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Hold officials accountable for area's unrestrained growth

The fault for defaults | Nov. 8, story

Hold officials accountable

I want to thank the St. Petersburg Times for writing this story but wonder how many people are really paying attention to its content.

I moved to Tampa in January 1998 from New York City so that my fiance and I could start a small business. In March 2000 we purchased our modest home for a very reasonable price. I began watching the Hillsborough County Commission meetings sometime in 2003 and was completely baffled. Here these commissioners were, arguing about the existence of gay literature at our libraries, Joe Redner's charitable donation to an event for poor and abused children or a referendum to ban nude dancing in the county (just to name a few). Yet these esteemed commissioners (exempting Kathy Castor) could not for the longest time bring themselves to increase the ridiculously low impact fee of $196 for each new house built.

I can only assume their reservations to raising the fee were based on their relationships with developers. Remember Ralph Hughes and the award this commission named after him?

Our political system is broken, but we can start to fix it by not voting for some of the same people who got us into this mess. These elected officials should be held accountable for their role in our housing crisis rather than be allowed to serve another term in any elected office. Read the story, the names are there. Let's stop protecting the guilty.

Veronica Kirchheimer, Tampa

Renters made to suffer

After reading this article I have to feel sorry for the renters of these foreclosing homes. They paid their rent but still lose a place to live due to the owners' failure to pay the mortgage. They are the only ones you cannot blame for this mess.

And why are houses still going up when no one is buying new homes?

Finally, your picture of Marsha Jennings having a TECO-owned corridor next to her back yard really had me wondering who owns the badly starved creature (to where its bones can be seen) on that land and will animal services step in after seeing this?

If I was Ms. Jennings you can be sure I would call animal services because I could not help feeling sorry to see this animal in such poor shape every day.

Richard McKenrick, Seffner

Starving animal

This is in reference to the photo on Page 8A of last Sunday's paper.

Has anyone else noticed that the animal (probably a steer) in the picture of the woman renting a house abutting a TECO-owned corridor looks like it is starved? Its ribs are sticking out! It's the first thing I noticed. Who owns these animals?

Sylvia Scheer, Port Richey

Mass transit isn't what our area needs

I was disappointed to learn that five of seven Hillsborough County commissioners voted to move ahead on a plan to ask voters for a 1-cent sales tax for transit improvements. Spending billions of dollars to build a transit system in the Tampa Bay area would be a colossal waste of money for many reasons.

First, we don't need it. Traffic in Tampa actually flows relatively well, and the previous bottlenecks are being addressed either by double-decker roads (Selmon Crosstown Expressway), or widening (I-275 through downtown, Bruce B. Downs in New Tampa). Commutes in Tampa are typically in the range of 20-40 minutes, which compare very favorably to other metropolitan areas of similar population density.

Second, very few commuters would use the proposed system. Consider the typical rail commute: Commuters drive to a train station, park, get out in the elements (rain, humidity), wait for a train, get in a train with strangers, stop at several locations to pick up and drop off passengers, depart at their appropriate train stop and then walk or get into a taxi to take them to their final destination. Compare that commuter travel to people simply driving to their destination in the comfort of their own vehicle. And what about the convenience of being able to run errands or pick up and drop off the kids on your way to or from work?

Third, the cost is prohibitive, especially in these economic times. The TBARTA folks claim that most major metropolitan areas in the United States have a mass transit system. True — and they all lose money.

The fact is, except in areas of very high population density, the automobile trumps mass transit every time in convenience, and Americans are not going to give up their convenience; not at $4 a gallon, and certainly not at $2.70 a gallon.

Ken Keller, Temple Terrace

Finally, leadership on transit package | Nov. 9, editorial

In the right direction

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, along with Commissioners Kevin Beckner, Rose Ferlita, Ken Hagan and Kevin White, deserve praise for taking their positions seriously enough to lead in pushing a program to provide for future transportation needs.

I first met Commissioner Sharpe when he graduated from FSU as a classmate and friend of my daughter and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. At that time, he urged only that all taxes be cut, refusing to acknowledge my argument to him that this was not a strategy for governing, only campaigning.

We have now cut taxes to the point that services needed and wanted by citizens have been reduced or eliminated; public safety is jeopardized, our school system harmed and our infrastructure is a mess.

For the first time in years, the Hillsborough County Commission appears to be willing to do more than pander to the ideologues. We need a transportation program and it must be funded.

Jim Stillman, Lutz

Abbas' speech evokes despair | Nov. 7, story

No sympathy is due

Reading your account of the Palestinians' "despair" over "decades of failed peace initiatives," I was moved to ask what peace initiatives were ever actually proposed by the Palestinian leadership. In fact, their only "initiatives" consisted of maximalist demands: Israel must return all territory that fell to it in defending itself against two wars designed to destroy it; Israel must give up East Jerusalem, home of its holiest sites, which were barred to Jews for 20 years while occupied by Jordan; Israel must allow unlimited immigration of Palestinians who choose not to live in the Palestinian state specifically created for them.

As for recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace and security — well, that might come in due course, after unlimited Palestinian immigration has turned Israel into the 23rd or 24th Arab country in the Middle East.

Contrast these demands with the actual Israeli initiatives documented in your article: signing the Oslo accords to recognize the authority of the Palestinian Authority, previously treated, rightly, as a terrorist group devoted to Israel's destruction; offering a Palestinian state in 2000; unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza in 2005. None of these steps ever elicited a single offer of compromise or concession from the Palestinians and the leadership of the Arab world. And yet Palestinians are "frustrated" with Israel's refusal to yield to their extravagant demands and create their version of "peace."

