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. Pasco commissioners approve SunWest Park operator agreement

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The SunWest Park project in Aripeka took a step forward Wednesday when Pasco County commissioners approved an agreement with a park operator.

    The agreement, approved unanimously, runs for 45 years and provides the county an annual 3 percent cut of gross operating revenues.

    The tenant and park operator, Sunwest Park Inc., headed by Patrick Panakos, will install a wakeboard facility, floating docks and employ staff to run the wakeboard cables and other park amenities....

  2. Hundreds receive wrong vehicle registration data in Pasco

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Linda Paradiso was a victim of identify theft once, so she was alarmed to hear her driver's license number, address and birth date had been mailed to a stranger because of a clerical mixup.

    Turns out the Pasco retiree wasn't alone. The mistake affected hundreds of other county residents as well.

    Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano said a vendor working for the office included wrong information on hundreds of vehicle registration renewal notices sent out two weeks ago....

  3. 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 of 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....

  4. 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....

  5. 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.
  6. 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....

  7. 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....

  8. 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....

  9. 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.
  10. 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)....

  11. 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....

  12. 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....

  13. 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....

  14. 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....

  15. 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....