The Voice of the Gem City

Local News 8/10/21

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.
Local governments in Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties are in the middle of budget workshops as the new fiscal year approaches. Palatka city commissioners Monday were studying how to come up with funds for proposed wage increases and looking toward 2026 when they’ve signed on for the $15-an-hour minimum wage. One of three proposals for the upcoming year calls for a $2 across-the-board raise for workers. Flagler County commissioners Monday were looking at ways to fund their budget while cutting the tax rate. That’s going to make it difficult for Sheriff’s Rick Staly to get the 15 additional deputies he’s seeking or to fund requests from the county administration. A special meeting was tacked onto the commission workshop and one commissioner proposed a $1 million reduction of funding for constitutional officers. Another workshop is scheduled in Flagler next week.
The Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee is looking at refurbishing one of the earliest large-scale murals sponsored by the Palatka civic group. The mural on the wall of Nicole’s Salon in the 200 block of St. Johns Avenue features the Putnam House. The grand hotel contained 400 rooms and hosted tourists from around the country in the 1800s and early 1900s. John Alexander, who heads the committee, says oils were used to paint the mural and the committee has since found acrylic paint is the best type to use. If you want to help, you can make out a check to the committee and send it to  P.O. Box 1901, Palatka 32178. Specify it’s for the Putnam House mural.
While The Ponce de Leon Mall in St. Augustine has fewer stores than in the past, Belks is still open. Rumors that the department store is closing have been circulating but officials say there’s no truth to that. A couple of vendors are being changed and that’s led to some empty display cases that will soon be refilled with new products, according to store personnel at the mall off U.S. 1.
A friend who took another man’s car is in St. Johns County jail awaiting transfer to Flagler County jail. Stephen Morel, 36, of St. Augustine, was driving with a friend to Ormond Beach to pick up an old tag for the car. When the car began overheating the driver pulled off Interstate 95 Friday and headed into the Racetrack on State Road 100 in Palm Coast. Morel became upset and demanded his friend get back on I-95 or give up the car. The friend didn’t and Morel allegedly forcefully removed the driver from his seat. Morel then got in, heading the car north. Deputies pulled Morel over just past the St. Johns-Flagler line and ordered him out of the car. Morel is charged with car-jacking with bond set at $15,000 awaiting transfer to Flagelr.
Flagler County students are returning to classes today. Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt says students, staff and visitors may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure following the upsurge in coronavirus. She’s urging people to continue to make healthy choices, practice routine hand washing throughout the day and stay home if not feeling well. About 13,000 students attend the 10 public schools in Flagler. Approximately 2,500 people including teachers and staff work for the district.
A Crescent City man described as an activist put up a sign on the Confederate memorial at the Putnam County Courthouse Monday and had his picture taken by a fellow member of the Take “em Down Putnam group. Three hours later the sign was taken down, apparently by a citizen who disagreed with the sign which read: “Here stands Jim Crow. Not for long.” No criminal charges are being filed since no damage was done to the statue which has been the subject of some controversy since a pair of then-college students sought its removal. Jim Crow refers not to the statue but to Jim Crow laws that were used for segregation of facilities and institutions up until the 1950s and 1960s. The name comes from the 1820s and a black-face minstrel show routine known as Jump Jim Crow. A Confederate veteran would have been referred to as Johnny Reb.
St. Augustine will get a coronavirus testing site at the Visitor Information Center following a vote by the city commission Monday. Neither the Florida Department of Health in St. Johns County nor the county government currently has a testing site in St. Johns. A soft opening of the site on South Castillo Drive is set for Friday. The city will run in the site in conjunction with Flagler Health. Appointments will be required and testing will be Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

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