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Steve Contorno, Times Staff Writer

Steve Contorno

Steve Contorno is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times covering Hillsborough County. He previously worked for PolitiFact in the Times Washington, D.C. bureau. Prior to joining the Times, he covered Congress and Virginia politics for the Washington Examiner as well as state and local governments in Wisconsin for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. A native of the Chicago suburbs, Steve graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in news-editorial journalism and a minor in political science, and holds a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he covered the Illinois legislature for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Phone: (813) 226-3433


The Contorno file:

Twitter: @scontorno

  1. Waterlogged Tampa Bay braces for Tropical Storm Erika — and more flooding


    Whether Tropical Storm Erika strengthens into a hurricane or dissipates into a tropical depression, it could still bring heavy rainfall to the area next week.

    Which raises the question: Can an already water-logged Tampa Bay region take much more of this?

    The answer, officials fear, is no.

    "It wouldn't take a lot of rain for us to get back to more flooding," said Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin. "It all depends on what we get, and that's the concern right now."...

    Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, left, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott, and Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun of the Florida National Guard stand at a news conference Friday at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center in Tampa for a briefing on Tropical Storm Erika. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  2. For the first time, Hillsborough deputies plan to shoot feral hogs

    Local Government

    TAMPA — It has been 11 years now, and hunters with dogs and traps still haven't halted the growth of Hillsborough County's feral hog population.

    So the county wants to see if law enforcement officers can do the job.

    The 2016 county budget proposal includes $40,000 to fund a joint pilot program between the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department "to improve feral hog control effort" on county lands....

    Dustin Coomes sits next to a feral hog that he killed during a controlled hunt in Hillsborough in 2010. For the first time, Hillsborough deputies and lands management personnel will kill feral hogs, long considered an invasive species in Florida.
  3. Hillsborough County authorizes using $5 million in emergency reserves to assist flood damage

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County will spend up to $5 million to address storm damage and assist areas that remain flooded from heavy rains this summer, commissioners decided Wednesday.

    The unanimous vote authorizes County Administrator Mike Merrill to tap into rarely used catastrophic disaster reserves as needed to assist flood victims. The reserve fund has $93.6 million in it.

    Merrill is required to report back to the board how the money is spent. It will pay for public works projects related to the flooding....

    Jim Slagle and his son, Zach Slagle, sift through their flooded yard in preparation to leave their house in Lutz, Fla. on  Aug. 7. They rented a U-Haul truck to pack up their belongings. Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday authorized spending up to $5 million in catastrhopic reserves to assist flood victims. SCOTTY SCHENCK | Times
  4. Hillsborough commissioners choose sheriff over for-profit company to handle probation

    Local Government

    TAMPA — For-profit probation isn't coming to Hillsborough County.

    Commissioners on Wednesday resoundingly rejected a $7.2 million, three-year agreement for California-based Sentinel Offender Services to monitor the county's misdemeanor probation population.

    Instead, those duties will be handed to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, commissioners decided. The 6-0 vote was an uncommon acknowledgement from the Republican-controlled commission of a public agency's prowess over the private sector....

  5. Hillsborough administrator Mike Merrill apologizes to 'blindsided' commissioners for new transportation strategy


    TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill apologized to county commissioners Wednesday for publicly floating a one-cent sales tax hike to fund transportation projects without their knowledge.

    Merrill was quickly forgiven. Nevertheless, the situation underscores how delicate of a political issue the transportation tax increase remains for the seven commissioners, five of which are Republicans who have stood against new taxes for transit in the past, and for the county, which failed miserably in its attempt to pass a transportation tax increase in 2010....

  6. High-speed ferry delays fuel funding fight between Hillsborough County, project developers


    TAMPA — A proposed high-speed ferry that would connect south Hillsborough County with MacDill Air Force Base faces new delays that could push the project's timeline into the next decade.

    Those delays also have generated a rift over how to fund the ferry between public officials and the private business interests behind the project.

    The ferry's backers — who want to serve MacDill personnel who live in south Hillsborough and work on base — hoped it would be operational by the end of 2018. But requirements to unlock a $4.8 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant for the project will take longer to fulfill than first expected....

    Lawyer Ed Turanchik, HMS Ferries president Greg Dronkert and Mark Fernandez discuss a high-speed ferry to link south Hillsborough with MacDill Air Force Base. Turanchik now says federal hurdles could delay the launch until 2021.
  7. Drew Field's World War II past comes alive in new Hillsborough tax collector office

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Normally, a trip to the tax collector or driver's license office isn't synonymous with soulful music or rambunctious cheering.

    But Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said his new office in Drew Park isn't a normal government building.

    Not only is the office the first in the state to house both county tax collector and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles services, it also pays homage to Drew Park's important but often overlooked role as an airfield for fighters and bombers during World War II....

