Rich Shopes, Times Staff Writer

Rich Shopes

Rich Shopes is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times covering government and politics in Pasco County.

Before coming to Florida in 1999, he lived in Philadelphia and New Jersey. He worked at the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2012 to cover Plant City. He currently lives in Manatee County with his lovely wife, Sandy, and their squirrel-obsessed Norfolk terrier, Charley.

Phone: (727) 869-6236

Email: rshopes@tampabay.com

  1. Pinellas to pay 'embarrassing' Pasco property tax bill

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Pinellas County will pay Pasco more than $113,000 in back taxes for two properties, but the counties' tax feud could drag on.

    The issue surfaced last year and emerged again a couple weeks ago when the Pinellas County Attorney's Office wrote to Pasco that its properties at the Al Bar and Cross Bar ranches north of State Road 52 were immune from property taxes because they are county-owned....

    Pinellas County agreed to pay its overdue $113,000 tax bill for the Cross Bar Ranch, above, and the Al Bar Ranch despite its contention it is exempt from property taxes in Pasco County.
  2. Proposed I-75 interchange in Pasco clears first hurdle

    Local Government

    WESLEY CHAPEL — Federal officials have given tentative support to a study that suggests building a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road, the first of several steps in a long-range process to extend Overpass Road from the interstate east to U.S. 301 north of Zephyrhills.

    Final approval of the study would be significant, though the process to add a new interchange could run a decade or more and involve multiple environmental and engineering studies. The project's price tag, including land acquisition, is estimated at more than $100 million....

  3. Seemingly unusual, Pasco's land purchase not all that rare

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — When Pasco County commissioners voted two weeks ago to spend millions to resolve a dispute between residents in Heritage Oaks and a developer, Commissioner Ted Schrader warned the county might be setting a precedent.

    Still, commissioners backed the deal, pulling $3 million out of reserves — money set aside for emergencies — to buy 41.5 acres where developer Chris Scherer had planned a multifamily apartment complex. Many residents who worried about Scherer's project causing noise, traffic and flooding applauded the commission's decision....

    Ted Schrader questions the prudence of using emergency funds.
  4. West Pasco neighborhood's water woes reach Tallahassee

    Human Interest

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Summertree residents say recent talks with Utilities Inc. of Florida to improve their water quality are leaving a bad taste.

    For years, residents of the west Pasco neighborhood south of State Road 52 have complained about the yellowish color and bad taste of their water. Some refuse to drink it. But they were floored last May when provider Utilities Inc. of Florida applied for a 36-percent rate hike....

  5. Parts of elevated highway could be lowered

    Blog

    The private company proposing an elevated toll road in south Pasco County is considering whether to place sections of the road at ground level.

    Frank Chupka, a Department of Transportation administrator in Tampa, said Thursday that state officials asked the company to consider placing some of the 33-mile highway at ground level to appease residents and businesses after a public backlash....

  6. Pasco's SunWest park project stymied over budget

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Pasco County's proposed SunWest Park in Aripeka hit another snag this week when bids to build the park came in over-budget for the second time.

    Pasco commissioners learned about the bids in a meeting Wednesday and directed the county staff to negotiate a better deal with the contractors, but there was disagreement about what that might entail.

    Commission Chairman Jack Mariano, a vocal supporter of the project, suggested that in addition to a beach, volleyball courts and other amenities, that the staff look to include a boardwalk, two splash pads for young children and paved parking on the property's north side....

  7. Pinellas says no way to Pasco property tax bill

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County says its coastal neighbor to the south is a tax scofflaw — again.

    For the second year in a row, Pinellas County hasn't paid the property taxes on 12,400 acres it owns in central Pasco, reigniting a feud from last year when it told Pasco it wouldn't pay up.

    Pinellas' tab for the 2012 and 2013 tax years, including interest and penalties: $112,400, according to Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who called the dispute an embarrassment to Pinellas leadership that needs to be corrected before it ends up in the courts....

