03/05/15 Local Government
LARGO — Leaning on a carved wooden cane, Dave Waddell walked off his property, headed west along 164th Avenue, and stopped a few minutes later at a chain link gate blocking a dirt road leading into the woods.
If all had gone as the County Commission had planned, this county-owned piece of waterfront land near the southern end of the Bayside Bridge would be bustling with a 156-unit unit affordable housing complex. Instead, the 12-acre parcel is among the last of its kind in Pinellas, with the oak trees and palmetto bushes on the southern portion giving way to marsh and thick stands of mangrove trees to the north, along Old Tampa Bay....
Pinellas County has miles of magnificent beaches. But can it say so in or near Chicago's Magnificent Mile?
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater's cheeky play on the famous Windy City tourist destination has raised the hackles of the Magnificent Mile Association, which has accused the Pinellas tourism agency of infringing on its trademark with a seven-word slogan used as part of its winter advertising campaign: "All 35 of our miles are magnificent."...
02/25/15 Local Government
SEMINOLE — Heeding the requests of a procession of angry neighbors, the County Commission this week shot down the expansion plans of an assisted living facility on Park Boulevard.
The commission Tuesday voted 4-3 to deny a rezoning request that would have allowed Oak Tree Manor owner Christine Gibree to expand the building on the southwest corner of Park and 128th Street to accommodate 32 beds. That would have brought the total number of beds to 71....
CLEARWATER -- Take the money for our constituents.
The Pinellas County Commission sent that message Tuesday by unanimously approving a resolution that "urges the Florida Legislature to pass legislation to expand health care in Florida."
The resolution, brought for consideration by Commissioner Janet Long, doesn't use the words "Medicaid expansion," but states that the county "supports any expansion of health care that draws down Florida's rightful share of federal funds and increases access to health coverage for our citizens."...
CLEARWATER — For five hours, the board of directors for Pinellas County's transit agency talked about the path forward after November's defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum.
Conspicuously absent from the discussion: any mention of asking voters next year for a sales tax increase to expand bus service.
Instead, the 15-member board wants to know more about other ways to deal with the agency's looming fiscal cliff and maintain a system that boasts record ridership. Options include raising fares and the property tax that funds the agency....
02/14/15 Local Government
It's an idea that no elected official would dare float when gasoline prices hovered near $4 a gallon.
But as pressure at the pump has eased, a Pinellas County commissioner says a local gas tax hike — perhaps as much as 5 cents a gallon — should be an option to plug a gaping hole in the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's budget.
"I think everything should be on the table," said Commissioner Ken Welch, who serves on the PSTA's board of directors. And at least three fellow commissioners say they're open to the idea....
02/12/15 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County officials are looking into a couple of tools to help spur redevelopment in Lealman, County Administrator Mark Woodard told members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday.
The county is working to determine if the unincorporated area west of St. Petersburg is eligible under state law to be designated as a Community Redevelopment Area, Woodard said, speaking at the group's luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. ...
02/11/15 Local Government
One of the chief backers of last year's failed Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum said Wednesday that going to the voters with another transit plan in 2016 isn't a viable option.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who also serves on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors and was a prominent advocate for the failed 2014 Greenlight referendum, told the Tampa Bay Times that there isn't enough time for PSTA to deal with a pending budget crisis and develop a new transit plan by 2016....
NEW PORT RICHEY — A day and a half after horrific violence rocked the lives of a local family inside their home, friends and family gathered outside the house with flickering candles in plastic cups to remember the lives of a grandmother and a spirited young girl.
Jenica Randazzo, a 9-year-old girl who loved to sing, died early Friday, joining her grandmother Angela Rios, 55, who died in an attack at the home Thursday. Authorities have arrested Jenica's uncle, Jason Rios, who is also Rios' son and lived in the home, and charged him in the deaths. ...
CLEARWATER — To the government, Mary Ann Clough was dead.
But in November, Clough was very much alive as she read a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs offering condolences to her estate for her Aug. 28 death. The letter said the $1,233 checks she received each month for her second husband's military service had been stopped.
The 86-year-old former public relations specialist hadn't immediately noticed because she had remarried and uses another bank account. But she checked her account and, sure enough, the money wasn't there....
ST. PETERSBURG — It was the recent $10 million gift to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg that got Pinellas County government's chief executive wondering what he could do.
The answer: Give a gift of his own, if a bit more modest.
Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard and his wife, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, have committed to donate $25,000 to USFSP, creating an endowment to provide scholarships in perpetuity for students who plan a career in public service. The scholarship will bear Woodard's name and will give preference to Pinellas County employees and their families....
Expect four Pinellas County Commission incumbents on the ballot next year.
Noting the caveat that a lot can happen between now and qualifying period in spring 2016, commissioners Charlie Justice, Janet Long, Ken Welch and Karen Seel say they plan to file for reelection. Seel and Welch are in their fourth four-year terms and Long and Justice are in their first term. ...
ST. PETERSBURG — County Commissioner John Morroni hoped the first time he presented a check to the widow of a fallen Pinellas County law enforcement officer would be the last.
Morroni held his first law enforcement appreciation dinner in 1995, about 18 months after the fatal shooting of Belleair Officer Jeffrey Tackett. The 28-year-old's murder inspired Morroni, who was a state representative at the time, to honor local first responders with an annual event, give the proceeds to worthy causes and, if tragedy struck, to a grieving family....
01/30/15 State Roundup
ST. PETERSBURG — It's no surprise that U.S. Rep. David Jolly wants to see a Florida Republican move into the White House in 2017, but if the GOP nomination came down to a race between Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, the Indian Shores Republican says he's behind the former governor.
"I'm excited about a Jeb candidacy," Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Friday.
The support, he said, largely comes down to experience. Jolly said he was among those who criticized then-Sen. Barack Obama for a shallow political resume as he made his presidential bid in 2008....
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."...