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Staff Reports

Rick Scott declares state of emergency for Nate

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 29 Florida counties as Tropical Storm Nate seems headed for the state.

Scott issued Executive Order 17-262 declaring a state of emergency in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Baker, Union, Bradford, and Alachua counties.

The governor “is ensuring that local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this storm and are not hindered, delayed or prevented from taking all necessary actions to keep communities safe,” according to a press release.

“Tropical Storm Nate is headed north toward our state and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in a statement. “While current forecast models have the storm’s center west of Florida, we must be vigilant and get prepared.

“Given these forecasts, I have declared a state of emergency … to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and ensure resources are dispersed to local communities,” he added. “By declaring an emergency in these counties, we can also ensure that there is no hindrance in the transportation of supplies and assets.”

“I urge all Floridians to remain vigilant and stay alert to local weather and news and visit FLGetAPlan.com today as we all prepare for Tropical Storm Nate. We will keep monitoring and issuing updates on Tropical Storm Nate as it approaches the Gulf Coast.”

State Agriculture department sues Dade City zoo

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says it’s suing a Pasco County zoo “to shutdown (its) fundraising efforts.”

The complaint is against Dade City’s Wild Things and three of its corporate officers, according to a press release sent Thursday.

The suit is based on the department’s investigation “involving illicit fundraising and financial issues.” The department regulates charitable donations in Florida.

A person answering the phone at the zoo said “call back tomorrow” in response to a request for comment.

Here’s the rest of the release:

Based on the department’s investigation, Stearns Zoological Rescue and Rehab Center Inc. and Dade City’s Wild Things Inc. solicited contributions, purportedly for the purpose of caring for animals at the zoo and for broader, in-field conservation efforts.

However, non-profit funds were routinely transferred to the for-profit entity, Stearns Peat C Inc.

A financial analysis of one year showed over $200,000 of non-profit funds were transferred to the for-profit entity. Randall Stearns, Kathryn Stearns and Kenneth Stearns are corporate officers and/or directors of the listed entities and acted in concert to solicit contributions.

Based on the department’s investigation, the defendants allegedly violated Chapter 496, Florida Statutes, by:

— Transferring large amounts of non-profit funds to a for-profit entity to be used for for-profit and personal expenses;

— Compensating corporate officers and directors after disclosing that such persons were uncompensated in their official filings with the department;

— Soliciting contributions without being registered with the department (even after receiving a cease and desist order);

— Falsely stating that contributions were tax deductible when their 501(c) status had been revoked years before;

— Failing to apply contributions in a manner consistent with that indicated in solicitations;

— Failing to provide documents requested by the department; submitting false information in response to an investigation; and

— Allowing a disqualified individual to be involved in solicitation efforts and to handle contributions.

electric lines

Tallahassee hardening electric system before Nate

The city of Tallahassee’s utility system has “made significant progress” on electric transmission line upgrades as Tropical Storm Nate heads toward the Panhandle, the city said Thursday.

“At this time, daytime lane closures are no longer anticipated,” a press release said. “Crews will work overnight to complete the upgrades, which will enhance electric reliability.”

Yesterday, the city said it would expedite utility line work, “given the recent forecast of potential severe weather to impact Tallahassee in the coming days.”

The work includes upgrading transmission lines that cross Thomasville Road north of Interstate 10.

Forecasters now say Nate is expected to strengthen into a hurricane and hit the Gulf Coast by Sunday.

Nervous about Nate? Municipal electric utilities are ‘ready’

Municipal electric customers in the path of Tropical Storm Nate should rest easy: Your utility is “ready.”

“While there is still much uncertainty surrounding Nate’s ultimate strength and path, Florida’s municipal electric utilities are watching it closely,” said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association

They “are prepared to bring in power restoration resources should this storm system become a threat to Florida’s Panhandle and the public power communities located there,” she added. 

We have been in communication with our fellow public power utilities in other states that are also in the current path of Tropical Storm Nate. Our crews are ready to go to other Gulf coast states to assist them if needed and if Florida is not impacted.

 “We continue to be in close communication with Gov. Rick Scott and thank him for being helpful and proactive as we face yet another tropical storm system.”

Evacuation Route Sign, photo: AAA

Jimmy Patronis: Get ready for impending storm

As Tropical Storm Nate approaches the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is urging Gulf Coast and Big Bend residents to prepare now for the possibility of severe weather, he said in a news release.

“Floridians should take a proactive approach and stock up on necessary supplies now, days ahead of the storm’s arrival,” Patronis said. “While the storm’s track remains uncertain, all Floridians should closely monitor local weather alerts and be prepared for the possibility of severe weather.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

… Hurricane preparedness plans should include copies of insurance policies and cards, insurance company contact information and financial account(s) records.

