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

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  1. Two assisted living centers proposed for Pasco County

    Growth

    Two companies are proposing assisted living centers at opposite ends of Pasco County.

    Quad States Cos., based in Ridgeland, Miss., is proposing a 120-bed assisted living facility on Madison Street near State Road 54 in New Port Richey; and in Hudson, West Palm Beach-based Mainsail Healthcare Group is nearing approval for a facility to care for people with Alzheimer's disease.

    Arrington Developers of Florida, the Land O'Lakes subsidiary of Quad States, last week sought permission from county planning officials to change the New Port Richey site's zoning from a multifamily designation....

  2. Lacoochee's longtime Officer Friendly Cpl. Hink retires

    Public Safety

    LACOOCHEE — Whether mentoring at-risk kids or helping provide families with furniture and other necessities, Pasco County sheriff's Cpl. David Hink was a familiar face to residents of this impoverished, rural area north of Dade City.

    For eight years, Hink served as "Officer Friendly," a term used to describe the Sheriff's Office program in which deputies work closely with children, residents and community groups to deter crime....

    Cpl. David Hink spent 32 years in law enforcement, eight as Officer Friendly.
  3. Support for Pinellas transit plan wavers in Pasco

    Blog

    Pasco County officials so far are refusing to lend a hand to Greenlight Pinellas.

    Asked Thursday to support the transit-expansion initiative, board members for Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization couldn't muster enough votes to back the plan.

    The initiative would raise Pinellas' sales tax rate to 8 percent while removing the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's property tax levy. Supporters say the measure will increase bus service and create a 24-mile light rail line from Clearwater to St. Petersburg....

  4. Withlacoochee River Electric customers in Pasco, Hernando could see higher bills under proposed emissions standards

    Energy

    DADE CITY — Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative members could see higher energy bills under proposed emissions standards aimed at reducing carbon levels at coal-fired power plants.

    The cooperative has already invested millions of dollars to lower carbon levels at a coal plant in Palatka that produces most of its electricity, but the stricter federal standards likely will force it to spend even more and pass those costs on to its 220,000 members, co-op officials say....

  5. Pasco commission approves 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners on Tuesday approved increasing the county's gas tax to 12 cents a gallon — highest in the Tampa Bay area.

    The 5-cent-per-gallon hike puts Pasco's gasoline tax at the most allowed under state law and 5 cents higher than in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and 3 cents higher than in Hernando.

    County commissioners, who didn't relish passing the increase, found themselves at a crossroads after a recent spate of new construction and years of budget cuts....

  6. Wesley Chapel ice skating complex aims for October groundbreaking

    Growth

    WESLEY CHAPEL — The company proposing a massive ice skating complex at Interstate 75 and State Road 56 in Pasco County says it will likely break ground in October once it receives building permits from the county.

    Deborah Tamargo, a spokeswoman for Tampa-based Z Mitch LLC, said the company had hoped to start work on the four-rink complex this month but will miss that target because it's awaiting approval of a construction plan from planning and zoning officials....

  7. Precinct maps show lopsided Pasco wins

    Blog

    The polling numbers in the countywide Pasco Commission primary races tell one story: Republicans Mike Moore and Mike Wells trounced the competition.

    But to see just how lopsided their wins really were last week, check out the precinct results at Pasco Superintendent of Elections Brian Corley's web site, www.pascovotes.com....

  8. Plan for walkable community takes shape in Trinity

    Growth

    TRINITY — A sprawling residential and commercial development on State Road 54 is more than a year from breaking ground, but the developer is releasing some details about the project, including a walkable courtyard rimmed by shops and restaurants.

    Kitson & Partners, out of Palm Beach Gardens, said it envisions "a unique lifestyle destination" combining 800 homes with 980,000 square feet of commercial space. The 333-acre property, owned by the Mitchell ranching family, sits at the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Little Road....

