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Computer bug may hit before 2000

In the early days of the computer age, programers often used Friday's date _ 010199 _ as an "infinity" mark for records that were not supposed to expire or be overwritten.

"Guess what? Infinity showed up," says Alfred Leiser, a programer who oversees the Pinellas County government computer systems.

Computer experts are nervously watching for 1999 computer crashes that may hit this year.

Some computer programs might read files marked 010199 and automatically begin erasing data. Because of the holiday, problems might not be noticed until this week or until someone tries to retrieve the erased data.

Similar crashes could happen Sept. 9, the ninth day of the ninth month of the 99th year, and April 9, the 99th day of the 99th year.

It won't be a problem in the Pinellas County government systems, Leiser said.

"We recognized where those '99 problems exist way back when we began" addressing year 2000 problems, he said.

Pinellas County is spending almost $2-million to correct the "Y2K" glitch.

Yellow jackets sting

9 children on YMCA outing

SEMINOLE _ Yellow jackets were on a tear again, this time stinging nine children on a nature trail at Lake Seminole Park on Tuesday.

The 8- and 9-year-olds were on a Suncoast Family YMCA outing when the yellow jackets swarmed, stinging them two to 12 times as they walked along a trail. None of the children were seriously hurt.

It's been a bad year for yellow jacket stings all over the Tampa Bay area. In Tampa in September, a 2-year-old boy was killed by a swarm of the wasps. In Pinellas County, six children were stung in one day at Palm Harbor's Highland Lakes Elementary.

Experts say the yellow jacket population is unusually large. Because the weather was warmer than normal last winter, more yellow jackets reproduced and fewer died. That means the chance of encountering yellow jackets is 20-30 times greater than normal.

Bush taps legislator

for Elder Affairs job

DADE CITY _ State Rep. Carl Littlefield, a Dade City Republican who has made a name for himself as an advocate for the elderly and for Pasco's water interests, will resign from office to take a position in Gov.-elect Jeb Bush's administration.

Littlefield, 50, was appointed to the No. 2 post at the Department of Elder Affairs on Wednesday. His appointment as deputy secretary of the agency means that a special election will be held to fill his seat.

Already, Littlefield's older brother, Ken, has announced his intention to run for the seat. The 54-year-old furniture dealer recently rented a home in the district and opened a campaign account. On the Democratic side, John Touchton, who in November lost a bid to unseat Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, also said he will consider running.

Ex-Lightning owners cleared

in finance investigation

TAMPA _ Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe has concluded that the Tampa Bay Lightning's previous owners did not trick the city of Tampa into a multimillion-dollar commitment to help build the Ice Palace hockey arena.

After a five-month investigation, Coe's office did find that the Lightning brightened its financial profile by moving some liabilities off its general balance sheet just before city officials examined its books in 1994. But investigators said the changes served a "legitimate business purpose" and were not criminal.

And even with the changes, the Lightning's finances looked so shaky that city officials demanded additional safeguards before they would do a deal.

County Commission Chairwoman Jan Platt said she was glad the city protected itself but still felt uneasy about how the Lightning kept its books.

"Credit goes to the city for building in those safeguards, but what if they hadn't?" she said.

Buccaneers sue appraiser

for taxing luxury suites

TAMPA _ The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are drawing up a defensive strategy to block an attempt to make them pay millions more in taxes.

The team on Tuesday sued Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner over his decision to tax luxury suites in the old Houlihan's Stadium. The suit alleges that Turner unfairly taxed the suites at their full market value for 1998, though they were used for only one game, the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Taxes on the suites and the Bucs' lease of Houlihan's Stadium came to about $600,000 this year.

The property appraiser's general counsel, Will Shepherd, agreed Tuesday that the team may have a point.

On another matter, the Bucs refused to meet with County Commission chairwoman Jan Platt over payment of property taxes.

Platt wants the team to pay part of the property taxes that may come due on the new Raymond James Stadium. The commission is expected to discuss the issue this week.

Clearwater High gymnasium

scheduled to open soon

CLEARWATER _ For more than a year, Clearwater High School students have been without their gymnasium.

That means no home basketball games, no indoor gym classes, no place for usual high school activities such as school pictures and cheerleading practice.

But the end is near.

School officials hope to open the newly renovated gym later this month or early in February, 15 months after a tornado nearly destroyed the building Oct. 27, 1997.

School system administrators, lobbied by parents and students, decided to spend almost $2.6-million to renovate the 45-year-old gym. That means that after the wait, students will get a better gym than they had before.

Nurse paid 10 times her wage

is sued by former employer

NEW PORT RICHEY _ A company says a health care worker received a $57,396 bonus thanks to a computer glitch, and now the company is suing its former employee to get the money back.

The lawsuit filed this month in Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court says licensed practical nurse Marguerite Miles took the money and never reported it to her employers.

Miles, who now lives in New Port Richey, was paid $18.83 an hour until July 1996, when she worked for Manorcare Health Services in New Jersey.

At that point, Manorcare raised her salary to $19.59 per hour. But a computer error led the company to pay Miles $195.90 an hour for the next five months, according to the lawsuit.

A February 1997 response bearing Miles' name called the overpayment "an honest oversight."

"It is my intention to repay the company," said the letter.

But Robert Stern, a lawyer with the Tampa firm of Trenam, Kemker, which filed the lawsuit, doubts Miles' intentions.

"She said, "Gosh I didn't notice this,' " Stern said. "I would think most of America would notice a payment that was tenfold over what they expected."

Coming up this week

+ On Tuesday, Gov.-elect Jeb Bush and the Cabinet will be sworn into office. Bush's rise to the governor's mansion gives the Republican Party control of both the Legislature and the governor's office for the first time in 124 years _ and for the first time in any Southern state since Reconstruction.

+ On Wednesday, an estimated 20,000 people will attend the Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, making it the biggest celebration of the holiday in the Western Hemisphere. Epiphany is the second holiest day after Easter to Orthodox Christians.

_ Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

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