Saturday, August 18, 2018
News Roundup

County land deal loses $1.7 million in Penny for Pinellas dollars

CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission is trying to convince voters to renew the 1-cent Penny for Pinellas sales tax for another decade.

So this news comes at an inconvenient time: The commission recently decided to sell off a piece of land at a loss of $1.7 million — money that was raised by the penny sales tax.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Officials will use Irma to convince voters to renew Penny for Pinellas tax

The commission voted 6-1 on Sept. 26 to sell land in Indian Rocks Beach on Gulf Boulevard for $1.1 million. But it paid $2.8 million for the parcel in 2006, at the height of the real estate boom.

The project crumbled when Indian Rocks Beach city officials cried foul over the parking lot. County officials now admit that they didn't check with the city before planning the now failed project.

The county commission called the $1.7 million loss a "lesson learned" and vowed to get support from local officials before taxpayer money is spent on future projects.

"It was definitely miscommunication with the city," County Commissioner Ken Welch said about the loss. "It is a lesson learned."

With just one bidder, Commissioner John Morroni said the county should sell the property to recoup whatever it can and stop paying $3,800 a year to maintain the land.

"I would not take a chance on waiting," he said before the vote.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tax foes not confident they can stop renewal of Penny for Pinellas sales tax in 2017

The $1.7 million loss could be fodder for critics who accuse county and city leaders of using the penny tax for pet projects that lead to election-year ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

"When it's other people's money, you can do all kinds of experiments," said Barb Haselden, a tax critic and 2018 commission candidate. "It's a lot of money. They're not the shrewdest business people."

County leaders counter that the penny tax pays for critical infrastructure, such as the $81 million Pinellas County Public Safety Complex, built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Commissioner Karen Seel voted against the sale and said she voted against the purchase in 2006.

Four current commissioners — Janet Long, Pat Gerard, Dave Eggers and Charlie Justice — were not on the board when the county originally bought the land.

The vacant property once housed Fred's Service Station. The county, records show, cobbled together three parcels to create less than a half acre for the parking lot. The following year, the county demolished vacant structures and sodded and fenced the property. Then came the Great Recession.

In 2015, the county advertised the land, but the commission reject the lone bid of $613,000.

The prospective buyer is considering a mixed-use project, said Indian Rocks Beach city manager Brently Gregg Mims. If the purchase goes through, the proceeds would go back into the penny program, county administrator Mark Woodard said.

Voters approved earlier rounds of the tax in 1989, 1997 and 2007 and will get the chance to do so again on Nov. 7. One of the biggest selling points of the program is officials estimate that one-third of the revenue comes from tourists. A countywide campaign has been under way for months to tout how the penny tax has been spent the past 30 years. The mayors, city councils and city managers in 17 municipalities have prepared wish lists for the next round of funding from 2020 to 2030.

In addition to hosting meetings, officials have developed websites to highlight past projects and erected signs in front of buildings to tell voters what came from the tax program.

Officials have already projected how the $2 billion that would be raised by the tax in the next decade would be divided: About $225 million would go toward countywide investments such as economic development, affordable housing, land assembly, and jail and court facilities. The county would get $915 million on top of that, while the cities would split $853 million.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

Comments
Preseason football: Hillsborough 29, East Lake 23

Preseason football: Hillsborough 29, East Lake 23

TAMPA — When moving on to your third football program in four seasons, it helps to have a familiar face on the scene to help make things click faster.For Hillsborough quarterback Charlie Dean, fresh from playing for Tampa Catholic last fall, that per...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: The stats that matter

Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: The stats that matter

Yeah, but …Every Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota debate is full of them.Winston has completed more passes (939), gained more passing yards (11,636) and thrown more passing touchdowns (69) before his age 24 season than any quarterback in NFL histo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
It’s David Price time, from Rays ‘openers’ to rise of Blake Snell

It’s David Price time, from Rays ‘openers’ to rise of Blake Snell

BOSTON — David Price heard about the recent reunion of the Rays' 2008 American League championship club that he played a big role on as a small part of, and he had a few questions.What players were there? How did it go? Did second baseman Akino...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Rays journal: A 3-0 first-inning lead turns into a loss to powerful Red Sox

BOSTON — Scoring three runs in the top of the first inning is typically a good start toward a victory.But not so much at cozy Fenway Park.And definitely not against these red-hot Red Sox.Facing their AL East rivals for the first time since late...
Updated: 3 hours ago
From Hawaii to the honky-tonk: Nashville’s in love with Marcus Mariota

From Hawaii to the honky-tonk: Nashville’s in love with Marcus Mariota

NASHVILLE — Ten thousand blue leis were distributed to Titans fans for the NFL draft on the day their team picked Marcus Mariota.The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner wasn't even at Nissan Stadium for the party, which drew a crowd of 20,000. But the w...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Preseason football: Clearwater Central Catholic 24, Wiregrass Ranch 14

Preseason football: Clearwater Central Catholic 24, Wiregrass Ranch 14

WESLEY CHAPEL — Clearwater Central Catholic, held to 11 yards rushing in the first half, turned on the power game behind senior Casey Levy, whose 120-yard performance helped carry the visiting Marauders to a 24-14 win at Wiregrass Ranch.Levy’s lone t...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Preseason football: Tampa Bay Tech 54, Brandon 6

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Tech earned all the momentum it needed heading into next week’s sizable test at Armwood.The Titans powered by visiting Brandon 54-6 in a preseason classic on Friday night. The game was cruising along until a 20-minute lightning dela...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Preseason football: Tampa Catholic 36, Robinson 15

TAMPA — First-year Tampa Catholic coach Jeris McIntyre hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet, but Dylan McCain shined in his job interview Friday, running a Crusader offense that scored 22 points in the second half on the way to a 36-15 preseason v...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Preseason football: Jefferson 53, Newsome 0

LITHIA — Jefferson’s Tyler Thomas needed less than a quarter to throw down a challenge to the area teams: Catch him if you can.Unsuspecting Newsome, playing host to the preseason classic, never had a chance in the 53-0 loss on Friday.Thomas, a senior...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Preseason football: Sunlake 22, Lakewood 20 (one half)

ST. PETERSBURG — Following two lengthy lightning delays, Sunlake used two blocked punts and several key defensive stops to knock off Lakewood in an abbreviated preseason game, 22-20.Matt Paduani led the way for the Seahawks, notching two touchdown ca...
Updated: 4 hours ago