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Bills could alter state retirement

The Florida Legislature is poised to pass additional reforms to the Florida Retirement System, a public pension plan benefitting more than 40 percent of Baker County’s workforce.

Three week’s into the 2013 session, bills are making their way through both the house and senate to move the Florida Retirement System away from a “defined-benefit” plan to a more risky “defined-contribution” plan for new hires.

The existing defined-benefit system guarantees pension benefits based on a worker’s top annual earnings and years of service. The defined-contribution plan functions as a 401K-style investment plan that’s subject to the ups and downs of market forces.

The house bill (7011) filed in February by Rep. Jason T. Brodeur (R-Sanford) and pushed by House Speaker Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel, FL), would automatically enroll government employees hired after January 1, 2014 into the investment plan.

The senate bill (1392) filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey) takes a more flexible approach.

It would give new hires the option of enrolling into the investment, or defined-contribution, plan or the traditional plan. If they fail to make a choice, they’ll default into the investment plan, not the defined-benefit plan as they do today.

Sen. Simpson’s proposal would require elected officials and senior management employees to enroll in the investment plan, however.

The senate bill also includes incentives to attract workers to the defined-contribution plan.

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Two large wildfires contained, no property damage

Two large wildfires that erupted Saturday, March 16 were contained early the following day and no property damage was reported, according to Doc Bloodworth, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service.

He said about 65 acres were scorched off L.E. Harvey Road in the south county, coming close to residential properties like the one shown above. That blaze was contained Sunday afternoon and crews remained there early this week for “mop up” operations.

A 22-acre wildfire started on Sawtooth Dr. off  Steel Bridge Road north of Macclenny the same windy afternoon and was contained about two hours after the L.E. Harvey Road fire.

Both fires resulted from authorized burns that got out of control. The threat of wildfire activity remains moderate to low in Baker County, according to state’s drought and fire danger indexes. So far this year in the Suwannee Forestery District (Baker, Bradford, Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton counties), 104 wildfires have burned 408.8 acres.

Gets 15 years for DUI double fatality

Mr. Wheeler listens to victim statements during his sentencing hearing.A Glen St. Mary man was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week for his part in a drunk driving accident on U.S. 90 that killed two Sanderson men more than two years ago.

Christopher Wayne Wheeler, 37, was at the wheel of a 1994 Jeep Cherokee that ran the stop sign at the Smokey Road intersection and collided with the Ford Explorer driven by Ardris D. Paige, 43, a part-time basketball coach on his way home from practice at the Baker High the evening of November 16.

Mr. Paige and passenger Christopher V. Jefferson, 20, a former Wildcat athlete who played in a scrimmage game that night, were ejected in the crash and died. Two players on the basketball team, Delano Lee Paige, 19, and Marquis Paige, 17, were injured.

Members of victims’ family expressed their grief during a tear-filled sentencing the morning of March 19. Many members of both the victims’ and defendant’s families were present and comforted one another after the hearing before Circuit Judge Mark M. Moseley.

“If you were in his [Christopher Jefferson] presence, you were easily smiling,” said the victim’s cousin and friend Marcell Thomas.

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Wildcats eye No. 1 district seed

Hunter Hanks steals third.The Wildcat varsity baseball team is sizzling hot at 11-1 this season, and went 3-0 this past week with wins over a very good Episcopal squad, Forrest and Palatka.

The win over the Episcopal Eagles on March 11 at the home field was a touch and go affair. The game bounced back and forth as BCHS came from three runs back to defeat the Rams 8-7 in nine innings.

Jacob Milton started on the mound and Justin Guillory picked up the win in relief, throwing two scoreless innings.

“I’m very proud of Justin because he hasn’t pitched in over a year coming off an arm injury,” said Coach Fred Matricardi. “He has stayed positive and continued to work hard.”

The Cats were down 3-0 in the fourth and scored five runs to take the lead. Jacob Milton doubled, Hunter Hanks singled to bring Milton in, and Ethan Wilkerson followed up with a two-run homer to tie the game. The Cats took the lead when Mikal Flores doubled and Dylan Hall got a single that brought Flores across the plate. Hunter Bell scored on a squeeze play to put BCHS up 5-3.

Episcopal regained the lead with a pair of runs in the seventh. The Cats tied the game when Grant Gregory reached on a error. Brandon Miller singled, Jacob Milton grounded out, with two outs and runners on second and third. Hunter Hanks had a great at bat and reached on a error to score Miller and Milton.

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