This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.
Good news for Northeast Florida counties including Putnam, Flagler and St. Johns as Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday announced the release of nearly $1.3 billion in federal funds for smaller counties to help deal with costs of coronavirus. Twelve of Florida’s biggest counties already have received $2.47 billion as part of the stimulus package. Now the smaller counties are getting a share with proposed distribution ranging from nearly a million dollars to $16 million. Florida Division of Emergency Management will begin with an initial distribution of 25 percent of each county’s allocation. Counties then will distribute some of the money to cities within their boundaries.
Another march in St. Augustine Wednesday filled the downtown area including the intersection at the Bridge of Lion and later spilling into the Plaza de la Constitucion and St. George Street. Authorities described the crowd as peaceful as they chanted “No Trump. No KKK. No fascist U.S.A.” Most were young, and few paid attention to social distancing. Some merchants in the area who are just starting to see a return of business were less pleased since the march tended to drive off customers. Another march is reportedly planned for Sunday.
Flagler County School District is offering early retirement to qualifying employees. About 10 percent of the district’s workforce meet requirements including 65 teachers or instructional personnel and 100 non-instructional employees such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers and administrative assistants. Employees qualifying don’t have to accept the offer which gives two options. One is a one-time bonus of 18 percent of one’s base salary and $6,500 toward the employee’s current health premium, ending at the age of 65. The other option is the 18 percent bonus plus an additional $6,000 bonus. Employees taking early retirement must do so by July 31.
Rains over the end of May have brought the water levels back up in the St. Johns River Water Management District, which includes Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties. Districtwide the average was 3.46 inches, most of which came in late May. Florida’s rainy season normally starts earlier and fire dangers had been increasing before the downpours. Despite the latest rains, Water Management reports Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler still have a 12-month rainfall deficit of more than 10 inches.
Flagler County saw an increase of five coronavirus cases following Wednesday reports. They’re now at 200 cases. Putnam has one more case, a 63-year-old Palatka woman.. The woman had not traveled and not been in direct contact with a known coronavirus case. That makes 176 cases, according to the Florida Health Department in Putnam. St. Johns County also went up one case. Their total is now 288.
Some St. Augustine city commissioners aren’t wild about the suggestion to return to the Alcazar Room and offer meetings the public can attend in person. City Manager John Regan made the proposal, noting the plan includes social distancing which would mean 31 people allowed in the room. Commission Roxanne Horvath, who is up for re-election, said she thought it was too early. Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman was willing to talk about it – in a virtual meeting. Mayor Tracy Upchurch, however, said he thought it was time to return. The St. Augustine Report quoted him as saying “ “I think things are better done in person.”
Palatka City Commission meets tonight, again by the Zoom program online. Although they’ve had several special meetings in addition to scheduled meetings, all have been virtual. To watch and comment if you wish, you must to Facebook and their Palatka city hall site. The meeting is at 6 p.m.
A couple apparently using a stolen U-Haul truck as home discovered traveling through Flagler County wasn’t a good idea. Responding to a stolen truck report, deputies stopped the vehicle in Bunnell as it headed north on U.S. 1 coming from Volusia County. Driver Steven Curtis, 36, turned out not to have a valid drivers license and later told deputies he had meth and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. He was arrested and jailed on a variety of charges. With him was Heather Lewis, 40, who was not charged. Sheriff Rick Staly said the couple picked the wrong county to stop in “and we ended their mobile vacation. Remember, crime stops in Flagler County.”