08/27/15 Local Government
LARGO — Overtime for firefighters is expected to cost Largo taxpayers more than a million dollars this year — about 90 percent more than the fire department's overtime budget.
This will be the sixth year in a row that the fire department has outspent its budget, a situation Chief Shelby Willis blames in large part on understaffing. Understaffing, she said, accounts for about 79 percent of the overtime. The other 21 percent is caused by training, the need to staff special events and the department's explorer program. The explorer program is devoted to teens who want to become firefighters....
08/21/15 Local Government
LARGO — Crime and other problems at Bayhead Action Park have become so bad that some neighbors are calling for more police and that the skate park be closed.
"My children are not allowed in the park, the beautiful park you built," neighbor Eileen Pettit recently told Largo commissioners. "Ultimately, I would like to see the skate park removed."
Pettit said she has lived in the area for 25 years and has never seen the level of crime that's happening now. Pettit said she had requested a list of police calls to the park over the preceding year and a half and found 438 calls to the police – about "23 a month, which, in my opinion, is too many."...
08/13/15 Local Government
LARGO — The first complaints centered on the proliferation of charity bins and their sometimes messy appearance — enough to get Largo officials thinking about regulating them.
Now, officials are just as concerned about the owners of most of the bins in Largo: for-profit companies. They worry that residents are putting items in the bins thinking they're for the needy when, instead, for-profit companies are taking the items and selling them in thrift stores or elsewhere....
07/30/15 Local Government
LARGO — This city's leadership is perceived as "stale" and wedded to status quo thinking that leaves many residents and employees wondering why they should try to be creative, concludes one Largo commissioner.
The remedy, Commission Samantha Fenger said, is for the city manager to encourage "bolder, quicker action on items that won't jeopardize the city, more out-of-the-box thinking."...
If you're thinking of running for City Council, now's the time to decide. Filing opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday and ends at 4 p.m. Aug. 10. Candidates must be qualified no later than 4 p.m. Aug. 6. Two council seats, held by Patricia Plantamura and Chris Burke, are up for grabs. No definite candidates have yet surfaced although Fred Petty, a former Pinellas County tax collector, has said he is "seriously considering" a run....
07/17/15 Local Government
LARGO — Property owners here will likely see a hike of almost 5 percent in their property tax rate in the coming year.
City commissioners agreed during a Tuesday workshop to a proposed tax rate of about $5.43 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value for the tax year that begins Oct. 1. That would be about a 4.6 percent increase in the rate, which is currently set at about $5.19.
Under the proposed rate, a property owner with a house valued at $150,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $543 a year in city taxes...
07/17/15 Local Government
SEMINOLE — Council members here made it official Tuesday. Ann Toney-Deal is the new Seminole city manager. Toney-Deal will replace Frank Edmunds, Seminole's first city manager, who is retiring after 20 years on the job.
Council members agreed Tuesday to pay Toney-Deal $125,000 per year. She will start work Aug. 7 and will take over full time on Aug. 15. Edmunds' last day is Aug. 14. He is earning about $125,000 annually....
07/09/15 Human Interest
Dogs and cats awaiting adoption in the county's animal shelter are housed in kennels that are too hot for comfort and could endanger their health, according to an audit of the facility.
The audit, released last week, found 11 problems with Pinellas County Animal Services in addition to issues related to building maintenance. Among them: lack of written policies and procedures for after-hours emergency care, understaffing of animal control officers and the storage of needles and syringes in an unlocked room where they could be easily stolen or used for "unintended purposes." Auditors also cited inadequate accounting procedures and inadequate financial transparency. The audit was done by Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke, whose office is tasked with the review of county departments....
07/02/15 Local Government
SEMINOLE — In replacing their longtime city manager, council members here settled on a woman with extensive experience in municipal government.
Ann Toney-Deal's "education and professional credentials are outstanding, as well as her in-depth experience and knowledge of managing cities," Mayor Leslie Waters said Wednesday. "I look forward to working with her on behalf of the citizens of Seminole."...
06/30/15 Public Safety
One of Pinellas County's 18 fire departments is threatening to sue the county over years of cuts in the emergency medical services budget.
Over a three-year period at the beginning of the recession, county officials cut about $1.8 million in EMS funding from the budget of Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue.
Suncoast spent the next few years lobbying to get the money back. Now, the Suncoast Fire Commission has voted to sue the county to get the money it lost and to have the funds restored in future budgets. The county contracts with the fire departments to provide EMS countywide....
06/25/15 Public Safety
LARGO — Listen to recent commission discussions about the Largo Police Department and a couple of issues seem clear:
• Police are stretched to the limit. They're so overburdened by the number of calls that they can only react and may not be available to back up a fellow officer if needed.
• Largo needs to hire at least 16 officers to help even out the workload.
But at least one Largo commissioner says she does not believe the data back up those assumptions. And, Samantha Fenger says, she's worried the commission is rushing to judgment without an adequate, calm discussion about the issue. It's a judgment that could cost Largo taxpayers millions as property taxes go up and fire fees are created to pay for cops, firefighters and the equipment that goes with them....
06/25/15 Local Government
SEMINOLE — City Council members are scheduled to hold a special meeting today to interview five finalists for the job of city manager. The hire will replace Frank Edmunds, who is retiring in August after about 20 years on the job.
The finalists are Anthony Hamaday, who has served as the township manager of Broomall, Pa., since 2009; Mark Kutney, the former city manager of Loxahatchee Groves on the east coast; Calvin Peck, who has served as the village manager of Bald Head Island, N.C., since 2006; Ann Toney-Deal, who served as the city manager of Haines City for 19 years; and Ernest Zmyslinski, who has served as the finance director in Warwick, R.I., since 1999....
06/18/15 Local Government
SEMINOLE — City Council members narrowed the field of applicants for city manager to seven at Tuesday's special meeting: five finalists and two alternates.
Whoever is chosen will replace longtime City Manager Frank Edmunds, who retires Aug. 15. Edmunds is the only city manager that Seminole has had.
The five finalists are scheduled to be in Seminole on Thursday for a public reception to meet the council, residents and business owners and for job interviews June 26. The council is scheduled to make a final decision at its June 30 meeting....
06/11/15 Human Interest
LEALMAN — It's no secret that this unincorporated area has some of the most decayed housing with some of the highest code violation fines in Pinellas County.
Now, a faith-based group has proposed that the county forgive those liens — some, owed by banks, worth hundreds of thousands — if the property owner will donate the house so that it can be fixed up and used for affordable housing....
06/04/15 Local Government
PINELLAS PARK — For almost a decade, an extreme skate park has been on city officials' wish list here.
Yet, when the item came up for a vote at last week's meeting, council members weren't so happy. They took the item off the agenda so they could thrash it over during a workshop.
The snag? The cost — an estimated $675,000 to design and build an extreme skate park and two "skate dots" at Broderick and Youth parks. A skate "dot" is a mini-skate area so small it does not even qualify as a "spot," according to Pinellas Park officials....