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Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Tony Marrero

Tony Marrero, a native of Baltimore, joined the Times in 2009. He covers breaking news, crime and courts in Hernando County.

Phone: (352) 848-1431

Email: tmarrero@tampabay.com

Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

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  1. Officials want buses out of St. Petersburg's Williams Park by February

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The days of exhaust-belching, bumper-to-bumper buses ringing Williams Park may be numbered.

    The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is working with city staff to change the current system that requires 21 routes to converge on the downtown park, PSTA's chief executive officer Brad Miller said Friday.

    "My goal is to have the buses out of there by Feb. 1," Miller told the agency's board of directors....

    Officers question men at one of the bus shelters. Police are a frequent presence at Williams Park, which is bordered on three sides by bus stops and populated by homeless people.
  2. Pinellas sheriff says budget increase would go to new pay plan

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Eager to finish a redesigned pay plan for his employees and replace aging vehicles and radios, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gual­tieri made his pitch Thursday for $20.6 million more than the spending target set by the county's budget office.

    Commissioners expected a big request from Gualtieri for 2016, mostly to finish the pay plan started in the current fiscal year to make the Sheriff's Office more competitive with surrounding agencies. Gualtieri said he needs $12.4 million to finish the plan....

    “I want to assure you that it is all 100 percent needs, not wants.”
Bob Gualtieri, 
Pinellas County sheriff
  3. Pinellas memorial to honor Gulf-era casualties

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — After a roadside bomb flipped his military vehicle in Afghanistan four years ago, U.S. Army Cpl. Frank Gross's family said goodbye in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

    Many other military members who died while serving in America's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest in that 14 acre tract, so Toni Gross is glad her son is buried there among his comrades. But the cemetery is also 900 miles away from the home Gross shares with her husband and Frank's father, Craig, so they're able to visit only twice a year....

    Toni Gross, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, hugs Cheryl Sitton, whose son died there in 2012.
  4. Pinellas zoning change sets stage for possible new park near Bayside Bridge

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Residents seeking to preserve one of Pinellas County's last pieces of undeveloped land on Old Tampa Bay are a step closer to seeing it turned into a park.

    In a zoning hearing Tuesday, commissioners left the door open to the idea of a park on about 12 acres near 164th Avenue and 49th Street, at the south end of the Bayside Bridge. That land, plus an adjacent 7 acres owned by C1 Bank, was supposed to be the site of a controversial development called Bayside Reserves, which would have included a mix of affordable apartments and market-rate apartments and homes. ...

  5. Pinellas commissioners put off decision on tourist tax spending

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday decided to put off a decision on how much of the county's tourist tax dollars should be spent on capital projects such as sports stadiums and museums.

    Commissioners unanimously agreed to wait until the Tourist Development Council comes up with a recommendation on whether to raise the tax on hotel rooms stays from 5 percent to 6 percent....

  6. Pinellas commission to settle debate over bed tax money

    Local Government

    As record numbers of tourists flock to Pinellas County, a debate simmers over how to divvy up the tax revenue they leave behind.

    Last year, the 5 percent tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals brought in $35 million. In recent months, a question has divided local elected officials and tourism professionals: How much of this bed tax money should be reserved for advertising and marketing to draw tourists here, and how much should be spent on capital projects that give tourists something to do when they get here?...

  7. Pinellas commission to consider zoning changes for former site of controversial housing project

    Local Government

    LARGO — Five years after fighting a controversial housing project that never materialized at the south end of the Bayside Bridge, neighbors of the still-undeveloped property are rallying again.

    Residents have collected 710 signatures on a petition urging the County Commission to stick to an agreement approved seven years ago and not okay a change that could lead to more multifamily housing....

    Dave Waddell is worried about what a zoning change would allow to be built on private land behind him that is west of the Bayside Bridge along the shore of Tampa Bay.
  8. Pinellas homeless board struggling to agree on how to achieve its mission

    Local Government

    PINELLAS PARK — Grappling with an identity crisis sparked by the resignation of its director, Pinellas County's Homeless Leadership Board voted Wednesday to move forward with a "housing first" strategy to achieve its mission of ending homelessness.