    Last year, Pinellas stopped paying taxes on the Cross Bar Ranch wellfield. Tax Collector Mike Fasano says the tab is $112,400.
  8. Murphy qualifies for state House race

    Blog

    State Rep. Amanda Murphy this week qualified to run for re-election in this year’s state House District 36 race in west Pasco County.

    Murphy, who won the seat in a special election in October, qualified by petition, meaning she turned in enough voter signatures to have her name placed on the ballot.

    Candidates can also qualify by paying a filing fee of $1,781.82 (for party affiliated candidates)....

  9. Steve Spina, former Zephyrhills manager, in running for county job

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Former Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina is one of five finalists to replace Pasco County Assistant Administrator Suzanne Salichs, who's resigning for personal reasons.

    Spina, 60, who held the top job at Zephyrhills for 15 years before retiring in 2011, interviewed for the administrative post this past week and is on tap for a second round of interviews on Monday. "I just found that some aspects of government I miss, the challenges, the excitement, and it looked like there were some opportunities in Pasco County," he said....

  10. Wells' son to take on Wilson in Pasco Commission race

    Blog

    Mike Wells Jr., the son of Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells, announced Friday he is running for Pasco County Commission District 4, the seat currently held by Republican Henry Wilson.

    Wells, like his well-known father, is running as a Republican, which ensures a GOP primary election Aug. 26.

    He's a first-time candidate and Wilson is seeking his first re-election after defeating incumbent Michael Cox, then the commission's only Democrat, four years ago. District 4 is in central west Pasco. It includes parts of New Port Richey and Land O’ Lakes and generally runs from State Road 54 to State Road 52....

  11. Gov. Rick Scott announces start of two projects on I-75 in Pasco

    Roads

    TAMPA — In a ceremony that at times sounded like a campaign stump speech, Gov. Rick Scott stopped by the Department of Transportation's Tampa offices on Thursday to announce the start of two widening projects on Interstate 75 that he said will create jobs and boost the local economy.

    The projects, both in Pasco County, will run concurrently and start at nearly the same time. Together, they'll cost about $117 million....

    “This highway improvement is key to stimulating the local economy,” Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday at DOT offices in Tampa.
  12. Maxine Walker Giddings had front-row seat in civil rights movement

    Human Interest

    TRINITY — The photograph picked up by newspapers across the country became a focal point of the civil rights movement in 1960.

    It showed a young white man, Paul Laprad, being pulled from a lunch counter stool by a group of white men while a young black woman, Maxine Walker, watches the melee over her right shoulder.

    The counter was forbidden to blacks. Walker's expression, however, suggests she wasn't going anywhere....

  13. Grant falls through to redo Lacoochee housing project

    Local Government

    LACOOCHEE — Residents of Cypress Villas will have to wait at least another year after an application for millions in federal dollars to replace the aging housing complex fell through.

    County officials said they learned a couple of weeks ago that their grant request did not make the list of approved projects.

    But they said they are hopeful about next year, given efforts so far to redevelop the area and the fact that the application is completed....

  14. Pasco survey to add toll road issue to list of questions

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — This year's annual questionnaire of Pasco County residents, the National Citizen Survey, will come with a twist: It will ask whether they support a toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor.

    The survey, mailed out yearly since 2009, is intended to gauge residents' views about Pasco. In addition to questions about housing, government services and attitudes about the economy, residents will be asked two questions tailored to Pasco....

    This year’s National Citizen Survey for Pasco County residents will ask if they support a toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor and how the county should pay for transportation needs.
  15. Pasco housing authority chief resigns

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Dianne Morris abruptly resigned Wednesday as executive director of the Pasco County Housing Authority — the second housing chief to quit in less than three years.

    Authority board chairman David Lambert said Morris approached him before a board meeting to tell him she was quitting.

    Morris also sent emails to board members with a resignation letter attached.

    Lambert referred further comment to board attorney Shelly Johnson, who said of Morris: "She resigned for her own reasons, and we're not going to have any further comment about it."...