Today is Veteran’s Day. I know there are many vets who read my newsletters and I’m so thankful for our military men and women. 🇺🇸
Let’s get to some news…
PAWS to raise rates after bleeding more than $200,000 every year
Niceville residents currently pay about $420 per animal control call in the city of Niceville. City Councilwoman Cathy Alley pointed out that fact to the rest of the council after doing some quick math at the dais while listening to a presentation from Panhandle Animal Welfare Shelter (PAWS) director Tracey Williams.
PAWS, which provides animal control services to Niceville (and all of the other cities in Okaloosa County), says it needs to raise rates for the second year in a row in order to cover the costs of providing the service.
PAWS came to the meeting in the chambers with the news that, in addition to the information, the city owes more than $15,000 on the bill for services from Fiscal year 20-21.
- This was apparently due to some budgeting miscommunication between PAWS and the City of Niceville.
- It sounds like it was on PAWS’ end as they had this issue with every other city in Okaloosa County.
The new executive director of the organization says that the last director left the organization out of date, behind on paperwork and bleeding more than $200,000 every year.
- The majority of that loss comes from providing animal control services.
- Williams said that the board has “seriously discussed” returning to just an animal shelter and no longer performing an animal control function.
The organization has cut staff from 42 to 25 in the last year alone. They currently have 6 animal control officers on staff who serve the whole County.
PAWS provides the services for about $5.50 per citizen and plans to raise it about $1.00 per citizen for FY 21-22. Currently, the national average is closer to between $7.50 and $15.00 per citizen.
Discussion about how the pricing for each city went into depth – after the director mentioned that Niceville’s stricter codes and ordinances for animals kept animal calls within the city limits way lower than most other municipalities and the unincorporated county. In 2015, Niceville had 93 animal control calls in the city. In 2020, Niceville had just 6.
The director mentioned that they looked into charging the county for county-wide animal control services. The county would then charge each city based on their usage of the services. This would substantially reduce the cost to the city.
Nothing concrete is in the works as of this moment, but the director mentioned that she would be speaking to public safety director Patrick Maddox in the near future about the idea.
It’s about time to talk tourism plans for Niceville
Okaloosa County Tourism Development Director Jennifer Adams and Commissioner Mel Ponder attended Niceville’s city council meeting in order to pitch the council on the plans they have for the city vis-a-vis tourism bed tax dollars.
About a month ago, the county voted overwhelmingly to expand the bed tax district county wide. This will allow the county to spend revenues generated from stays at hotels in Niceville and other parts north toward improvements in the area. The improvements have to be at least indirectly related to tourism – although the rules are somewhat flexible.
- For example – the money can be used on increased law enforcement presence, some increase in roadway capacity and other uses that are not ‘touristy’ things like marketing and beach restoration.
Adams outlined the generic plan to include Niceville into the Okaloosa County tourism industry.
- The tourism organ will focus on improving the quality of visitor.
- Basically, they want to reduce road congestion and other ailments that plague us during the spring and summer by having fewer or the same amount of visitors – so long as they spend more money than they do right now.
“We’ve been a discount beach destination,” Adams said. She then explained that our brand positioning would need to change going forward.
The current tourism development strategy centers around the older millennial mother with kids between the ages of 3-10 who wants to connect with her children. They would accomplish this by, yes, selling the beach; but, they will also sell that demographic on excursions to the interior of the county – away from the coastline.
While people will still come to our area for the beach – Niceville’s place in the tourism economy would be staked on ecological, agricultural and sports tourism offerings that will be marketed to visitors once they are already here.
Impact100 selects 4 grant recipients
The votes are in and 4 grant recipients have each been awarded $104,500 by Impact100. Here is a little info on each recipient.
United for a Good Cause
Project Title: Hope Squad Peer-to-Peer Prevention Expansion
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among kids 10-18. There were 36 youth suicides ages 10-24 between Okaloosa and Walton Counties in 2015-2019. The goal of United for a Good Cause is to save our kids by having a Hope Squad Peer-to-Peer Suicide Prevention Program in every school in our region from Escambia to Walton Counties.
Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)
Project Title: New Clinic Medial Equipment
PAWS’ goal is to reopen the only low-cost animal clinic in Okaloosa/Walton counties; provide diagnostics and surgery for injured animals and reduce the unwanted/unhealthy animal populations. To do this they need equipment.
Fresh Start for Children and Families
Project Title: Sell More = Help More ~ Fresh Start Takes Aim at More Capacity
Fresh Start is a housing/education program for families with children who are homeless. Their clients come from all walks of life, face many problems including abuse, divorce, generational poverty and more. This project is to purchase a box truck with lift, which would increase their capacity.
Sharing & Caring
The organization desperately needs a facility expansion and renovation. Since 1990, they have operated their food pantry in a small 1,485 sqft building using a tiny pantry of just 409 sqft. This year, they finally saved enough to purchase this building. Their 960 sqft expansion will extend their rectangular building by 30’.
OCSO Dive Team releases video showing their demanding training
Being a member of the OCSO Dive Team can be a physically and emotionally demanding job. From recovering the body of a victim, to locating, properly retrieving, and documenting evidence that could be hidden in two feet of muck.
