CLEARWATER — An outside anti-tax group led by a controversial central Florida consultant and activist is gunning to derail the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum
Ax the Tax, a political committee formed in 1982 by Doug Guetzloe of Orlando, made its first foray into the debate with a telephone poll this week that Gutzloe says shows overwhelming opposition to what he calls the "light rail tax."...
An Oldsmar technology company has helped nudge the Friends of Greenlight closer to its $1 million fundraising goal.
Vology, Inc. gave $25,000 to the political action committee this month, accounting for most of the $26,260 collected July 5-18, according to the latest campaign finance report posted Friday.
The company sells new and pre-owned networking equipment worldwide, according to its website. Chief executive officer Barry Shevlin could not immediately be reached for comment....
07/23/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Commissioner Ken Welch is pushing for the county to help invest in security cameras for the Pinellas Trail, but it's unclear if he has the political support.
Earlier this month, St. Petersburg moved forward with a plan to install about 25 cameras along a crime-prone stretch of trail between 43rd and 49th streets S. The city asked the county to pitch in $75,000 of the estimated $100,000 cost, but interim County Administrator Mark Woodard declined. Money is tight, Woodard said, and the county doesn't want to set a precedent of coughing up money for law enforcement when that has historically been the role of the cities....
07/22/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — The company that operates Pinellas County's waste-to-energy plant has filed a lawsuit claiming county staff cheated the firm out of the chance to bid on a new contract.
GCS Energy Recovery of Pinellas Inc. alleges that the county "exhibited substantial bias against GCS, engaged in misrepresentations relating to GCS … and failed to follow the requirements of its own procurement procedure," according to the complaint the county was served with on Tuesday....
CLEARWATER — Changes are on the way for one of Pinellas County's most crash-prone intersections.
The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday released a preliminary list of ideas to make the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road safer for motorists and pedestrians.
Most of the 10 suggestions can be done relatively quickly, department spokeswoman Kris Carson said....
ODESSA — Karen Murphy and her sister, Dianne Campbell, will no longer have to wade through floodwaters to their front porch, pushing groceries in the recycling cart. They'll be able to take showers and do laundry the same day. And when they turn on the dishwasher, chances are the water won't back up.
That's because they no longer will be living on soggy land adjacent to a flooding lake in northwest Hillsborough County. The Pinellas County government, owner of the lake, agreed to buy Murphy's property and that of two of her neighbors on Tyler Run Avenue in a series of court settlements that the Pinellas County Commission approved over the past few months....
07/16/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — It was a grand vision to help the most needy of Pinellas County's residents.
Over the past few months, however, the Pinellas County Commission started to have doubts about building a $5 million medical clinic for the poor near the Pinellas County Jail and Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Largo. On Wednesday, commissioners decided to change course.
The board did not take a formal vote at the work session but generally agreed that an about 2,200-square-foot medical clinic for the homeless — primarily residents already at Safe Harbor — is probably a more realistic approach than the 15,000-square-foot facility that had been planned. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had already awarded the county $5 million to build the larger clinic. Now, county officials will ask permission to use about $1 million of the grant money for the smaller clinic....
07/15/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — After years of brutal budgets cuts, Pinellas County commissioners are in the almost pleasant position this year of deciding which additional needs to fund.
Property values came in higher than expected and turned a projected $4 million shortfall into a cushion of about $4 million. Comforted by that and other improving economic indicators, the board also decided to spend about $11 million in a rainy day fund to cover what they decided were critical needs in the 2014-2105 budget....
07/12/14 Human Interest
Chris Touchton's wife led him by the arm into the worship hall where his 40th birthday gift awaited.
Blindfolded with a black mask, Touchton couldn't see the band arranged in a semicircle on the stage, waiting for their cue. Most of the players were his former students at Southside Fundamental Middle School, where he'd directed the band for six years before the school closed in 2009....
The political committee supporting the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum got a boost recently from a couple of major corporate donors.
Regions Bank and BCC Engineering, Inc. each contributed $10,000 to Friends of Greenlight in the two-week fundraising period that ended July 4, a campaign finance report filed Friday shows.
BCC, which has offices in Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, specializes in planning, design and construction management for major transportation and government clients throughout Florida, according to its web site. Those clients include all of the Federal Department of Transportation districts and expressway authorities in the state....
SEMINOLE — The Seminole City Council has rejected a resolution endorsing the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan.
Five of the council's seven members voted Tuesday night against the resolution. If approved by voters Nov. 4, the referendum would increase the county's sales tax by a penny, to 8 cents on the dollar, to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The tax would replace the property tax that funds the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority....
CLEARWATER — The recent death of a school crossing guard has pushed the bureaucracy into high gear to improve one of Pinellas County's most crash-prone intersections.
Florida Department of Transportation officials plan to release a draft report next week on how to make the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road safer.
The report will be based on recommendations from a department consultant and officials with the county, the city of Clearwater and the Police Department who visited the intersection Tuesday, said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson....
07/07/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — Five months ago, a couple bicycling on the Pinellas Trail near 46th Street S suddenly found themselves on the ground, shoved off their bikes by two teenage robbers. One of the teens pistol-whipped the woman, knocking out several teeth, before the boys rode away on the stolen bikes.
The robbery was one of a string of incidents that prompted St. Petersburg police to step up patrols on a stretch of trail prone to crime. ...
TAMPA — Suha and Salah Abu Khdeir's family vacation was supposed to be a time to reconnect with family in their native village in East Jerusalem.
But on Saturday, the Tampa couple's 15-year-old son, Tariq, was being held in an Israeli jail, suddenly a central figure in an international firestorm that has erupted over his cousin's abduction and killing last week.
Tariq, a sophomore at Tampa's Universal Academy of Florida, is accused of attacking police during a protest ahead of Mohammed Abu Khdeir's funeral in the village of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, his parents and Israeli officials said. Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was found burned to death Wednesday in what Palestinians call a revenge killing....
There is no official record book for such things, but the rumbling in local political circles is that Largo Mayor Pat Gerard already has raised more money than any other Democratic candidate for Pinellas County Commission.
Gerard,who is running for the District 2 seat currently held by Republican Norm Roche, had raked in $109,409 by June 27, the second-highest total of any local candidate to date, according to an updated fundraising report submitted last week to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office....