04/24/15 Human Interest
LEALMAN — Seven years ago, community activists celebrated the opening of a project that they hoped would herald a new day of improved housing in this largely poor unincorporated area.
But the project, Duval Park, the first foray into residential construction by the Sembler Co., never got off the ground and the first four houses stood vacant for years. Now things are changing. Construction is in the home stretch on an 88-unit affordable housing complex designed to hold mostly veterans, disabled veterans and their families....
PINELLAS PARK — Acreage that once held a church and was destined to become a housing complex will be the site of a new charter school.
Pinellas Park council members approved a zoning change this month that will pave the way for the Plato Academy to open its seventh charter school in Pinellas. The School Board approved the school in June. It was to be located in St. Petersburg, in the area near Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275, but that location fell through, so Plato moved to the Pinellas Park location. The School Board is scheduled to approve the new site at its April 28 meeting....
04/09/15 Local Government
LARGO — Commissioners here appear to be moving toward instituting a fire fee so they can free up budget money for police and other items.
They decided Tuesday to discuss the fee at a workshop after hearing a presentation by Ken Small of the Florida League of Cities on alternative funding sources.
Small pointed out that Largo has the second lowest per capita taxable value in Pinellas County. Only Kenneth City has a smaller per capita taxable value. That means that while Largo may be the third largest city by population, property values in the city are low. And that makes it hard to generate property taxes because it takes a higher tax rate to bring in the same money as a municipality with more valuable properties....
03/25/15 Local Government
LARGO — City leaders here have a problem that most people face in their daily lives — lots of wants and needs but not enough money to pay for them.
Unlike most city residents who find it hard to generate more money without a raise or a second job, the government has the option to simply raise taxes. Of course, then there's the prospect of pushback from angry property owners.
That's what city officials are facing right now. They want to hire almost 30 police officers, firefighters, code enforcement and support personnel for a one-time total of about $3.01 million added to the budget. City staff has proposed spreading the hiring over five years. Doing so would increase taxes 8 percent the first year, another 8 percent the second year, 6 percent in year three, 6 percent in year four and 7 percent in year five. That doesn't include the cumulative effect of the hiring the could, in the long run, make those figures go higher....
03/20/15 Local Government
LARGO — Commissioners generally agree the city needs more police and firefighters but they're struggling with ways to pay for them.
Those ways could include a property tax increase, a new fee for fire coverage, or a fee for businesses that frequently call for police help.
"There's a million scenarios here," said Henry Schubert, Largo assistant city manager.
For the past several months, Largo commissioners have said they want to look at public safety staffing. While all commissioners have been willing to study the issue, the major push has come from commission veteran Curtis Holmes and newcomers John Carroll and Donna Holck. Carroll is a former Largo police chief. Holck said during the campaign that firefighters had encouraged her to run....
03/13/15 Human Interest
LARGO — Maureen Freaney, the head of Pinellas County Animal Services, says she's leaving the job and county government because she's decided to move in a new direction.
"I made a two-year commitment to county administration to direct Animal Services, help stabilize the department, and ensure implementation of best practices," Freaney wrote Thursday in her resignation letter. "As that personal and professional commitment comes to a close, I am proud of what the Animal Services team has accomplished within this time frame....
03/12/15 Human Interest
PINELLAS PARK — Dogs and horses just seem to go together.
The pairing is so iconic that Budweiser has made the relationship between its famous Clydesdales and a lovable puppy the centerpiece of its Super Bowl ads for the past couple of years.
Yet it's the relationship between dogs and horses that's at the center of a controversy between dog lovers and some horse lovers in this city. It's a controversy that has one Pinellas Park council member saying he regrets ever supporting the horse community and the formation about 15 years ago of a city advisory board dedicated to horses....
LARGO — Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark will recount the results of Tuesday's race for the Kenneth City Town Council.
The recount, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, was triggered by the narrow margin between the third- and fourth-placed candidates in the race in which the top three vote getters were to take office.
Third-place candidate and apparent winner Carl Troup ended up with 336 votes, or 16.97 percent of the total. Fourth-place finisher Ryan Boberg drew 332 votes, or 16.77 percent of the vote. Florida law mandates a machine recount if the margin between candidates in unofficial results is 0.5 percent or less. ...
In what appeared to be a mostly uneventful day at the ballot box, incumbents fared well in most of the eight cities and towns that held elections Tuesday.
In Treasure Island, for example, Bob Minning won a third term as mayor.
The election day drama, such as it was, seemed centered in Kenneth City, where a candidate cried foul over a flock of pink plastic flamingos that appeared with hand-lettered signs around their necks supporting opponents....
03/06/15 Human Interest
LARGO — The county's four largest shelters took in almost 4,000 fewer animals last year than they did three years ago, according to figures released Friday.
At the same time, those shelters have seen a slight uptick of about 2 percent overall in the number of animals adopted. That meant about 1,500 fewer animals were euthanized in 2014 because they had no homes than were in 2012.
"That's a pretty significant drop," said Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay. ...
03/04/15 Local Government
INDIAN SHORES — County officials shuttered Fire Station 26 in Indian Shores almost five years ago to save money, over protests from beach officials who said the move would reduce service.
They proved to be right. A county study in 2013 said service had suffered and recommended the station be reopened.
That looks like it's about to happen.
The Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue Board unanimously voted last month to bring the service back on line. Indian Shores council members on Tuesday gave the nod to the idea. Their approval came during a workshop and won't be official until they vote on it at Tuesday's meeting. If they give the proposal the final nod, Station 26 would open in temporary quarters in the back yard of the Indian Shores Municipal Center, 19305 Gulf Blvd. The projected opening would be July 1....
02/25/15 Local Government
KENNETH CITY — Agreement is rare in this small town, but one thing most of the candidates for the Kenneth City council agree on is that the bickering must stop.
The candidates in the March 10 election aren't the first to say that. Council candidates for at least the past couple of decades have been commenting on the need for more cooperation among elected officials. It hasn't happened yet....
02/25/15 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — Almost exactly two years ago, the SPCA Tampa Bay announced it would open a general practice veterinary clinic designed to provide affordable veterinary care to all Pinellas County pets.
Officials with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took a big step toward that goal Wednesday with the announcement the group had paid about $1 million for a vacant St. Petersburg office building at 3250 Fifth Ave. N and plans to spend $1.25 million renovating the property. When it opens in mid 2016, the hospital is projected to bring up to 20 jobs to the city from entry level animal caretakers to full-time veterinarians. ...
02/19/15 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Some people who call for emergency medical services in this city may be surprised by what they don't see — a fire truck or a red ambulance-style truck.
Instead, they see a sport utility vehicle with two firefighter-paramedics.
The SUV is an experiment that Clearwater fire officials are running out of the Court Street fire station to see if they can save money on EMS calls. If successful, the department might buy a second SUV to use for EMS calls on the beach....
02/19/15 Local Government
KENNETH CITY — This town was the first in Pinellas to install red-light cameras. Now it's following the crowd in getting rid of them.
Council members recently voted unanimously to allow its contract with American Traffic Solutions to lapse. The vote means the seven cameras — some on 54th Avenue N and 66th Street, two of the busiest roadways in the county — will go dark Sept. 22....