CLEARWATER - County Commissioners proclaimed May 19 as Pinellas County Day in celebration of the Utilities Department’s 80th birthday.
In a video presented during the meeting, Utilities Director Robert Powell described utility systems as a “silent service.”
“The only time you notice is when it is not there,” he said. “And then it is a surprise because most of the time, the majority of the time, it is there.”
Former Utilities Director Pick Talley, who retired in 2008 after 23 years with the department, joined Powell in the video that reviewed the history of utility service in Pinellas.
“The beach communities in the early 1900s could sink a well and hit a lens of fresh water that was sufficient for their use,” Talley said.
But in the 1920 and 1930s, the volume of water needed increased and wells began to draw in saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico and Intracoastal Waterway. They had no choice but to move to the mainland to develop wells farther away for the coast, he said.
In 1935, an Act of the Legislature created the Pinellas County Water System.
The customer base for the first Walsingham plant was 200 served by a 1.5 million gallon a day system, Powell said. The first expansion of that system came in 1955.
While the official start to summer isn’t until June 21, the heat and humidity have already arrived, as have the afternoon thunderstorms. Everyone loves living in paradise; however, it takes skill to weather the summer months.
Heat, humidity and sunshine
The thermometer may say it is only 80-something outside, but add in the humidity, and the body begins to feel the heat. According to the website HowStuffWorks.com, humans rely on air to rid the body of moisture. Sweat allows the body to stay cool and maintain its temperature. The higher the relative humidity, the harder it is for sweat to evaporate and the harder it is to keep cool.
Floridians relish those days of dry air because when relative humidity is low, the temperature feels lower than it really is. The website gives a couple of examples of how humidity affects the feel-like temperature. If the relative humidity is 75 degrees and the relative humidity is zero percent, the temperature would feel like 69 degrees. But, if the relative humidity is 100 percent, it feels like 80 degrees. HowStuffWorks.com says the ideal relative humidity is about 45 percent.
TARPON SPRINGS - The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority will soon begin total renovations on four low-income complexes for residents 55 and older around Tarpon Springs.
More than $13 million, coming from tax credits, funds from Pinellas County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be used to demolish and rebuild the interiors of 95 units at the four developments owned and managed by the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority: Ring Avenue Apartments, Pine Trail Village, Lemon Street Apartments and Walton Village.
“We call it gut rehabbing,” said Housing Authority Executive Director Pat Weber. “We replace everything down to the studs: windows, doors, electric, plumbing, air conditioning, landscaping, roofs. We repaint. We’re doing everything.”
Public housing is available to low-income families and individuals based on annual gross income, U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status and qualification as elderly, as a person with a disability or as a family. Additional “points” are received for anyone who is homeless or living in a shelter, someone living locally in Tarpon Springs and someone working at least 20 hours a week.
SEMINOLE - For years, Eugene Mohney intended to make the trip to Washington, D.C., with the Honor Flight organization, a nonprofit that flies veterans to visit memorials that honor their military service.
“But the times were never convenient,” he said.
On April 21, the 90-year-old World War II veteran was finally able to take this trip.
“There were 85 World War II veterans that day and 85 wheelchairs and 85 helpers,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything so well planned.”
The group left from the St. Pete/Clearwater International Airport at 4 a.m. and after landing in Baltimore, they made it to the Washington D.C.’s National Mall, where the war memorials are located, around noon. While there, they visited the National World War II Memorial and other monuments.
Mohney had visited Washington, D.C., before, but it’s been about 40 years since his last trip there, he said. Since then, several new monuments and memorials have been built.
“I loved it. I got to see all of the memorials that were built in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “They’re really something. You can hardly soak in everything. I really enjoyed it.”
ST. PETERSBURG - More than 400 community leaders and businesses attended the 2015 International Town Hall May 8 at the Hilton Carillon in St. Petersburg.
The Tampa Bay Export Alliance, which hosted the event, declared the half-day event as a “big success.”
“It has been an exciting year since the Tampa Bay Export Alliance was announced at the 2014 International Town Hall,” according to a statement on the Alliance’s website. “Leaders in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have been working together on international initiatives and achieving amazing results.”
The Tampa Bay Export Alliance is a partnership between Pinellas County Economic Development and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation. It formed in 2014 “to grow jobs and capital investment by increasing the international export of products and services within the bi-county area.”
Throughout the year, members of the Alliance traveled to Chile and Panama. Educational sessions have focused on teaching local businesses how to export their products.
"The goal of this partnership is to assist local companies to increase their exports to grow their businesses and create new jobs. Local companies such a Custom Manufacturing & Engineering, Hydro-Dyne Engineering, and SOS Technologies have fascinating stories to tell about their experiences on our first TBEA trade mission to Chile and the results of their first foray into the Chilean market," said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, in a media release. "Hearing them speak about what they learned, the relationships they created, and the results they achieved will show just how much opportunity there is for Tampa Bay companies interested in pursuing trade in foreign markets."