The Department’s Insurance Consumer Helpline (1-877-MY-FL-CFO) is available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, to answer insurance-related questions that consumers or business owners may have.

In the days ahead of the storm’s potential impact, homeowners are encouraged to take these simple, specific steps to protect their homes and property:

— Inventory household items, including receipts, purchase dates, and serial numbers. Photograph or videotape each room of your home. Email the information to yourself to create a digital record.

— Shore up your structure. Buy materials that can secure your property and minimize your losses. Consider covering your windows with shutters, siding, or plywood. Move vehicles into a garage or carport. Carry outdoor grills and patio furniture inside.

— Read through your insurance policies and take note of hurricane deductibles. Most policies have a hurricane deductible equivalent to 2, 5 or 10 percent of a home’s insured value. If your property is damaged, you will be responsible for a portion of the repair costs.

To keep all insurance and banking information in one, easily-accessible place, consumers can download a copy of the Department’s free Emergency Financial Preparedness Toolkit. The Toolkit serves as a one-stop shop for all finance, emergency and insurance contact information. Download and complete the toolkit today.

DEO, partners hold hurricane recovery roundtables

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity announced it will co-host a series of business roundtables “to highlight programs available to assist individuals, communities and businesses that have been affected by Hurricane Irma.” 

The first event is today, 1-2 p.m., in Daytona Beach, at Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, 126 E. Orange Ave.

Later today, another will be held 4:30-5:30 p.m. in St. Augustine, at Flagler College, Ponce de Leon Hall (Flagler Room), 74 King St.

On Friday, an event will be held 10-11 a.m., at Jacksonville University, Kinne Center, 2800 University Blvd. N, Jacksonville.

Expected panelists include:

Cissy Proctor, Executive Director, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. 

Ken Lawson, President & CEO, VISIT FLORIDA

Peter Antonacci, CEO, Enterprise Florida

Mike Myhre, Director, Florida Small Business Development Center Network

Michelle Dennard, President & CEO, CareerSource Florida

Bill would rein in community redevelopment agencies

A measure to overhaul community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Rep. Jake Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is sponsoring the bill (HB 17).

Lawmakers designed the programs to combat blight and slums and build affordable housing, WFSU explained. Critics argue more regulations are needed to ensure that happens.

Under the bill, CRAs would have to conduct ethics training, open competitive bids and file annual performance reports. Agencies would have to post project lists and funding plans, as well as changes in property values and vacancy rates.

The bill would also phase out active CRAs by September 2038 or earlier. And the Legislature would have to approve any new CRAs, instead of local governments.

Most recently, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office sent subpoenas to the city of Tallahassee and the City/County Community Redevelopment Agency over deals that body has made, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. “The subjects of the subpoenas included prominent business people and financial documents and communication with city officials,” it said.

Material also provided by LobbyTools. 

—–

Updated Thursday — Sen. Tom Lee filed a companion measure in the Senate (SB 432).

Florida consumer sentiment continues downward in September

Consumer sentiment among Floridians dropped six-tenths of a point in September to 95.5 from a revised figure of 96.1 in August. Similarly, the University of Michigan’s nationwide consumer sentiment index decreased slightly in September.

Of the five components that make up the index, three decreased and two increased.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago decreased six-tenths of a point, from 87.8 to 87.2. On the other hand, opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket household item such as an appliance increased six-tenths of a point, from 102.6 to 103.2.

“The behavior of these two components of the index indicate that perceptions of present economic conditions among Floridians remain unchanged from last month,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now showed the biggest drop this month, down 4.4 points from 104.8 to 100.4. Anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year decreased 2.6 points, from 95.8 to 93.2. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years showed the greatest increase, rising 3.7 points from 89.6 to 93.3. These three components together represent expectations about future economic conditions, which decreased in September overall, despite the long-run positive expectations held by the population.

“Most of the pessimism in September stems from negative expectations regarding the personal financial situation of Floridians in the short-run. These expectations reflect in part the current and expected effects of the hurricane season on the state,” Sandoval said.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 and flooded parts of Houston and southeastern Texas, forcing the closure of several oil refineries and increasing gas prices in the U.S. In Florida, the average price for a gallon of gasoline went up by 36 cents, according to AAA.

Just over three weeks later, Hurricane Irma battered Florida and caused a decline in overall economic activities and economic growth in the state, triggering business closures and job losses. For the week ending Sep. 16, Florida had the nation’s second-largest increase in initial claims for unemployment insurance.

