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."...
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....
04/29/15 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....
04/27/15 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — Stephen Manning wants to work, but his past hangs around his neck like an anchor.
First arrested at 17 for stealing a cassette tape from Walmart, the 48-year-old St. Petersburg resident was in and out of jail for drug-related offenses when he decided a dozen years ago to change so that he wouldn't have to talk to his children "through a Plexiglas barrier." He'd work in a warehouse or at a fast-food restaurant, but employers aren't interested because of his record....
04/21/15 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — The ad for the sprawling piece of vacant land in the heart of Pinellas County reads like a developer's dream.
The 240-acre, county-owned parcel near I-275 and Roosevelt Boulevard has easy access to Tampa, and some 650,000 residents live within 10 miles. The site is already zoned to allow for up to 2 million square feet of office space and 1.5 million square feet of retail, housing and hotel space. ...
04/16/15 Local Government
CLEARWATER — After 18 months on the job, Pinellas County's chief information officer has been put on notice by his high-profile bosses, who have concerns about his leadership and discord in his department.
The county's Business Technology Services board on Thursday approved a plan to have the county's human resources department interview members of Martin Rose's staff to get to the root of, in Rose's own words, the "polarization" of his staff. ...
Roberto Torres didn't know about Florida's enterprise zone program when he decided to open a clothing boutique and coffee shop in Ybor City, but he was pleasantly surprised when he found out about it.
The Blind Tiger Cafe, which opened last year on E Seventh Avenue, sits in Tampa's enterprise zone, making the business eligible for sales tax credits on equipment purchases and wages paid to workers who live in the zone, among other incentives. Torres used the tax credits he received on $15,000 worth of equipment for a deposit on a new refrigerator, and expects to receive credit for the wages of two baristas for up to two years. ...
Former state House Rep. Jim Frishe has filed to run for Pinellas County Property Appraiser.
The 66-year-old St. Petersburg Republican is the first person to file for the seat that will be left vacant next year after Property Appraiser Pam Dubov steps aside. Dubov, who was first elected in 2008 and ran uncontested in 2012, said last summer that she won't run for a third term in 2016 because she wants to serve as a deacon in the United Methodist Church....
04/11/15 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — The 1925 Merriwether Building in south St. Petersburg once stood tall among dozens of businesses that lined 22nd Street S, the nucleus of the city's black community. Now the building in the 900 block is also one of the most visible symbols of the blight and poverty that has gripped Midtown for decades. Rain pours in through the collapsed roof. Portions of the second floor have plunged to the first. ...
04/07/15 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Frustrated by the state Legislature's refusal to consider restrictions on backyard gun ranges, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday agreed to seek its own remedies. Commissioners directed the county attorney and administrator to research what actions the county might take to prevent gun ranges that could risk public safety.
The direction came at the request of Commissioner Ken Welch, who said he was "outraged" by the lack of action when a St. Petersburg man — a neighbor of Welch's — constructed a makeshift gun range in his backyard earlier this year. It was only after public pressure, and a free membership to a commercial gun range, that the neighbor agreed to take it down....
CLEARWATER -- Leaders in Tallahassee, especially Gov. Rick Scott, need to step up to ensure Florida gets federal funding to expand access to health care for poor Floridians, U.S. Rep. David Jolly said Tuesday.
In a joint meeting with the Pinellas County Commission, Jolly suggested Scott should work out a compromise with the Obama administration on Medicaid expansion, as others Republican governors have done. Instead, Jolly noted, Scott on Monday backed off the support for Medicaid expansion he voiced two years ago....
04/06/15 Local Government
A long-simmering dispute over whether Pinellas County is required by law to pay property taxes on 12,400 acres it owns in Pasco County could be headed for court.
On Tuesday, the Pinellas County Commission is expected to consider whether to seek a court injunction to bar the assessment and collection of taxes on the property, known collectively as the Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches. Pinellas would argue that "as a political subdivision of the State of Florida," the county is immune from the assessment of ad valorem taxes against properties it owns, according to a memo from county attorney Jim Bennett to the commission. ...
TARPON SPRINGS — A handyman who previously did work at Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz's home faces a first-degree murder charge in the killing of the 74-year-old doctor.
Anton Stragaj, 37, of Palm Harbor was arrested Tuesday. Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen declined to comment on a motive in a news conference Wednesday, but said investigators are not ruling out the possibility of other suspects....
03/30/15 Local Government
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the region's biggest cheerleaders, is not optimistic about the chances of a successful Hillsborough transit referendum next year.
"If the election were held today in Hillsborough, it would lose and it would be, I think, defeated just as badly as the Pinellas referendum was," Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Monday. "That's sort of the reality with which we're working. Can we change that dynamic over the next year and a half?"...
03/25/15 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — As Hillsborough County plows toward a 2016 transit referendum, whatever hope remained for a parallel campaign in Pinellas likely died Wednesday when the county's transit authority board praised a strategic plan that doesn't include a ballot initiative next year.
As part of a presentation on a suggested "path forward" for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, chief executive officer Brad Miller recommended the agency make it clear that a referendum is not in the cards for 2016....