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Florida legislators offer little help on Pinellas' tourist tax concerns

Your recorded political question may be aired on Bay News 9.


Your recorded political question may be aired on Bay News 9.


Legislators not helpful on tourist tax issue

The bed tax issue just won't go away — at least among beach officials who continue to resent how Pinellas County spends little of the money raised from beach tourists for beach projects.

Tuesday, the City Commission tackled two state legislators who had come to report on this year's state Legislature.

Commissioner Jim Parent asked if part of the tax levied on tourist-related lodging could be sent back to the beach communities.

Rep. Jim Frishe — not answering the question — instead touted how re-routing some of the tourist tax to in-state advertising "helped the local economy dramatically."

Then Commissioner Christopher Leonard described the "level of frustration" among city residents who resent paying some 20 percent of all tourist taxes collected in the county.

Last year, the 5 percent bed tax generated $26.3-million in revenues with $5.4 million collected in St. Pete Beach and Tierra Verde alone.

"I believe the bed tax is going to expire before too long," state Sen. Dennis Jones told the commission. "I certainly think it should be extended."

There is one major problem with his response, however.

There is no expiration date on the tourist tax.

The underlying state law and county ordinances governing the tourist tax have no expiration date, according to Chief Assistant County Attorney Dennis Long.


Realtors group endorses City Council incumbents

The board of directors of the Pinellas Realtor Organization endorsed all the City Council incumbents this week

Newcomer Angela Rouson also got a nod.

For the general election races, the organization chose City Council member Jim Kennedy over former police Chief Stephen Corsetti in District 2 and Council Chairman Jeff Danner over consultant Leonard Schmiege in District 8.

In the heated primary races, the organization choose City Council member Leslie Curran over educator Pamella Settlegoode and printer Jason Diviki in District 4.

Pinellas County Housing Authority Commissioner Angela Rouson was selected over social worker Steve Kornell and retired police officer Joe Smith in District 5.

In District 6, City Council member Karl Nurse was named over former city worker Vel Thompson and student Derrick Frohne.

Spokesman Mathias Bergendahl said candidates filled out a survey and came in for an interview. They were asked about the Hometown Democracy effort, affordable housing and private property rights, among other things.

The organization will screen the final two mayoral candidates after the primary.


Sierra Club endorses Wagman, Nurse, Kornell

Kathleen Ford talks about making St. Petersburg the solar energy capital of the United States.

Jamie Bennett helped St. Petersburg become the first green city in Florida.

Deveron Gibbons says the city should work with a private firm that would recycle local goods.

But the mayoral hopeful who scored the Suncoast Sierra Club's endorsement is newcomer Scott Wagman, the former owner of a paint company.

"Viability of a candidate is certainly something we look at, we'd be crazy not to, but it really had to do with Scott stepping up and saying, 'I will do that,' not 'I will encourage this,' " said Cathy Harrelson, conservation co-chair for the Suncoast Sierra Club. "Every one of them said, 'I will encourage' except for Scott."

Wagman's plan to push white roofs, a measure touted by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, also helped earn him the endorsement.

The club also endorsed City Council candidates Karl Nurse in District 6 and Steve Kornell in District 5. Both candidates also expressed a commitment to green energy, Harrelson said.

"Karl we just see as a very much get 'er done kind of guy," she said.

Bennett was a contender for the endorsement, she said, but blew his shot partly because members didn't see him as someone who would fight for their causes.


record a question for the candidates

Do you have something pressing to ask the candidates for mayor of St. Petersburg? Here's your chance to record a question.

The St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 will present a televised Conversation with the Candidates on Aug. 19 from the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College. The candidates will discuss many of the issues most important to St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area, and part of the conversation will include several one-minute questions from St. Petersburg residents captured on video. Times Political Editor Adam Smith and Bay News 9's Al Ruechel will moderate the community forum, which will air live from 7-8:30 p.m. in its entirety on Bay News 9.

Before this event, the Times will turn on the video cameras to record citizens' questions on two dates in St. Petersburg: Monday, July 27, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Times Printing Plant, 1301 34th St. N (entrance off 13th Avenue N); and Tuesday, July 28, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the first-floor auditorium at the downtown Times office, 490 First Ave. S. Please check in at the security desk at both locations.

Please prepare your one-minute question in advance, and come to the Times on July 27-28 to be part of this exercise in democracy.


Ed Helm: I won't self-finance my mayoral campaign

Mayoral hopeful Ed Helm said he didn't pay the state's roughly $1,600 election fee because he didn't have enough cash in his campaign chest.

Helm, the third wealthiest candidate for mayor according to financial disclosure forms, said he won't self-finance his campaign. Helm, a retired lawyer, also ran for mayor in 2005.

"We spent a significant amount of money last time around," he said. "This time, I hadn't raised very much money and we are determined that we are not going to self-finance this and this campaign is going to have to be supported by the community. I think it will be, from the type of support I am getting."

Helm raised $11,405 between April and June. He loaned his campaign $10,100.

He said he will pay the state fee if there is sufficient money in his campaign account after the election.

Helm recently spent several weeks in Costa Rica to mark his daughter's birthday and do some volunteer work.

"I don't regret going," he said. "I am catching up and I realize I need to catch up a little."

Times staff writers David Decamp, Jeanne Grinstead and Cristina Silva and correspondent Sheila Mullane Estrada contributed to this report.

Florida legislators offer little help on Pinellas' tourist tax concerns 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 4:30am]
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