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Author: Riley Hansen

Support for former missing autistic teen pours in

Now, Jenkins is receiving help from the community to put up a fence at her new home in Milton to keep Howey safe.

The fence at Jenkins’s old Crestview house was chain link, and it was only about four feet high. Howey, though only 14, is over six feet tall, making it easy for him to climb over the fence. May 6 was not the first time he has left home.

“He is in sensory overload mode,” Jenkins said of her son in situations like this one. Howey will go into fight or flight mode, not understanding that leaving home is dangerous. He just wants to escape whatever is bothering him. “About a year ago…he was missing for 11 hours,” Jenkins said. “The last two times they’ve had to bring bloodhounds to find him.” According to his mom, Howey is a master of hide and seek.

On Friday, May 6, Jenkins called the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office around 7 p.m. to report Howey missing. Jenkins was not pleased with the initial response she received from the sheriff’s office, but many citizens provided their support as well, offering tracking dogs and organizing search and rescue efforts in addition to the bloodhounds, enacted by the OCSO, that went out about a mile and half on the night of May 6.

Jenkins said 7 or 8 officers came to her home around noon on May 7, and they and the over 80 people who showed up to help continued looking for Howey. The officers began canvassing the neighborhood and asking for Ring footage from houses.

The search also went into the woods, where Jenkins said Howey is always drawn. A bloodhound pinpointed an area where Howey should be—Jenkins’s husband, who was walking along with the bloodhound, almost stepped on Howey. Howey was so well hidden in some thick brush that he was almost unable to be seen, right in his own backyard.

Howey walked a mile-and-a-half, then circled back and hid in the backyard. “It was kind of comical—now, not at the time,” Jenkins said. He showed investigators where he hid with a grin on his face—it was not a big ordeal to Howey, though his family would certainly not agree.

Now, Jenkins and her family have made the move to Milton, and they want to put up a six-foot privacy fence to keep Howey safe. The initial estimate for the fence was $4,000, but the price then jumped to double what the estimate said. For Jenkins and her husband, money is tight after putting a down payment on the house. So, she reached out the Facebook community for advice on what to do.

Her initial post about Howey’s disappearance got thousands of comments and shares, so she did something similar for ideas on where to get supplies to build a fence. A large group of people have now offered to come and help the family build the fence themselves, and a GoFundMe page has reached almost half its goal for the money needed for supplies. People all the way to Mobile and Tallahassee have shown support.

“I’m completely blown away that we have so many people,” Jenkins said. It’s a mix of people she knows, as well as total strangers who just want to help. “That wasn’t really what I was looking for or asking for, but I’m just so thankful.”

Volunteers will be going out to the family home in Milton on June 4, and Jenkins expects they can get the privacy fence built in just one day. “It’ll be a little bit of more peace of mind,” she said.

DeSantis grants $3.2 million to Okaloosa

“I’m really happy to be here today to be able to announce that the state of Florida, through the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund, is going to be providing $3.2 million to Okaloosa County,” DeSantis said, “that will support the installation of road, rail, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.” The money is specifically for businesses at the 10,500-acre Shoal River Ranch, located off Highway 90.

DeSantis prefaced his announcement with a discussion of the jobs needed in Florida. “One of the reasons we’re here today is because my view is we want to expand our industrial base in the state of Florida,” he said. DeSantis is unhappy with the amount of products in our country coming from places like China, so the focus is now on workforce education. While universities are a pathway for some, others can go directly into the workforce without going into debt, getting jobs such as truck driving, welding, and HVAC.

“You also need the infrastructure,” DeSantis said, adding that on to the workforce education.

Dane Eagle, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was also at the conference. “[Major companies] want to come to Florida, but what they need is land,” Eagle said. “So, now we can point to Okaloosa County.”

DeSantis views this industrial site to be something the county and community can count on, as opposed to other industries, such as technology, that have the ability to pick up and move their sites.

“We have a governor that is not only leading the charge, really nationwide, but to us here at home, is a difference maker every day of our lives,” Okaloosa County Commissioner Mel Ponder said. The expectations for what to come in the county are high. “There’s nothing else this size with this much access to a major interstate in the state of Florida,” he continued.

In addition to his announcement, Governor DeSantis gave an update on the state of Florida as a whole. The state is expected to end the fiscal year, which ends in June, with a surplus of over $20 billion. More people are employed than were before COVID-19, and school enrollment has increased over the past two years.

“We govern this state on the basis of what’s in the best interest of the people of this state, not what some California-based corporation thinks,” DeSantis said.

Local gun show held by retired officer

Rogers may have been born and raised in Laurel Hill, but he might as well be a local—he’s been living in Milton since 1973.

“I came to work with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in 1974, and I retired in ’03,” Rogers said. “Now, one day a friend of mine says, ‘Somebody needs to do a gun show here in Santa Rosa County.’ I looked at him and said, ‘That’s a good idea.’”

Rogers has been putting this event on for 22 years now. “Some of my vendors have been with me since the first show,” he said. He rents out the Santa Rosa County Auditorium, provides insurance and charges admission so he can pay his people—hopefully, he’ll have some left over for himself.

As a retired law enforcement officer, Rogers knows guns. He and a friend used to shoot competition out at Whiting Field. His qualifications also speak to his knowledge of gun safety. People bringing guns into the show check them at the door, where the guns are ensured to not be loaded and are zip tied so they cannot be fired.