Before I can share in their lament of "despair," I would like to see actual negotiation on the part of the Arab leadership — instead of relying, as your article correctly points out, on the imposition of American "muscle" on Israel to force ever-greater concessions and accommodations, even at the jeopardy of its own survival.

Margot Benstock, Seminole


China will profit

There is an interesting article in the Economist. While America contemplates putting 40,000 more troops on the ground in Afghanistan, China, which has no troops there, has purchased a half interest in the Aynak mine, which is the second biggest untapped source of copper in the world.

When production starts in 2011, China will get half the output and billions in return on its investment. Afghan police and the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division patrol the area. America fights terrorism and spends billions. China profits.

Rick Grim, Brooksville

Health insurance reform

Business needs relief

I just received my annual renewal notice from United HealthCare in the mail and have determined that the health insurance reform that I (and so many others) have been advocating for so long must be passed, along with the inclusion of a strong public option or a single-payer system.

I own a small business in Pinellas County and the annual premium for two employees has increased by 27 percent from calendar year 2009 to 2010. The CEO of United HealthCare made $3.2 million in cash compensation for 2008 not including stock options and other executive perks, so I am sure that he can afford to pay in excess of $15,000 per year for health insurance, but this proposed increase could put me out of business.

I work with numerous other small businesses in this area and I cannot list a single one (other than Progress Energy or other businesses without competition) that has the ability to pass along a 27 percent cost increase to their clients or customers with the state of our economy. At this rate, my annual health insurance premium costs will exceed my total for annual mortgage payments, car and property insurance costs as well as my real estate taxes.

Does anyone in Washington get it? Without real reform (and meaningful governmental competition), we will always be stuck in this vicious cycle of ever-increasing premiums with no real alternatives. I wish that I could get the same health care coverage that our elected officials receive (and at the same cost), but we are not being represented by our elected officials and I think this is a shame.

Kevin Silvey, Seminole

Health care reform

Too many giveaways

There are basically two kinds of people in favor of health care reform. Those who, for a variety of reasons, have no affordable coverage and those who think health care costs have gone out of control and are way too high. Both have valid arguments and both have the same disturbing flaws. They all are asking for what boils down to another form of public aid, welfare, something for nothing.

I don't thank Congress for rushing through this health bill. I castigate them for having led our country, giveaway program by giveaway program, to the point where too many citizens feel entitled to luxuries once only afforded by those who worked hard and spent wisely.

Instead of asking for lower health costs by a government-run system, we need to ask why health care costs are so high and getting higher every day. I submit that health care is a business and as such is subject to the same laws of capitalism as any other goods or services, supply and demand.

The ever-escalating costs are due to those who flood emergency rooms for health care and treatment that they cannot otherwise afford. Hospitals are not free clinics. Whether for profit or not, they are businesses and as such must pay their bills like everyone else. When they have to supply services for which they are not reimbursed, the loss is divided up and added to every paying patient's care. Which is part of the reason a single aspirin given in a hospital costs more than an entire bottle from Walgreens.

Another hardly mentioned factor is abuse. Fraud by doctors and patients is rampant and adds hundreds of millions to health care costs. Insurance companies must add the price of these abuses to their premiums that we all must share.

I sympathize with those who suffer and I pray that they find comfort, but don't ask me to pay for it! I'm already paying for too many giveaway and entitlement programs now. If you want reform, change people's attitudes and work ethic.

Everett Melnick, St. Petersburg

Dental care: the huge gap in health care reform | Oct. 31, story

Providing access to care

This article brought forth an important issue of ongoing concern: access to dental care. However, a few key points were left out.

The article was correct in stating that Florida Adult Dental Medicaid Program covers emergency dental treatment, but tooth extractions, partials and full dentures are also covered. Unfortunately, it is the lack of coverage for preventive procedures, such as cleanings and fillings, that cause alarm. These proactive treatments are an integral part of health care due to the strong link between dental health and overall health.

Since Medicaid began, there never has been a comprehensive program offered and funded by the state for adult dental services. Dentists who offer services to Medicaid patients (especially adults) tend to do so at a significantly reduced rate. In Florida, dentists are paid only 25 cents for every $1 of care provided to Medicaid patients. This rate has not been adjusted in 20 years, giving Florida one of lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the United States.

Florida Dental Association (FDA) dentists go a step further and participate in efforts such as Project: Dentists Care (PDC), a program of the Florida Dental Health Foundation. The initiative provided almost $4 million in dental care in 2008-2009. For a list of participating dental facilities, access the PDC Resource Guide at

Additional resources for Florida's west coast are available by calling the West Coast District Dental Association, an FDA component, at (813) 931-3018.

The FDA will continue to be active in providing access to dental care for Floridians. By working with elected officials, government agencies and other nonprofits, the association aims to make dental services and information available to all citizens.

Dr. Charles W. Hoffman, president, Florida Dental Association and Dr. Rudolph T. Liddell III, president, West Coast District Dental Association

Don't downplay addiction's dangers | Nov. 6, letter

Seek a middle way

It's true that drug policy reformers ignore the danger of addiction. Conversely, drug warriors tend to ignore the danger of the drug war. There is a middle ground rarely discussed by either group.

The histories of tobacco and alcohol in 20th-century America confirm that an unfettered free market (for tobacco) and national prohibition (of alcohol) both caused more net societal damage than is being caused by these drugs today. It was an important lesson.

We can minimize the net societal damage done by drugs — and their regulation — by neither legalization nor prohibition, but somewhere in between. The discussion should be to decide where.

John Chase, Palm Harbor

Hold officials accountable for area's unrestrained growth 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 7:42pm]
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