    Tax and license supervisor Davina Drayton, right, cheers as people enter the new Drew Park Tax Collection Service Center after the ribbon-cutting Monday. The center celebrates the history of Drew Field.
  8. Hillsborough commissioner candidate 'embarrassed' county doesn't have high-speed ferry yet


    Tampa Bay’s efforts to launch a high-speed ferry are too slow-moving.

    At least, that’s the position of Pat Kemp, a Democratic candidate for Hillsborough County commissioner, who on Thursday ripped into county officials for not acting faster to make the project a reality.

    “As a Hillsborough County Commissioner, I will get the Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry Project done without any more delay,” Kemp said in a press release. “This is a ‘no-brainer’ and I'm embarrassed for our county and our region that isn't underway now.”...

  9. Hillsborough County's popular, voter-approved land preservation program running out of money


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County's popular land conservation program is in danger of running out of money. And its leadership blames the county.

    Nearly 80 percent of voters in 2008 approved a referendum to give up to $200 million to the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program to purchase pristine, sensitive land for preservation. But after an initial funding of $59.5 million, the county has not contributed any more, and now only $4 million of unallocated money remains in the pot....

    Flowers of many kinds line the trails in Lake Park, a serene, 589-acre sanctuary preserved by the program less than 2 miles north of the strip malls and office parks of Northdale.
  10. Hillsborough judge rejects injunction to stop Uber's rideshare service


    TAMPA — Uber will continue to operate in Hillsborough County after surviving its latest bout in the legal ring with local regulators.

    A circuit judge on Friday denied a motion from regulators asking for an injunction that could have forced the rideshare company to stop serving the county.

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Paul Huey sided with Uber against the Public Transportation Commission, the regulatory agency that argued the rideshare company lacks appropriate background checks, insurance, safety and vehicle inspections required of taxis....

    PTC Chairman Victor Crist says he is shocked by the ruling.
  11. Record rain a 'dress rehearsal' for the big one, say Hillsborough commissioners

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners asked an important question after the region was drenched by three weeks of record rainfall:

    Is the county ready for the big one?

    "I consider this a dress rehearsal — a huge dress rehearsal," Commissioner Sandy Murman said. "If we had had wind, this really would have been a tough situation."

    Commissioners were briefed Wednesday on the county government's response. Officials estimated that county property and infrastructure suffered between $250,000 to $500,000 of damage. The deluge left three of the four county water-treatment plants at capacity. Some wastewater spilled out after 2 feet of rain fell on the county over a 21-day period. Roughly 12,000 sandbags were dispersed to residents....

    Public works employee Greg Lamar works on the entrance to the Homes of Regency Cove at 4851 W Gandy Blvd. in Tampa, which was washed out during the recent heavy rains.
  12. Hillsborough commissioners to Tampa Bay Rays president: Hope to see you here soon

    Local Government

    TAMPA --- Tampa Bay Rays brass stopped by the Hillsborough County Commission meeting Wednesday to talk up a new initiative for veterans and active military. But a couple of commissioners couldn't resist making a few not-so-subtle quips about moving the Rays to their side of the Bay.

    After Rays President Brian Auld touted the early success of "Honor Pass" — a program launched in July that allows veterans and active servicemen and women to get two free tickets to attend Rays home games — Commissioner Sandy Murman told Auld she was "proud of you and what you've done."...

  13. Hillsborough commissioners to Tampa Bay Rays president: Hope to see you here soon


    Tampa Bay Rays brass stopped by the Hillsborough County board meeting Wednesday to talk up a new initiative for veterans and active military. But a couple commissioners couldn’t resist making a few not-so-subtle quips about moving the Rays to their side of the Bay.

    After Rays President Brian Auld touted the early success of “Honor Pass” — a program launched in July that allows veterans and active servicemen and women two free tickets to attend Rays home games — Commissioner Sandy Murman told Auld she was “proud of you and what you’ve done.”...

  14. Long-range cost to ease Tampa flooding: $250M

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Yes, City Hall has a plan to ease Tampa's chronic problems with flooding, but remember three things.

    First, it's long range. We're talking years.

    Next, it will cost you. The owner of a medium-sized home in Tampa now pays a $36-per-year stormwater fee. If a plan heading to the City Council on Aug. 27 passes, everyone would pay more. Many homeowners could pay up to $180 a year....

    A car is stalled Monday on W Swann Avenue in Tampa. Officials are proposing stormwater improvements in five city areas.
  15. Is jai alai coming back to Tampa? Hillsborough commissioner eyes Fowler Avenue location for sports' return

    Local Government

    TAMPA — When the jai alai fronton on S Dale Mabry Highway closed in 1998, many lamented Tampa losing a piece of its cultural fabric. But few predicted the sport would ever return.

    Attendance was down. Wagers had dropped. And new major sports franchises had stolen the attention of Tampa's transient fan base.

    But Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist dropped a cesta-sized surprise last week on his fellow board members. He announced that a group of investors has been working for a year to bring jai alai back to Tampa....

    Jai alai, once deemed the fastest sport in the world, drew thousands when it was played in Tampa from 1953 to 1998.