General

Florida to get tax holiday on school and hurricane supplies

Back-to-school shoppers and hurricane-tested Floridians will be able to take advantage of sales-tax “holidays” when they prepare for the new school year and the upcoming storm season.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a tax package (HB 7123), featuring the school tax and disaster-preparedness holidays, and relief for business owners that rent storm-impacted farmers and commercial space.

With hurricane season coming on June 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill as attending the annual Hurricane Conference of Governor in West Palm Beach.

Mentioning the Floridians became hurricane “battled-tested” after hurricanes Michael last year, Irma in 2017, and Matthew in 2016, DeSantis said that they hoped not to have to use that experience this year.

He also said that he has used emergency powers to assist local officials to quickly access a federal program which provides cash advances that can be used to rebuild government buildings, schools, and certain non-profit facilities.

The package of tax was approved early this month when the  legislative session of  2019 ended. While being promoted as providing 121 million dollars in tax breaks, it is projected to decrease state and local revenue by 87 million dollars in the fiscal year of 2019-2020.

The business community backed the package while the amount of tax savings is lower than in prior years.

Gov. Ron DeSantis received the tax package last Tuesday and announced plans to sign the bill, providing a seven-day “holiday” for disaster preparation from May 31, one day before the six-month hurricane season starts.

However, during the tax holiday, sales taxes will not be collected on the items like non-electric food storage coolers which sell for $30 or less; self-powered light sources which cost $20 or less; portable generators that cost $750 or less; and self-powered radios, ground anchor systems, tarpaulins, and weather-band radios which cost $50 or less.

The holiday is projected to save $5.5 million for shoppers in state and local taxes.

 

 

Cities in Central Florida among fastest growing in US

When it came to population growth last year, Central Florida cities were some of the fastest growing in the U.S.

According to the figures which were released last Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, last year, metro Orlando grew by up to 60,000 residents, as large as the number of people that can fit into the Camping World Stadium of this city – the place where college football bowl teams face off in winter of each year. That gave Orlando the fifth-biggest increase in pure numbers of any U.S metro area.

Meanwhile, last year, the Tampa area grew by 51,000 residents, more than the number of fans that can fit into Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays of the city play baseball. This number placed its numeric increase at No. 9

Thanks to their growth from mid-2017 to mid-2018, these two metropolises were propelled into the top tier of the fastest growing metro areas of the whole nation.

It was also released by the U.S. Census Bureau that only Texas grew by more people than Florida last year. Moreover, the addition of tens of thousands of new residents to the cities in central Florida will increase the importance of the Interstate 4 corridor’s next election, already the swingiest part of the biggest swing state of the nation. That explosive growth also offers Florida the chances of getting additional congressional seats as well as presidential electors after the 2020 census.

Among these cities, Orlando had the fifth largest increase of the country for metro areas in pure numbers, surpassed by only Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix. Tampa came in at No. 9.

In Tampa, the population growth was totally driven by new arrivals. If there weren’t this inbound migration, Tampa would have lost population because its deaths outnumbered births by almost 900 people. Mostly new arrivals came from U.S. states.

Florida waters are testing entirely free of red tide organism

 

The coastal waters of Florida are testing of the organism which causes red tide completely free for the first time since September 2017.

According to the report of The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of Florida (FWC), Karenia Brevis algae was not present in any water samples which were collected around the state in the past week.

A patchy, continuous bloom of red tide which lasted more than one year impacted the state’s wildlife, coastal industries, and tourism.

The bloom of red tide has tapered off since the recent months but only remained at high concentrations in the isolated areas. The last algae’s bloom concentrations were detected on Jan. 31 in Monroe County’s waters off.

A background concentration (1,000 cells of Karenia Brevis per liter of water) was detected in one water sample of Collier County last week. There were reports about fish kills in Collier County over the past week but not anywhere else in the state of Florida. The most recent sample map of FWC shows that red tide is not present at all water test sites in the state.

All waters off Anna Maria and Manatee County tested free of red tide again. The last red tide trace in the area was a background concentration of Longboat Pass on 28 of Jan. Respiratory irritation was reported in Pinellas County as well as Lee and Manatee counties.

