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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

'You're supposed to laugh at that.'

CLEARWATER -- The Clearwater City Council took care of some important business Thursday night, approving a $392 million budget without a tax increase. Council members also had a lengthy discussion about whether a new Clearwater Beach resort should be required to have 7-foot-wide or 10-foot-wide sidewalks.

But before all that, they had to apologize for the temperature. The council chamber on the top floor of City Hall was pretty steamy.

"I think it's gotten a little warmer in here," said Mayor George Cretekos. "Earlier this afternoon, it was an icebox in here. So we upped the temperature by two degrees and opened the door. I think opening the door made a big difference. All the cold air went outside."

He made a reference to the City Council being "full of hot air."

Crickets.

"You're supposed to laugh at that, you know," the mayor said.

On cue, a round of laughter filled the room. …

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Marina fire hastens Dunedin's exploration of fire boat purchase

DUNEDIN| Fire Chief Jeff Parks and City Manager Rob DiSpirito say this month's houseboat fire at the city marina underscores the city's need for a fire boat.

The Sept. 6 blaze that left a family of four homeless raged for 30 minutes before Clearwater's boat arrived while Dunedin rescuers fought from onshore, officials said. The boat also helped rescue people trapped at the end of the dock.

But, officials ask, what if Clearwater's boat had been on another call?

Officials say a boat is imperative given Dunedin's location along 37 miles of coastline, near state parks that attract millions of visitors and nearly year-round water recreation.

"The opportunity for an emergency incident to occur at any time increases," staff wrote in a report to be presented next week to the City Commission.

According to estimates, a 25-foot boat with a 15-year life-span would cost Dunedin about $167,000, and Pinellas County would chip in on 13.25 percent of the tab. A boat lift plus annual insurance, maintenance, fuel and equipment costs would bring the first-year implementation total to about $218,000. …

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Belleview Biltmore redevelopment hearings kick off this month

BELLEAIR| Residents can weigh in on redevelopment plans for the former Belleview Biltmore hotel during a series of public hearings kicking off this month.

JMC Communities is buying the historic landmark from Miami investors Daniel and Raphael Ades for $6.6 million. The development firm plans to build a 33-room inn with meeting space and a small pub that mimics the original hotel, plus 132 upscale condos and townhomes.

The following meetings will be held at Town Hall, 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

•Sept. 30, 5 p.m.: Historic Preservation Board discusses the special certificate of appropriateness required for demolition.

•Oct. 6, 5:30 p.m.: Planning and Zoning Board discusses the development plan, rezoning request and development agreement.

•Oct. 27, 4 p.m.: The Town Commission considers recommendations on all items discussed by the city advisory boards.

•Nov. 13, 6 p.m.: Commissioners hold a second required public hearing on the rezoning request and development agreement only.

If approved, JMC Communities expects to complete the $15 million project’s first phase within two years, and all eight within five years.

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Another week, another testy exchange between Pinellas Commission candidates Pat Gerard and Ed Hooper

Pinellas County Commission candidate Pat Gerard has called on her opponent, Ed Hooper, to give back the money his consulting firm was paid by the Clearwater Aquarium while he served in the Legislature.

Gerard, a Democrat running for the District 2 seat currently held by Norm Roche, accused Hooper last week of being untruthful when he said that none of the clients of the Consus Group benefited from his work as a lawmaker. She noted the company was paid several thousand dollars in 2011 to represent the aquarium as it sought a development permit from the city for an expansion project. Hooper's partner, Joe Burdette, was listed in city filings as one of the aquarium's "agents." 

Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who beat Roche in last month's primary, later sponsored a bill making aquariums eligible for local tourist tax revenue. Hooper also helped land $5 million for the Dolphin Tale sequel, with $1 million going to the aquarium for other uses if the movie never got made. Dolphin Tale 2 premiered last week.

Hooper said he didn't work on the aquarium project but acknowledged he received half of the total fee that he estimated to be $9,000 to $10,000 …

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Safety Harbor narrowly passes 2015 budget

SAFETY HARBOR| Disagreement over spending on outside organizations led the City Commission to just narrowly pass a 2015 budget Monday and to okay an 8.4 percent property tax rate hike by a 4-1 vote.

Next fiscal year’s $62,183,950 budget, which starts Oct. 1, was approved 3-2, with Mayor Andy Steingold and Commissioner Andy Zodrow voting nay.

The sticking point was a proposal to reduce the amount allotted to the Chamber of Commerce, Neighborly Care Network and Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center from the requested $77,000 combined to $50,000.

