Around the State
Bay County -- Bay County commissioners have limited the interest a title loan company can charge to 2.5% monthly, or 30% per year. Under old rules, companies could charge up to 22% a month, or 264% annually. A representative of Speedee Cash, which operates title loan companies statewide, says such caps are designed to shut down the industry. Wakulla and Leon counties also have set 30% caps.
Chipley -- The Chipley Housing Authority (CHA) converted to geothermal heating and cooling after an energy audit found the investment would pay for itself in six years. CHA has 88 units; costs for heating and cooling each unit are expected to average $183 a year rather than $405 using the current gas heating and electric air conditioning.
Crestview -- As the Okaloosa County Jail approaches capacity, the county commission is considering a $7-million expansion to create 240 more beds. Commissioners also suggested housing three inmates to a cell, or shipping inmates to other facilities.
Panhandle -- The new Panhandle Area Health Network links Calhoun-Liberty Hospital, Blountstown; Campbellton-Graceville Hospital, Graceville; Doctors Memorial Hospital, Perry; Jackson Hospital, Marianna; and Northwest Florida Community Hospital, Chipley. The network hopes its combined strength will lead to better contracts with insurance companies and HMOs.
Pensacola -- Port of Pensacola faced a temporary shutdown recently in a dispute between the port and its largest tenant, Pensacola Cold Storage (PCS). Port Director Chuck Porter locked gates to keep PCS trucks out of the commons area after the company brought 50 trucks into the area at one time; businesses are allowed no more than 15. Some 120 workers and dozens of trucks loaded with frozen food stood idle while the city council worked to resolve the dispute.
A.C. Williams Jr. and his two seafood companies agreed to pay $800,000 in fines and admitted to buying 35,000 pounds of out-of-season red snapper, shipping falsely labeled fish and other violations in a settlement of more than 100 U.S. fisheries charges.
Santa Rosa County -- Eglin Air Force Base officials want to block Chevron USA and other companies from drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico, where Eglin tests missiles and trains pilots for air-to-air combat. Chevron USA has plans to drill as many as 21 wells about 25 miles south of Pensacola, an area also used by Naval Air Station Pensacola for training missions.
Tallahassee -- The Department of Corrections appraised the work performed by prison inmates along Florida's roads, in its parks and government buildings between July 1998 and June 1999 at $54 million. Savings to taxpayers: more than $28 million.
SunTrust Bank, Northwest Florida, formed by the merger of SunTrust Bank, Tallahassee and SunTrust Bank, Northwest Florida, employs 400 in 26 offices from Pensacola to its headquarters in Tallahassee. The recent merger should allow for larger loans because of the bank's consolidated capital.
Taylor County -- With 72.6% of the votes, residents here overwhelmingly repealed an existing one-cent discretionary tax and replaced it with one to fund a new regional medical center for Doctor's Memorial Hospital (DMH). The tax takes effect Jan. 1, for a period not to exceed 30 years, and will be used to back a $21-million bond issue to pay for construction. In 1997, county-owned DMH was the only hospital in Florida with fewer than 100 beds to be named one of the Top 100 Hospitals in the U.S.
Jack Neal faced a defining moment when he tried to register to run for mayor in Century, a town of about 2,000 in northern Escambia County. The issue: Where, exactly, is his "residence"?
According to the town charter, candidates for city office must have lived inside city limits for no less than six months. Neal, the owner of the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Co., owns a house about a quarter-mile outside Century's city limits -- that's where his wife lives, and that's where he spends his nights.
Neal's driver's license, however, lists the company's address as his place of residence. The company, unlike his house, is inside Century's city limits. When Century City Hall mails the monthly water bill for Neal's house, the bill goes to the lumber company's mailing address.
When Neal tried to throw his hat in the ring, town clerk Ray Lawson refused to accept his application and fee to enter the mayor's race. Lawson said he knew that Neal didn't live at the lumber company -- regardless what his driver's license says.
Neal got a lawyer, and a judge ordered the town to put his name on the ballot. The town council appealed, and its lawyer petitioned the court to delay the election until a judge rules on whether Neal can run.
Lawson says he expects a ruling by Dec. 15. As soon as he knows whether Neal officially lives with his wife at his house or with the plywood at the lumberyard, he'll post notices of the election.