    Plans for the mixed-use Mitchell 54 West development call for apartments, townhomes, big-box retailers and smaller shops on the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Little Road.
  9. Pasco meeting looks to identify sites for VA clinic

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Congressman Gus Bilirakis said he wanted to hear from veterans about possible locations for a new Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Pasco County.

    But when about 100 veterans gathered for a town hall meeting Wednesday night at the West Pasco Government Center, the Palm Harbor Republican got an earful, including complaints about long wait times at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa....

    U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis plans to use $11 million in federal funding to lease a new Pasco facility.
  10. Gregg cruises to win over Mathieu in Pasco House race

    Elections

    Chris Gregg cruised to an easy win over Jim Mathieu in Tuesday's Republican primary for House District 36 in west Pasco County.

    Gregg held a comfortable lead early on and never let go. With almost all precinct totals in, he held a 58.5 percent lead to Mathieu's 41.5 percent, making him his party's nominee in the November general election against incumbent Democratic state Rep. Amanda Murphy....

    Among other reasons, Chris Gregg says he won by “being a veteran that people can relate to.”
  11. Work, detours to begin on Shady Hills Road in Pasco

    Roads

    LAND O'LAKES — Motorists who take Shady Hills Road should get ready to allow for extra time starting Wednesday as work crews begin a six-month reconstruction of the road.

    Workers will detour cars along a 3-mile stretch of Shady Hills between Softwind Lane and State Road 52, though only a mile of Shady Hills Road will be affected by the project.

    Cars traveling south on Shady Hills will be detoured onto Softwind Lane, then directed to Hudson Avenue and Hays Road, which leads to SR 52....

    iStockphoto.com
  12. New Boys & Girls Club builds hope, instills pride in Lacoochee

    Human Interest

    LACOOCHEE

    Dave Armstrong couldn't resist eliciting roars of approval from the 40 children lined up outside the new Boys & Girls Club at Stanley Park.

    "Are you guys excited?" he shouted.

    "Yeah," came the deafening reply.

    "Are you really excited?"

    "Yeaaaah!"

    With that, Armstrong, executive director of Pasco County Boys & Girls Clubs, flung open the front door of the community center that has been under construction since last summer across the street from Lacoochee Elementary School. For far longer, it's been viewed by county and community leaders as a long-overdue asset for this impoverished, rural corner of northeast Pasco....

    Yazherion, 11, center, checks out a book in the library at the new Boys & Girls Club in Lacoochee as he and other children try on new hats during their first look at the facility. The community center also has a computer room and a game room. 
  13. Rep. Gus Bilirakis sets town hall on Pasco VA clinic

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has scheduled a town hall meeting for Wednesday to seek veterans' input on potential sites for a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Pasco County.

    "Although the final decision on the location remains in the hands of the VA, I feel it is my duty to solicit opinions from veterans and their families within our communities," said Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor....

  14. Littlefield mailer features Fasano

    Blog

    Pasco County Commission candidate Ken Littlefield this week rolled out a mailer featuring a smiling photograph and glowing quotes from Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

    "It's not an endorsement. He just said some nice things about me," Littlefield, 70, said of the mailer that shows the two men smiling and standing side by side.

    Littlefield said he sent 13,000 of the ads to west Pasco voters....

  15. Metropolitan Ministries Pasco to expand food program, build apartments

    Human Interest

    HOLIDAY

    The Rev. Dan Campbell didn't need much reassurance to know that his Methodist congregation made the right decision to minister to the poor.

    He couldn't ignore the evidence: homeless people sleeping in cars, in doorways of businesses, even outside the church.

    "The need was so great," he said.

    His dwindling congregation was moved as well, which is why members voted seven years ago to close the church and reopen as the Joining Hands Community Mission. The group now operates as Metropolitan Ministries Pasco, having joined the huge Metropolitan Ministries charitable network based in Tampa....

    Matt Haitz, left, and Josh Baker, with Michael K. Purdy Construction, work on the kitchen that will provide prepared meals and will adjoin a dining hall.