Short-term red tide tracking maps which were produced by the Florida Wildlife Research Institute and the College of Marine Science at the South Florida University predict that waters in the west Florida shelf and the Tampa Bay region will remain red-tide-free over the next two days. FWC will deliver the next statewide red tide status report on Friday.

For more information, please call 866-300-9399 whenever and wherever in Florida to be issued the latest red tide status report. Please call 727-552-2448 if you are outside Florida.

 

Panama City Beach to Become the Center of Soccer in the Southeast

 

Panama City Beach is looking ahead to the summer of 2019 with great plans to open the world-class Panama City Beach Sports Complex, which is managed by Sports Facilities Management (SFM). It is a brand-new $37 million complex, which will offer visitors a place to enjoy various sports and activities including soccer. Panama City Beach, destined to be the soccer center in the Southeast, will host more than 700 soccer teams for over 15 tournaments beginning in August.

This project was due to a study in 2008 and 2013, which regarded the need for rectangular fields. The complex’s market study and design began in 2015. The concept of the complex was approved in 2015. Then, 10 acres for the access road was purchased. St. Joe Company finalized the land transfer agreement for this project in 2016. The final design was completed in 2018. Land clearing and road construction began in April of 2018. Bay County approved the bid and the ceremonial groundbreaking for this complex was on June 13, 2018.

According to Mr. J.D. Wood, SFM General Manager of the Panama City Beach Sports Complex, this Sports Complex is a full-service venue with 13 brand-new fields, two of which are new championship fields. They are so excited to start with a big lineup of new soccer events and also look forward to the new teams and visitors coming to Panama City Beach in 2019 and beyond. And they are so lucky to have some good partners helping to develop an event calendar which will bring a lot of new visitors to the Panama City Beach and that will do so much for the city’s local economy with National, State and Regional soccer events in non-summer months.

Besides soccer, the flexible design of Panama City Beach Sports Complex will also allow for football, lacrosse, baseball, softball, rugby, and almost any other event. Details of the opening will be announced closer to August.

The coldest weather of the year is coming to South Florida

The lowest temperatures of the year are coming to South Florida, in time for the Supermoon lunar eclipse on this Sunday night and the Martin Luther King Jr. parade and holiday next Monday.

According to Paxton Fell, National Weather Service meteorologist in the Miami office, Broward, Miami-Dade, and the Florida east coast may have temperatures in the upper 40s on Monday morning. She said that the wind chill would make it become even more wintering.

Building seas and gusty winds will make weather conditions hazardous on the waters, with rip tides, too. However, the most polar bear of tourists may want to swim on Monday when the high is expected to increase to the mid-60s. Temperatures from 30s to 40s are expected in the Lake Okeechobee region.

All of this is added to Winter Storm Harvey, which has wrecked holiday weekend travel plans. According to the Weather Channel, Harvey has just led to winter storm warnings or watches for Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Providence, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Albany, Des Moines, and Cleveland. The Weather Channel also said that major flight delays and some cancellations are expected this weekend at the major Northeast hubs such as Boston-Logan, JFK, Newark, LaGuardia, Dulles, Philadelphia, and Reagan National airports. Some other significant delays are also possible on Saturday at Kansas City, Chicago O’Hare Airport and other airports in the Ohio Valley, Midwest, and interior Northeast.

In fact, temperatures in the 40s don’t sound too bad in South Florida. Fell also said that in spite of what feels like a chillier January than usual for South Florida, they’re not setting any cold records. Even though there have been some colder days this month, they’re actually running 2.1 degrees above normal.

According to the National Weather Service, the average monthly temperature for January is about 70.1 degrees, and right now it is at 72.2 before the coming chill.

 

 Missing New York dog discovered 1,100 miles away in Florida after leaving home following owner’s death

 

A dog has been found recently more than 1,100 miles far from home after disappearing during 18 months following his owner’s death in a gun accident.

The dog is a brown and white husky, named Sinatra. It went missing from Brooklyn, New York, last year, then somehow got to the town of Seffner, Florida, where he was found by Rose Verill, a 13-year-old boy. The Verills family first looked for the dog’s owners by using an identification chip read by a vet with the help of a friend, Jeanne Baldi.