    It did so, however, without the support of three of its most prominent elected officials, who made their frustration clear.

    County Commissioner Janet Long, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Public Defender Bob Dillinger voted against the motion supported by a dozen other members at a special workshop called after executive director Rhonda Abbott resigned her post. The three want the board to have more authority to set policy and control funding to effect change. ...

    Rhonda Abbott resigned her post on the Pinellas Homeless Leadership Board.
  9. Pinellas commissioners nod yes for more arts funding

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday sent an encouraging message to advocates who want to restore public funding for the arts: We like the sketch of your plan. Now it's time to flesh it out.

    Nearly all seven commissioners offered initial support for a proposal from Creative Pinellas, the county's designated arts agency, to set aside at least $300,000 in next year's budget to boost marketing efforts and fund small grants to local artists and educational programs. ...

  10. Construction boom fuels expected 6 percent rise in Pinellas property values

    Local Government

    In another clear sign of a rebounding housing market, property values in Pinellas County are expected to rise this year by about 6 percent countywide, Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said Monday.

    Dubov offered a preview of the "good faith estimate" she releases this time of year to help officials in the county's 24 governments prepare their budgets.

    In St. Petersburg, the county's largest city, the increase is closer to 7 percent, Dubov said. The beach communities also continue to do well after the recession, with estimated increases ranging from about 6.3 percent to 7.7 percent. ...

  11. Pinellas commission urged to restore arts funding after years of budget cuts

    Local Government

    Advocates who want the Pinellas County Commission to restore public funding for the arts are ready to make their pitch.

    The request: at least $300,000 in each of the next three years to boost marketing efforts and fund small grants to local artists and educational programs.

    It's a modest amount compared to prerecession levels, when the commission distributed $600,000 in annual grants and the county's Tourist Development Council gave $750,000 to arts groups. And the proposal doesn't seek to revive the county's practice of awarding larger grants to established and emerging nonprofit arts organizations....

    St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s John Collins said the Pinellas commission could provide more than what’s being sought.
  12. Pinellas commissioners bless new plan to tackle blighted areas in St. Petersburg

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The city of St. Petersburg's effort to transform its poverty-stricken southern neighborhoods took a major step forward Tuesday when the Pinellas County Commission endorsed a new approach to community redevelopment.

    The commission voted 6-0 to move forward with the Southside Community Redevelopment Plan — and to try to get it done on the city's aggressive timeline. The final commission vote is set for next month, but Tuesday's move signaled clear support for strategies that have never been used in Pinellas before. ...

  13. Legislature's shutdown stalls resolution on juvenile detention costs

    Legislature

    The abrupt end to the legislative session has stalled resolution of a long-simmering dispute between the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Florida counties — including four in Tampa Bay — over how to split the cost of housing young detainees.

    County officials say the department has overcharged them millions of dollars by using a flawed funding formula.

    "This has been an unfunded mandate from the state to the counties from the start," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. "The billing system has been horribly inaccurate. The counties are just looking for some accuracy and certainty so we can plan our budgets going forward."...

  14. Eckerd College student presumed dead after disappearing during hike in New Zealand

    Accidents

    From the time she enrolled at Eckerd College three years ago, Allison "Ally" Willen yearned to study in New Zealand.

    A lover of outdoor adventures, the 20-year-old from Akron, Ohio got her wish this semester, leaving in February to spend a semester at the University of Otago in Dunedin, on the east coast of the country's South Island. Photos on her Facebook page show a smiling Willen posing on a glacier, crossing a suspension bridge in a lush forest and standing on a river overlook with a majestic mountain backdrop....

  15. Resignation sparks debate over future of Pinellas homeless board

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The executive director of Pinellas County's Homeless Leadership Board has decided to resign after a year on the job, prompting some board members to question whether the nonprofit organization should continue to exist in its current form.

    At least two board members, County Commissioner Janet Long and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, say the board needs to discuss its future before hiring another director. After last week's resignation of Rhonda Abbott, Long sent an email calling for a workshop to discuss the board's structure and direction....

    Rhonda Abbott was in charge of the Pinellas Homeless Leadership Board for a year. Her last day will be May 22.