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....
SEMINOLE — After years of wishing, hoping and guessing what stores might open in a rebuilt Seminole Mall, residents here now have some names.
One of them — Earth Fare — is new to the Tampa Bay area. Earth Fare is a North Carolina-based chain of boutique grocery stores that concentrates on organic and natural foods.
Representatives from Earth Fare could not be reached for comment. But its website, earthfare.com, says the company's philosophy can best be summed up in one word: "No."...
05/28/15 Human Interest
Civic leaders and community activists from across Pinellas have often gazed longingly at the acreage occupied by the county's schools and wished there was some way they could use those lands when they weren't occupied by students.
But the Pinellas County School District has been reluctant to let anyone else use its property. Now that's changing. The district has agreed to lease closed schools to other local governments. It's all about being a part of the community, school officials say....
LARGO — Officials here are struggling to find ways to pay for the hiring of more cops and firefighters and to pay for other city needs.
They've suggested creating new fees and raising existing ones to help fund their wish list. But what they find particularly frustrating is their inability to collect some fines that property owners owe — to the tune of $10 million.
That total comes from fines assessed to 259 property owners for failing to keep up their property. Some fines extend back for years. And they range from a few hundred dollars to more than $200,000....