However, the vet could just identify some information: the name “Willis Les” and a phone number which was one digit short. Therefore, Ms. Baldi began searching online for anyone who slightly matched the information they had gleaned. She found a man named Lesmore Willis on Facebook and sent a message to him. To her shock, Mr. Willis replied that he had indeed lost a dog.

They quickly realized that both the dog found in Florida and the one he had lost had the same problem with the right foot and confirmed by exchanging photographs.

Ms. Baldi said she never imagined that her Facebook would solve the matter, especially because she saw that Mr. Willis lived so far away.

Neither does Ms. Baldi, or Mr. Willis, have any idea about how Sinatra managed to travel the 1,100 miles from New York to Florida.

But when the dog’s owners were found, a new tragedy came out. Sinatra had originally been a present for Mr. Willis’s daughter Zion on her 14th birthday. She was an animal lover and avid dancer and started her own dog-walking business since still being a teenager. Sadly, two years later, Zion was killed in a gun accident while visiting a friend’s house. Sinatra disappeared the following year to compound the loss.

Mr. Willis was inconsolable when losing the dog because it was a strong connection to his late daughter. The Willis had put up flyers and searched for Sinatra across New York but had given up ever seeing him again.

But the much-loved Sinatra will soon be reunited with his family after friends of Ms. Baldi agreed to take him back to the Willis family.

Five children in Florida taken to hospital after being given cannabis-laced sweets at school, police say

Being given THC-laced gummies by a 12-year-old student in the class, several children at a school in Florida overdosed and at least five of them were taken to a hospital after experiencing dizziness, stomach pain, and nausea.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office officials told that the student somehow had a package of gummies which contained 100 mg of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main mind-altering ingredient in cannabis. He gave it to six other seventh-grade students during gym class at Mulberry Middle School on Thursday. He now faces seven felony charges due to possessing and distributing marijuana.

The District of Columbia and ten states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults – but not in Florida, and certainly never for children.

Mr. Judd, the sheriff, told reporters that the children were all going to make a great recovery and they were going to be all right with no long-term injury or illness. The officials are concerned about how a 12-year-old came to be in possession of this drug and why he offered it to these six other kids.

In Florida, the drug is legal in the form of medical marijuana with a prescription but remains illegal in other forms.

Mr. Judd said that the edibles which sickened the students are sold online and come in a gummy brick supposed to be separated into 10 adult doses in states where it is legal. He also said that almost the whole package was divided among the six children.

Authorities said at least five children consumed the gummies, and the sixth child is believed to have done as well.

The sheriff said that the boy who gave out the gummies said he did not eat any, and he told at least two different stories about how he got them.

It is not clear whether he knew that the gummies contained THC or not, but authorities claimed that ignorance is not a defense against crime. He will be charged with one count of marijuana resin possession, six counts of marijuana distribution within 1,000 feet of a school, and one misdemeanor count of paraphernalia possession also, authorities said.

When being asked whether the other six children might also face charges, Mr. Judd said no because they had eaten the evidence. However, they will be dealt with by the school system and their parents.

 

A cruise ship struck a Key West mooring

According to city officials, a cruise ship, 691-foot-long Silversea Silver Spirit, caught up in a heavy sustained wind last week crashed into a Key West mooring. That damaged enough to leave Mallory Square’s port of call unusable for at least three months.

City Manager, Jim Scholl, said that the cruise ship was leaving Mallory Square when the winds stopped it from turning around to get underway on Nov. 27. There were no injuries reported and the ship was not heavily damaged. About the estimated cost of repairs, Scholl said it could be a half-million dollars. However, he did not have the specific and exact figures.

Scholl also informed on Tuesday night that no ships can dock at Mallory Square until a “mooring dolphin,” which is a large concrete block atop pilings that helps in keeping the ships in a line – and away from the pier – when docking, can be replaced by the crews.

Besides the port of call in Mallory Square, Key West also has two other ones: the Outer Mole Pier at Truman Waterfront Park and another at Margaritaville Resort near Mallory Square.

Scholl also said that although the ship wasn’t damaged badly, that mooring dolphin was destroyed. The Coast Guard cleared them to go so that it was able to get underway.

The cruise line sent to Key West an insurance consultant to estimate the damages to the pier the next day and another this week. On the other hand, the city hired some divers from an engineering firm to inspect the damage on last Monday.