“The people that rent the tables, they’re either buy, sell or trade,” Rogers said. The other category of people paying to rent a table for the weekend are collectors who might have antiques or valuables to show off. “We adhere to all of the Florida laws when it comes to background checks,” he noted.

In addition to spending days placing signs and setting up the auditorium, Rogers makes sure there are concessions for the vendors and visitors to enjoy while they follow the rules and have a good time.

When he’s not putting on the gun show in April, June or July, and September, Rogers can be found produce and tree farming on his land. He also operates Rogers Dozer Service, which is a land clearance company. On top of all of that, he leases several big trucks to different companies and pulls a hazmat liquid tanker all around the U.S. and Canada.

The next gun show is June 4 and 5, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the county auditorium. Admission is eight dollars, and renting a table is fifty dollars. Rogers typically has 90 to 100 tables at the show.

“Everybody should participate in their local gun show to keep their rights and privileges alive,” Rogers said.

Anyone interested in having a table to buy, sell, trade or show collectibles at the gun show should contact Billy Rogers at one of his two numbers: (850) 957-4952 or (850) 261-8407.

Citizens paying more in taxes without rate increase

The Florida Department of Revenue website lists a documentary stamp tax as one that is imposed on documents “executed, delivered or recorded” in the state of Florida, most notably deeds and notes, such as mortgages. When the document is recorded, the tax must be paid to the Clerk of Court.

Julie Richardson from the Santa Rosa County Clerk of Court said, “[The Recording Department] actually records the documents, and they’re receded into a documentary stamp account.” From there, administration remits the funds to the state, who deals with the distribution of those funds.

“The [Florida] statutes do not provide for automatic escalation or adjustment to the tax rates,” the Communications Director for the Florida Department of Revenue, Bethany Wester, said in an email. The current doc stamp tax on deeds is 70 cents on each portion of $100 of the price. The doc stamp tax on notes is 35 cents per each $100 portion. According to the Santa Rosa Clerk of Court, those prices have been the same since August of 1992.

And yet, the community may feel like prices are going up. In Okaloosa County for the fiscal year of 2018-2019, $18.3 million was collected in taxes on deeds, while $8.5 million was collected on notes. For that same year, Santa Rosa saw collections of $11.8 million in doc stamps on deeds and $6.1 million in doc stamps on notes.

In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, some numbers went up, while other numbers went down in both counties. In Okaloosa, doc stamps on deeds and mortgages were $16.8 million and $11.2 million, respectively. The doc stamps on deeds decreased, while the notes increased. The trend stayed true for Santa Rosa—deeds and notes, respectively, were $2.5 million and $16.7 million.

The next year, the changes were drastic. Okaloosa went up to $27.1 million and $17.2 million for taxes on deeds and notes in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. For Santa Rosa, those numbers were $6.7 million and $28.5 million for doc stamps on deeds and notes.

For Santa Rosa in the last documented fiscal year, the jump in taxes collected on deeds was over 150%. The leap in taxes on notes was almost 70%. For Okaloosa, those respective increases were 60.6% (deeds) and 53.1% (notes).

In the state of Florida for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, $2.4 billion were collected on doc stamps for deeds, and $1.3 billion were collected on doc stamps for notes.

The Department of Revenue addressed who is responsible for paying doc stamp taxes. “All parties to the document are liable for the tax regardless of which party agrees to pay the tax,” Wester said. “If a party is exempt, the tax must be paid by a non-exempt party.” So, according to the Department of Revenue, doc stamps are not assigned specifically to the buyer or the seller—that issue must be worked out between the two parties.

Members of the community might also wonder where that money is going and what the state uses it for. According to Florida statute 201.15, some of that money goes to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which involves Florida Forever and Everglades restoration bonds.

More money goes to the State Treasury, where it is used for funds like the State Transportation Trust Fund, the Grants and Donations Trust Fund, the State Housing Trust Fund and the Water Protection and Sustainability Program, among others. Anything remaining after those percentages are taken out goes to the State Treasury through the General Revenue Fund.

With prices in the housing market going so high, the community has more to pay with the doc stamps, even as the taxes have not gone up in almost thirty years. Those tax rates are set for the state, not county by county, so the true rates calculated depend on the respective Okaloosa and Santa Rosa County housing markets.

Saxophone quartet moving on in competition

According to Kim Whaley, the assistant band director at Crestview High School, three of the boys—Gavin Westmoreland, Lucas Hunker and Hiro Parrett—have been playing together since sixth grade, with Payton Hatfield joining in the eighth grade.

“It actually started last year,” Whaley said. In Chamber Winds class, a woodwind quintet competed in the Fischoff Competition virtually, due to the pandemic. Seeing the other group compete sparked something for the saxophonists. “They came to me last May and said they’d like to do it this year,” Whaley said.

“They’ve been practicing for a year,” she said.

The quartet has been largely self-led—they’ve done most of the leg work for preparing for the competition themselves, including picking out their own music and practicing. In March 2022, the quartet submitted a video recording of themselves playing. They found out on March 15 that they advanced to the next round and will be going to Notre Dame to compete.

The saxophonists will head to Notre Dame in May. The competition will take place the weekend of May 20-22. The Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition is the largest chamber music competition in the U.S., holding two divisions, one for high school students and one for college students and adults.

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