Duke Energy Florida has iced its idea to build a solar farm in mid Pinellas County or anywhere else, at least for now.
The decision came after state regulators in November denied Duke's request to redirect $2 million from a solar panel rebate program for customers to so-called community solar projects, where solar panels in a central location feed the existing power grid.
The goal, company spokesman Sterling Ivey said, was to "spread the cost among all our 1.7 million customers and make it fair for all of our customers, not just the few who can afford to install panels."...
Pinellas County commissioners Janet Long and John Morroni are back from a four-day trip to Cuba. About two dozen Pinellas County leaders and businesspoeple accepted Long's invitation to attend what she described as a fact-finding mission. Read our report here....
01/26/15 Local Government
CLEARWATER — The two dozen local residents who joined Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long in Cuba for four days ranged from an educator to a restaurateur. But as the United States normalizes relations and reignites a debate over lifting the embargo, they appear to agree the Tampa Bay region needs to be ready to capitalize on the potential for business as well as educational and cultural exchanges....
01/26/15 Local Government
Months after the Pinellas County Commission signaled it might be ready to resurrect public arts funding, the county's arts agency is working to come up with a spending proposal and wants the public's input.
On Tuesday, Creative Pinellas, the nonprofit group that serves as the county's arts agency, will host the first of a series of public meetings at the Largo Cultural Center to gather ideas and suggestions for consideration by the agency's board of directors....
ST. PETERSBURG — A 48-year-old St. Petersburg woman was arrested Friday and charged with elderly abuse after the death of an uncle in her care.
Kathleen Densmore called 911 about 12:45 p.m. after she found her 86-year-old uncle, Robert Densmore, unresponsive in bed, according to St. Petersburg police. Officers arrived at the home the Densmores shared at 4243 Dartmouth Ave. and found Robert Densmore extremely emaciated, weighing less than 50 pounds and covered in bed sores, police said. ...
ST. PETERSBURG — Shrinking diesel prices and increasing property values could help the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority delay drastic bus service cuts, but the transit system says it still faces the prospect of raising fares and eliminating routes.
PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller offered the agency's financial and planning committees Wednesday an updated financial forecast for the first time since November's defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum. The agency has said for months that the defeat of the 1-cent sales tax would mean as much as a 30 percent cut to bus service, starting next year. But Miller told board members that higher property tax revenue and lower fuel prices, along with cost-cutting measures and reserves, might allow the board to put off major service cuts until 2018....
CLEARWATER — Noah Lagos, who has led St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport through historic growth during his decadelong tenure as director, will retire in May.
The news became public during a Pinellas County Commission workshop Tuesday morning, when Commissioner John Morroni acknowledged the impending departure. Lagos plans to leave in mid to late May, and County Administrator Mark Woodard said he would first consider internal candidates for the job before deciding whether to launch a national search. Among the likely candidates is Lagos' deputy director, Tom Jewsbury, 47, a 20-year airport veteran who said Tuesday he was interested in the job....
Passed by an overwhelming majority of Florida voters last fall, Amendment 1 was billed as a way to force lawmakers to make water quality and land conservation a priority.
But officials from coastal counties are focused on the places where water erodes the land as they seek a share of the estimated $22 billion the mandate is expected to raise over the next two decades.
Pinellas County commissioners have told state lawmakers that dedicating some of that money to beach renourishment is one of their biggest wishes for the upcoming legislative session. Similar requests are echoing around the state before lawmakers decide how to divvy up revenue, said Deborah Flack, president of the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association....
01/15/15 Local Government
Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and John Morroni are among about two dozen Pinellas residents bound for Cuba next week.
The commissioners are not traveling in an official capacity and are paying their own expenses for the three-day fact-finding mission, Long said.
"It's not political and it's not partisan," Long said. "It's private citizens who have decided they really are curious and would like to go."...
Nearly $4 million in grants to help the homeless has become bogged down in the state bureaucracy, causing some consternation among Florida lawmakers who pushed for the funding last year.
Homeless coalitions that applied for the competitive grants last fall had hoped to receive the money by November. Now the funds are not expected until February, officials said Wednesday.
"My concern is we're in the middle of the coldest part of the year," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena. "The Legislature voted on this stuff eight months ago. We're in the seventh month of the fiscal year, we've got people sleeping out in the cold and money for it isn't being utilized."...
01/13/15 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward setting a "living wage" for county employees.
Responding to a request by Commissioner Ken Welch, the board directed county Administrator Mark Woodard and the county attorney's office to come up with a plan to set the minimum wage at $12.50 an hour for the nearly 1,900 employees who work under Woodard.
The board also took Welch's suggestion to invite the other so-called "appointing authorities" in the county's Unified Personnel System to participate. Among them are the county's Business Technology Services office and the Office of Human Rights, as well as the county tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of court and property appraiser....
01/03/15 Special Topics
Does the Church of Scientology just want downtown Clearwater all to itself?
That's the question people are asking now that Scientology, the biggest property owner downtown, is working behind the scenes to fight the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's plans to move there.
The campaign has become increasingly aggressive. The church has brought in an accountant, an economist and an investigative reporter to dig into the nonprofit aquarium's financial projections and its animal-care history, according to aquarium supporters....
01/02/15 Local Government
Last year brought much change to Pinellas County government. The County Commission has two new members and a new chief executive. Tax revenues rose, putting some breathing room in the budget. And plans for a mass transit fix suffered a resounding defeat at the polls. These developments offer clues to what the board will tackle in the next 12 months and beyond. Here are five things to watch for in 2015:...
Three months ago, Pinellas County administrator Mark Woodard said the county's top tourism job was David Downing's to lose.
That means a lot considering Woodard will select Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's next director, a post Downing has held on an interim basis since August. But Woodard isn't just handing him the job.
Next week, he and the rest of an eight-member selection committee will interview Downing and at least one other finalist: Susannah Costello, vice-president at Visit Florida....
Court clerks in Florida are a step closer to getting an answer to a question vexing most of them: Will it be legal to let same-sex couples marry on Jan. 6?
A federal judge on Wednesday set a Monday deadline for state officials to weigh in on an emergency motion by a Panhandle court clerk at the center of the contentious debate over same-sex marriage. In the motion, Washington County Clerk Lora Bell asks a federal judge if his recent ruling on the state's gay marriage ban means she must issue a marriage license only to the couple who filed a lawsuit against her, or to all couples who come to her office on Jan. 6....