Liz Acar who was a witness and live-streamed the ship damage on Facebook that night says that due to the accident, all ships were not currently allowed to dock there.

The cruise ship Silver Spirit, built in 2009 and registered in the Bahamas, can accommodate 608 passengers.

 

 

Carnival to Bring Largest Ship to Florida’s Port Canaveral

Port Canaveral of Florida is poised to be home to the largest-ever cruise ship from the world’s biggest cruise line, Carnival.
Carnival Cruise Line reached an agreement with the Canaveral Port Authority on Tuesday to bring its new and yet-unnamed ship to the port’s new terminal. This 180,000-ton ship can accommodate 5,300 passengers and is set to debut in 2020. However, details of the agreement have not yet been released.

If approved, Carnival Cruise Line will be able to bring its largest-ever ship to the port, which can help cement the cruise line as the top operator on the Space Coast.
Carnival already has three year-round ships sailing from Port Canaveral, bringing in more than 650,000 passengers per year — about 15 percent of the port’s total cruise traffic.
President of Carnival Cruise Line, Christine Duffy, released that they have long-term plans for Port Canaveral and were very excited about the plan of homeporting their largest ship at Port Canaveral, their valued business partner for more than 25 years. He also affirmed that Port Canaveral, was easily accessible from all over the southeast with excellent facilities and friendly staff, was one of Carnival’s most popular and fastest-growing homeports.
Construction of the new ship will begin in November 2018 and finish by 2020. The ship will be the first North American-based ship powered by liquefied natural gas. Carnival Cruise Line will release further details and the ship’s itineraries next year.
Port Canaveral is one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. Port Director and CEO Capt., John Murray, said that the port and Carnival Cruise Line have built a “successful partnership” for more than 20 years. He also confirmed that Carnival’s commitment to Port Canaveral demonstrated their confidence in the Port’s ability to support one of the world’s most successful cruise brands and they were excited and looking forward to welcoming Carnival’s largest and newest class of ship.

Florida Homes Targeted by Looters after being Crashed by Hurricane Michael

Many Florida homes were left in the dark as a result of the powerful hurricane Michael reaching category four status a week ago. These homes are now the target of looters, and Florida authorities have arrested about ten suspected looters in the Florida panhandle a night.

The county sheriff’s office in the Bay has now sent out a serious warning that the houses, as well as the businesses situated in the devastated region, are being targeted by looters, and these are armed according to the reports published by the Panama City News Herald.

Thieves Enter Houses While Owners Sleep

Victoria Smith, one of the victims, shared that while she and her family of four children were sleeping, thieves enter her house. Smith left her front door open during the steamy weather that followed hurricane Michael to allow or a breeze, and her power was off at the time. While she was sleeping her purse were snatched by the perpetrators and even clutching it to her chest could not prevent this. Mrs Smith explained that she was simply exhausted from trying to fend for her children and survive during the storm, which made her so tired that she never even heard the thieves entering her home.

Looters Will Be Shot

Due to the looting in some of the areas, residents have spray painted several signs now warning the looters. Some read “You Steal We Kill” while other warns that “Looters Will Be Shot”. In the wake of hurricane Michael, Stanford reported that it is also a stressful period for the officers, who continue to work 16-hour shifts, even when most of them have also lost their homes during the hurricane. The influx of officers and resources from several other areas are a great help although the looting and lawfulness are a major concern. The recent storm in Florida killed 16 people, most from the coastal county, while another ten deaths have been reported from elsewhere. Many officers continue to work 16 hours up to 18-hour shifts without any sleep or getting a chance to shower and now they also have to deal with armed looters. It is a stressful time in Bay County, and everyone is still dealing with the damage after the hurricane.

Hurricane Michael’s Fury, A Week After Still Being Discovered

It is a week after hurricane Michael, and in largely-flattened town’s there are desperate searches still for missing persons. Neighbourhoods are devastated by the powerful blow from hurricane Michael, which was the strongest to hit Florida in almost 50 years. Slowly, cell phone services are returning, while 137,000 in northern Florida are without power. The lack of phone services and the electricity hampers the efforts to distribute water and food, and many residents have not been heard from since the storm. Officials have not announced how many are missing, although the death toll is 29 at the moment for North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Florida. As one resident describes it “We Basically Lots Old Florida.”