“Nonetheless, as the state continues to recover, these trends will likely reverse as rebuilding efforts take place. Hurricane Irma should not erase the positive labor market conditions that have prevailed in the state for the past few years,” Sandoval said.

The Florida unemployment rate declined one-tenth of a percentage point in August to 4.0 percent. Job gains were led by the professional and business services industry, followed by trade, transportation and utilities, and the education and health services sector. The latest unemployment report does not account for job losses caused by recent storms, but it confirms the positive trends observed in previous years.

In their last meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee observed that, “Despite the devastation caused by the Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the storms are unlikely to materially alter the course of the national economy over the medium term.”

Sandoval said, “Overall, consumer sentiment in Florida continues to be positive. However, next month’s reading will be very valuable in assessing the impacts of the storms on consumer sentiment as the holiday shopping season gets closer.”

Hurricane Irma also affected this month’s survey data collection. Typically interviews are spread out over each day of the month, but due to state-mandated university closures prior to landfall, calls were not made for six days from Sep. 8-13. There was a slight shift in the number of responses by region. On average in 2017, the southeast region of the state contributed 30 percent of survey responses, but only 24 percent for September. Other demographics did not shift by more than one or two percentage points.

Conducted Sep. 1-28, the UF study reflects the responses of 470 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Republished with permission of the University of Florida.

Utility regulators plan hurricane prep, restoration review

The Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, on Tuesday set into motion its plan “to review electric utility hurricane preparedness and restoration actions during the 2017 hurricane season,” the panel said in a press release.

PSC Chair Julie I. Brown
Brown

“The review will explore the potential to further minimize infrastructure damage that results in outages,” the release said. Chairman Julie I. Brown had announced the plan last month.

Here’s the rest of the release:

A generic docket will be established to collect and analyze forensic data on the utilities’ transmission and distribution facilities to discern the type and cause of damage. Tree trimming practices and pole inspection cycles will be reviewed to help identify additional damage mitigation options.

The Commission will also examine the effectiveness of communications with customers and the utilities’ restoration practices for potential improvements.

This extensive data collection and detailed analysis will include a workshop on hurricane preparedness with input from all electric utilities and stakeholders, including customers. Upon the conclusion of data collection and analysis, and consideration of public comment, the Commission will consider options for immediate action.

In addition, as part of this process, the Commission will provide customers an opportunity to provide comments through its website, www.floridapsc.com.

Martin County ‘water farm’ expanded

Caulkins Citrus Co. launched the expansion of its Indiantown “water farm,” increasing the reservoir from an existing 413 acres to 3,200 acres.

“The expansion of the facility was completed in just nine months,” the company said in a press release Tuesday. “The additional acres will now allow the water farm to store up to 35 billion gallons of water per year from the C-44 Canal.”

“It is gratifying to see this property, which was once a thriving citrus grove, now being used to protect and preserve Martin County’s estuaries from damaging discharges,” said George Caulkins, president of the company, in a statement.

“This project became a reality thanks to the support of Senate President (Joe) Negron, and our partners at the Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Years ago, the Caulkins’ family land was used for citrus production. However, as citrus greening destroyed the Caulkins’ citrus groves, the land was transformed into a water farm to store and clean water coming from the C-44 Canal.

A natural filtration process occurs through the sandy soil on the farm, removing at least 75 percent of the phosphorus and 50 percent of the nitrogen from the water pumped onto the farm.

Negron, who has long been a champion for clean water initiatives, joined Caulkins at a press event.

“The Caulkins Water Farm provides desperately needed water storage to help us reduce and ultimately eliminate the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Indian River Lagoon,” he said.

“This successful project demonstrates that Florida can achieve short term solutions to reduce discharges while at the same time building the long-term water storage infrastructure to solve the problem once and for all.”

The water farm pilot project, which launched in 2014 with the 16-county South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), was the first project of its kind in the state to be operational. The project has also been recognized by experts as immediately exceeding expectations for storing more than four times the amount of water expected.

Also in attendance was Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, along with state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, Chairman Doug Smith of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, Brandon Tucker of the SFWMD Governing Board, Ernie Marks, executive director of the SFWMD, Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald, and other community and environmental leaders.

“The storage provided by the Water Farm will complement the C-44 Canal and other vital Everglades restoration projects,” Valenstein said. “DEP is proud to be a partner in this project, and remains committed to enhancing water storage and improving water quality in Florida’s treasured Everglades.”

…The expanded water farm came online with the capability to pump up to 151 million gallons of water per day onto the property, preventing that nutrient-laden water from reaching the St. Lucie Estuary.

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