The OCSO Dive Team members spend countless hours training in all types of underwater environments.
In October, they spent some time at Krul Lake in north Santa Rosa County to hone their skills – and some of that underwater training was captured on camera. Dive Team member Inspector Robert Wagner shot the video and gave an audio rundown!
Fort Walton Beach native, Bryan Jones, announces run for Congress, District 1
On Thursday morning, Fort Walton Beach native Bryan Jones officially announced his candidacy for Florida’s 1st Congressional District. But 19 years ago, as he was joining the Air Force, he never imagined he would be running for office.
Jones is “a local boy”, as he put it, having been born and raised in Fort Walton Beach. He attended Edwins Elementary, Bruner Middle School and Fort Walton Beach High School. It was at FWBHS that he met his now wife, Rachel.
Fifteen days after he turned 18, Jones went to the Air Force Academy, raised his right hand and swore an oath to defend and protect the constitution. Since then, he has served in the Air Force Special Operation Command as a pilot flying CV-22 Ospreys for the last 15 years.
- This includes five combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, and was awarded the Air Medal with Valor and the Joint Meritorious Service Medal for his exceptional leadership in combat.
And through all that, Jones says he and his family never lost sight of home.
“I’ve been stationed here at Hurlburt three times,” he said. “We’ve moved nine times in 12 years all over the country, but three of those places have been luckily home for us. With our move in 2019, and with me coming off of active duty in the Air Force to serve active duty in the Florida Air National Guard, it has allowed us to move back into our home here in Destin.”
For the Jones Family, this is where they say they will raise their two daughters. Rachel has been a career-long educator, who was recently promoted to Vice Principal of Meigs Middle School. Bryan says that even though she has had great teaching opportunities everywhere they have moved, her heart was always in Okaloosa County.
“Every time we would get stationed back here and then have to leave, it was tough to leave our family and friends,” said Jones. “So now we’re happy to be here forever.”
They are also small business owners operating CrossFit Destin.
“I was very fortunate for the opportunities I had growing up in this local area and I want to be able to provide the same thing to our family,” he said.
Jones admits that jumping into politics wasn’t something that he ever aspired to do, however, he does view it as an extension of what he’s been doing in the military for 19 years.
“There’s too many people that aspire to be politicians and not to be public servants,” he said. “I view public service as one of the most noble callings and something I’ve devoted my adult life to.”
Jones says that prior to his most recent assignment in Florida, he worked on the Legislative Affairs team for United States Special Operations Command in Washington D.C.
“I had firsthand interaction on The Hill on a daily basis, meeting with congressmen and women and it really opened my eyes to the ability to effect positive change,” Jones said. “It really lies there in that building and I was disappointed with what I saw.”
Jones is fully aware of the challenges ahead of him. The Congressional Seat he’s campaigning for is currently occupied by Congressman Matt Gaetz. While Congressman Gaetz hinted earlier in the year of possibly not seeking re-election, nothing has been confirmed yet.
“I like a challenge,” said Jones confidently. “I like when people tell me that it’s either going to be too hard or it’s something that can’t be done. My whole life I’ve been told that. A lot of the hardest things in life are the things that you value and treasure the most.”
Jones has never run for office before but feels like that’s what separates him from career politicians.
“I don’t think our Founding Fathers ever envisioned politics to be a career,” continued Jones. “They should be business owners. They should be veterans. They should be teachers and educators. I just see too much grandstanding and too many people that are doing it for selfish reasons that ultimately are not serving the greater good.”
As for the greater good, Jones has already identified some issues that he’s most passionate about:
- The military
- Veteran Affairs
“District 1 in Florida has more veterans and military than any other congressional district in the United States,” said Jones. “That’s 435 congressional districts. We are number one. One-in-six people in this district are veterans themselves but it’s probably closer to one-in-three when you consider the spouses, the children, the parents, the grandparents, etc. Because a calling to serve in the military is not just a calling on the service member. It’s a calling on the entire family.”
Jones says that even as he transitioned from active duty into the Guard, and now into a part-time status, he has personally encountered the VA Administration and the “loopholes”, as he describes them.
“The last time that we had a veteran represent this district was 1995. I think it’s time that a veteran represents this district,” he said.
For Jones, he believes in:
- Lowering taxes
- A free market
- Less government interference
“I’m a conservative and I think we need to go back to the principles and values that made this country great,” he said.
Today, Jones will officially kick-off his 10-month campaign trail by participating in Pensacola’s Veteran’s Day Parade followed by a CrossFit Hero WOD at his gym in Destin.
“I’m going to be anywhere and everywhere that people want me to be,” said Jones. “I’m going to be knocking on doors. I’m going to be going to cafes and lunches and having coffee with folks and just hearing what their issues are and getting to know them.”
For more information on Bryan Jones, visit BryanJonesforCongress.com.
OK, that’s all I have for you this morning! I hope you have a great Thursday.
p.s. What did you think of this morning’s newsletter? Hit the reply button and let me know!
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