we appreciate the Governor’s and First Lady’s commitment to our precious natural resources.” 

Participants in both the professional and novice categories can win cash prizes of up to $2,500 for removing the most pythons. There will be additional awards for the longest pythons removed in both categories. This year, Edison National Bank is sponsoring thousands in cash prizes awarded to eligible active-duty military and veteran participants.

People interested in competing can still register through the final day of the competition, August 14, at FLPythonChallenge.org. There is a $25 registration fee and participants must complete a free online training to compete.

Visit FLPythonChallenge.org to register for the competition, take the online training, learn more about Burmese pythons and the unique Everglades ecosystem and find resources for planning your trip to south Florida to participate in the Florida Python Challenge®.

About invasive Burmese pythons

Burmese pythons are not native to Florida and negatively impact native species. They are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where they prey on birds, mammals and other reptiles. A female Burmese python may lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time. More than 17,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from Florida since 2000. For more information on Burmese pythons, visit MyFWC.com/Python.

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