Steingold echoed comments by seven citizens who argued during the public hearing that the groups are critical to attracting tourists and to providing children, elderly, disabled and unemployed residents with food, education and more. He called the nixed $27,000 in funding "a drop in the bucket."

Zodrow, who also voted against raising the millage from $3.73 to $4.05 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property, said he opposed raising taxes when the city has healthy reserves of almost $7 million: “I think there’s sufficient funds to support those three groups.” …

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Charlie Crist endorses Greenlight Pinellas in visit to St. Pete church

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin spent about 20 minutes campaigning at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg Sunday morning.

Courtesy of Sherry Robinson

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin spent about 20 minutes campaigning at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg Sunday morning.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin spent about 20 minutes campaigning at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg Sunday morning.

Tomalin urged the congregation to vote for the Greenlight Pinellas transit issue because of the jobs it would create -- and then Crist endorsed the ballot item as well.

"Greenlight is good -- good for transportation," Crist told the congregation.

Crist also knocked Gov. Rick Scott for his cuts to the education budget and for not expanding the Medicaid program, as well as ending a program Crist had started as governor to automatically restore the rights of ex-felons who have served their time. To restore that program, though, Crist said he would "need a little help with the Cabinet," and so he urged the voters to pick Democratic attorney general candidate George Sheldon over incumbent Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican.

"I'm in, and I need you to be all in," Crist told the congregation before handing the pastor, Rev. Manuel L. Sykes, a pair of Crist bumper stickers. "I'm sure you've got a friend," he told Sykes as he handed him the second bumper sticker.

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Support for Pinellas transit plan wavers in Pasco

Pasco County officials so far are refusing to lend a hand to Greenlight Pinellas.

Asked Thursday to support the transit-expansion initiative, board members for Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization couldn't muster enough votes to back the plan.

The initiative would raise Pinellas' sales tax rate to 8 percent while removing the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's property tax levy. Supporters say the measure will increase bus service and create a 24-mile light rail line from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.

But the issue has divided Pinellas voters. A recent phone survey by St. Pete Polls found 48.3 percent of 1,640 likely voters would vote "no" on the plan while 35.9 would vote "yes." Another 15.8 percent said they weren't sure.

Greenlight backers recently wrote to Pasco's MPO requesting support. After a 10-minute discussion, boardmembers deadlocked 3-3 -- meaning the MPO won't give its blessing to the plan.

Pasco commissioiners Jack Mariano and Kathryn Starkey, and New Port Richey Councilman Jeff Starkey, no relation to Kathryn Starkey, voted in favor. Zephyrhills Councilman Jeff Smith and commissioners Henry Wilson and Ted Schrader voted against it. …

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Kriseman optimistic about Rays deal by end of 2014

 

St. Petersburg----Mayor Rick Kriseman says that he's optimistic that the city and the Tampa Bay Rays can reach a deal by the end of the year on a site for a new stadium, but he's keeping mum on the details. 

One reason the discussions have gone so well, Kriseman said Thursday, is that both sides have kept them private. 

"There has been a tremendous amount of respect and trust that's been reestablished and shown to each other. And I think that bodes well for us going forward," Kriseman said. 

Kriseman met with Rays President Matt Silverman this month and plans to meet again in September. 

The mayor said his first goal is to keep the team in St. Petersburg. The Rays want to look at sites in Tampa. But recent comments to the Tampa Bay Times by Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg are encouraging, he said. 

Sternberg said early in the week that nothing is "imminent" on the Rays stadium situation, but the team hopes to have more "substantive" discussions with Kriseman once the season is over.  

"He seems to be optimistic," Kriseman said. "I think it's been relayed to him that we've had very meaningful discussions." 

 

 

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Bill Young's big get: NASCAR driver Kurt Busch

Republican Bill Young has a big endorsement this morning: NASCAR driver Kurt Busch.

Busch appears in a brief video touting Young, who is battling Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley in the state House District 68 race: "Hi, I'm NASCAR champign Kurt Busch. I'm endorsing Bill Young for Florida state House. I knew his father very well, and he did a lot for our military, and I know that Bill will not let us down. Vote for Bill Young."

In a statement Young said, “I’m proud to have the endorsement of Kurt Busch. We share a passion for helping those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us. Kurt’s dedication to our veterans and work with the Armed Forces Foundation should be admired by all.”

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Nurse opens home for Crist commercial

 

St. Petersburg----Council member Karl Nurse made an unusual foray into the governor's race this week -he let Charlie Crist's campaign use his Old Southeast home for a campaign commercial. 

