Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas commission to vote on transit referendum as opponents go to court

For years, Pinellas County's transit groups have discussed and planned an overhaul of the area's transportation system, without putting it before voters. But today, the commission is expected to pass a measure signaling its intent to put transit on the ballot in 2014.

The proposed referendum question would ask Pinellas residents to approve a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent. Raising the tax from 7 cents per dollar to 8 cents is projected to bring in about $128 million, paying for a dramatic redesign of the county's transportation system, including more bus routes and light rail.

Pinellas transit officials have warned that without the additional revenue, they will have to make deep cuts to bus service.

With the vote approaching, and a majority of commissioners publicly supporting it, a group of Pinellas residents is trying to apply the brakes.

On Friday, seven residents, including Barbara Haselden, a vocal opponent of light rail, filed for an injunction to prevent four of the seven commissioners from voting. The four — Ken Welch, Karen Seel, Susan Latvala and John Morroni — are being sued by a different group of residents who claim the commissioners have exceeded the term limits voters set in 1996.

The same lawyer, John Shahan, is representing both sets of plaintiffs, some of whom are members of the South Pinellas 9-12 group, which is affiliated with the tea party movement. Shahan declined to comment.

In seeking an injunction, the group is claiming the four commissioners are "not legally in office and therefore cannot legally vote on any issue before being removed from office voluntarily or by court order."

County Attorney Jim Bennett said the earliest date that Shahan has asked to schedule a hearing is in late March, making it unlikely the matter will be decided before the vote this afternoon.

The commission's vote is not the final word on whether the referendum will appear on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot. Commissioners still must approve ballot language and pass an ordinance, all of which can be done as late as August 2014.

Supporters of the Pinellas transit agency's nascent plans to build light rail and expand bus service said they will show up today to defend the proposal.

"Most people do want this to move forward," said Phil Compton, a regional representative for the Suncoast Sierra Club.

"The key point is not to dither over the details today or tomorrow, but really, let's just move forward and decide that we're going to do something," he said.

Opponents of the proposal say it is sketchy, at best. Transit officials say they have a plan, but one that is not set in stone and can still be molded in response to public opinion.

They propose to build 24 miles of track from downtown Clearwater to the Gateway area, then south again to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also commissioned a study of the bus system, which has seen ridership climb for two years amid increasing expenses and reductions in service.

Seel has said that while she wants to improve the county's public transportation system, she opposes putting the question to voters in 2014. By then, she has said, the economy is unlikely to have rebounded to the point where residents would vote to increase the sales tax.

The other commissioner likely to vote against the resolution is Norm Roche, who has said that he believes that transit officials' cost estimates for the project are unrealistic.

Morroni, who appeared anxious about the referendum's timing at a meeting this month, said he favors putting it to voters in 2014.

"This isn't whether you're for the referendum or not, it's just to put it on the ballot," he said, adding, "I guess we an always undo it."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Comments
Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

ST. PETERSBURG — If you think the Rays are holding their pitching staff together with baling wire, duct tape and an overbooked shuttle to Triple-A Durham, a bigger story might be how their bats keep producing runs no matter who is swinging them...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
RFK’s son: There was 2nd shooter

RFK’s son: There was 2nd shooter

Los Angeles Times (TNS)As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy approaches, conspiracy theories still abound.The latest to back the theory of a second gunman is the senator’s son Robert F. Kennedy Jr.Sirhan B. Sirhan, a ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Visa woes have summer businesses hiring Puerto Ricans

Visa woes have summer businesses hiring Puerto Ricans

PHIPPSBURG, Maine — Frustrated by red tape and visa limits on foreign workers, tourism businesses from Maine to Missouri are turning to Puerto Ricans who are fleeing a shattered economy and devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Bob Smith, owner of S...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

NEW PORT RICHEYDriver surrenders after crash that kills bicyclistThe driver Florida Highway Patrol troopers say struck and killed a bicyclist then drove from the scene turned herself in Sunday afternoon.Shanna Marie Rampino surrendered a 2000 Toyota ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
A solemn display

A solemn display

Associated PressVisitors to Boston Commons in Boston last week pass 37,000 American flags planted to honor every Massachusetts resident killed in war dating to the Revolutionary War. The "flag garden" idea on Memorial Day started in Boston about a de...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

BIDDEFORD, Maine — A spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush says the 93-year-old was experiencing low blood pressure and has been hospitalized. Spokesman Jim McGrath tweeted just after 2 p.m. Sunday that Bush will likely remain in the hospit...
Updated: 5 hours ago
None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

TRINITY — No one was hurt Sunday morning after a fire broke out at a rehabilitation center.According to Pasco County Fire Rescue, Trinity Regional Rehab Center at 2144 Welbilt Blvd. is running on generator power after the blaze broke out about 10:30 ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Both southbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard between W. Barcelona and W. Rubideaux streets are closed while the Tampa Water Department repairs a water main break.The repair and roadway restoration work is expected to be completed by 5 p.m. Sunday but ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

We’re all waking up to the impacts of Alberto: dreary rain, gusty wind, the reluctant change of Memorial Day plans.But while the effects are routine for storm-weathering Floridians, the category of storm Alberto falls into is a little less familiar. ...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Temple Terrace applauds progress on downtown project

TEMPLE TERRACE — A round of applause from the audience followed the recent vote by the Temple Terrace City Council to negotiate a contract with a company that plans to build and manage luxury apartments in the long-idle downtown redevelopment area.Th...
Updated: 8 hours ago