The Crist campaign asked to use his house because they wanted one house with rooms that look different enough so that it appears  the action takes place in several different houses, Nurse said. 

Nurse didn't charge his fellow Democrat for the use of his home. But if time is money, then Crist came out ahead: the filming took five hours. 

"It was all volunteers. That's why it took so long," Nurse said. 

As for having the interior of the house he's lived in for 24 years on television screens across the state? 

"That'll be weird," he said. 

 

 

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Clearwater police chief considers using body cameras

CLEARWATER| Chief Dan Slaughter announced at a recent open forum that he is thinking about acquiring body cameras for officers at the Clearwater Police Department.

"It's a shift that's going to occur in this industry at some point whether it happens in Clearwater in the next two years or 10 years," he said, adding "there's still some stuff that really has to be worked out."

Slaughter said he'd like input from officers to determine how and when the cameras will be used.

Other agencies in Florida will soon be equipped with the cameras, including the Tampa and Sarasota police departments.

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Dunedin moves to once-weekly trash pickup in January

DUNEDIN| Homeowners will move to once-weekly trash, recycling and bulk pickup on Jan. 5.

City commissioners recently approved the move away from twice-weekly trash service following a seven-year voluntary recycling pilot program then two years of analysis under a mandatory single-stream recycling model.

Eliminating the "underutilized" second trash collection day will save the city about $700,000 a year by reducing equipment costs, manpower and wear and tear on roads, officials said. The change also jibes with Dunedin's push to reduce its carbon footprint.

Most residents' collection day will not change, but simply occur on the same day as their current recycling and yard waste pickup day.

The city will include more specific information in utility bills. Go to DunedinGov.com or call the Solid Waste Division at (727) 298-3215 for more details.

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Clearwater surgery update

CLEARWATER -- It turns out that Sen. Jack Latvala isn't the only well-known political figure in Clearwater who's had hip surgery recently.

When we saw former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard the other day, he was jauntily using a golf club as a cane. He had just had hip surgery.

Hibbard was also 30 pounds lighter. He lost the weight to make his recovery from surgery go more smoothly. He totally changed his diet. "I'm not on the chicken dinner circuit," said Hibbard, who's not running for office.

He was at a news briefing where the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was announcing updated plans for a new aquarium. The event was attended by Clearwater's current mayor and its two previous mayors. "Solidarity," former mayor Brian Aungst deadpanned when asked about it.

Hibbard had also recently dropped in on Clearwater City Council Member Jay Polglaze, who's recovering from surgery of his own. Polglaze showed up to the last City Council meeting in a neck brace. 

After stints in construction and the military and lifting weights, Polglaze was suffering from a degeneration of the spine. He had surgery to remove several discs and to fuse the rest of his spine together. …

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Precinct maps show lopsided Pasco wins

The polling numbers in the countywide Pasco Commission primary races tell one story: Republicans Mike Moore and Mike Wells trounced the competition.

But to see just how lopsided their wins really were last week, check out the precinct results at Pasco Superintendent of Elections Brian Corley's web site, www.pascovotes.com.

There's a map that represents the precincts Moore locked up en route to an easy victory: http://enr.electionsfl.org/PAS/Map/ContestResults/1065/?raceId=2605

As it shows, pretty much every precinct sided with Moore, who outspent his two opponents in campaign advertising almost 10 to 1.

While one of those opponents, Ken Littlefield, captured three east Pasco precincts - the 21st, 56th and the 87th - the other, Bob Robertson, failed to gain even one.

More surprising was Wells' complete domination of the political landscape over incumbent Henry Wilson.

Wells captured every precinct except one, the 94th, which went to Wilson. Take a look: http://enr.electionsfl.org/PAS/Map/ContestResults/1065/?raceId=2606

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Property tax hike proposed in Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR| At at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Sept. 15, the City Commission will host hearings on the proposed 2015 budget. Among the highlights:

*The property tax rate would jump nearly 9 percent from $3.73 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value would rise to $4.05 - aiding a bump in revenue from higher property values by generating nearly $600,000 for city coffers.

*The city would spend $1.6 million for design and other startup costs for a long-anticipated waterfront park along Old Tampa Bay.

*The controversial monthly $4.25 streetlight fee would decrease $3.25 per month, or $39 a year - a savings of $12.

*The Chamber of Commerce, Neighborly Care Network and Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center would continue receiving a combined $77,000 in assistance despite initial resistance from several commissioners.

More details here. The new budget year starts Oct. 1.

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