LARGO - The city of Largo’s Highland Family Aquatic Center has reopened for the summer swim season.
The facility has two pools with slides suitable for all ages, a zero-depth area, water sprays, changing rooms, a snack bar and shade structures.
Between May 16 and June 7, the aquatic center is open Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. From June 8 to Aug. 22, it will be open additional weekday hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., and 4 to 6 p.m. Weekday hours stop from Aug. 23 until the end of the summer season Sunday, Sept. 27.
During holidays, including Memorial Day on May 25, Independence Day, July 3 and 4 and Labor Day, Sept. 7, the aquatic center will be open only noon to 4 p.m.
The cost is $5 with a Recreation Card and $8 for a one guest per person. Admission covers one two-hour session for weekdays and a four-hour session on weekends. The facility empties and reopens for each session. No outside food and drinks are allowed.
CLEARWATER - Only $1.64 million is left of the more than $19 million allocated to Pinellas County’s Community Housing Trust Fund since fiscal year 2006-2007.
Kathryn Driver, executive director of the county’s Housing Finance Authority, updated commissioners April 21 about the success of the program and the need for more funding.
“It’s hard when you’re down that low to make an impact, and you have to be kind of choosy to what you’re going to dedicate your dollars to,” she said, adding that she’s been meeting with people asking for more money to continue to provide affordable housing for those in need.
No money has been set aside from the county’s budget for the trust fund since fiscal year 2008-2009. Commissioners budgeted $10 million for affordable housing during the first year of funding (FY 2006-2007) with $5 million added in FY 2007-2008 and nearly $4.23 million in FY 2008-2009.
Twenty percent of the money went to the Housing Finance Authority and 80 percent was split between participating jurisdictions based on a population ratio formula.
DUNEDIN - City officials are pleased that a new partnership plans to develop a piece of property valued as the gateway to downtown Dunedin.
The proposed mixed-use development at Main Street and Milwaukee Avenue includes 120 multi-family apartment units and 15,000-square-feet of retail use.
Jim Russell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Pizzuti Companies of Columbus, Ohio, told commissioners April 23 that development took longer than the company thought because of financial and other issues. Though Pizzuti had many potential offers, the company sought a partner “who shared the same vision that we have brought to the project that we have stayed very close to and worked very hard to meet.”
City commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 7 2014 to extend a development agreement with the Pizzuti Companies to April 15 this year to allow the Pizzuti Co., the developers, to find a partner and secure financing for the project. They have expressed frustration that the property has been vacant for several years.
The new partners are the Wright Group, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Voeller Construction of Palm Harbor. Both companies have undertaken many projects in the area, Florida and other states.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - It all began with a bike ride. One day IRB resident Julie Hoofnagle, while taking her regular bicycle ride noticed that more could be done to make her city more attractive. As vice president of Action 2000, the civic group committed to beautification, she knew where she could get volunteers to help.
“At meetings I saw a need for people to have hands-on projects,” she said. “They want to be able to do something where they can feel good about what they accomplished and meet with friends. They might not want to be in charge but they want to get involved.”
Thus Service Saturday was born.
“We married those two ideas to make it happen,” she said. “We’ve had four of them already.”
What Hoofnagle and her group of volunteers do is target a specific spot in town that needs sprucing up and then schedule a Saturday morning to get up and do it. Anyone is welcome to join them, whether a member of Action 2000 or not.
Recently they tackled the entrance to the Nature Preserve in an area that had already been beautified by Action 2000 but needed to be made prettier according to Hoofnagle, so they gathered to spread pine straw mulch and plant flowers. There was no shortage of helpers.
CLEARWATER - As Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said May 19, the devil is in the details.
Commissioners agreed unanimously, after much debate, to defer a decision about proposed changes to the Tourist Development Plan and to future allocations of the county’s bed tax proceeds.
Most agreed there were details that needed discussion, most importantly the levy of a sixth cent (bed tax), which the county is now eligible to do after meeting requirements to become a high impact tourist destination in 2014.
CLEARWATER - Despite protests from about a dozen residents, Pinellas County Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve four years of rate increases for water and sewer, as well as user fees and rates for reclaimed water May 19.
Commissioner Dave Eggers voted no.
The increases continue a pattern that began in 2011 when commissioners approved a four-year rate hike plan through 2015. Consultant Burton & Associates recommended another four-year schedule of modest rate hikes, lasting through fiscal year 2019.
More children die in Florida from drowning than any other state, according to the state Department of Health.
“Annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their fifth birthday,” according to information at FloridaHealth.gov.
In 2010, the state’s unintentional drowning rate for children ages 1 to 4 was 7.29 per 100,000 population - the highest in the nation. The state also had the most drownings and highest rate (2.67 per 100,000) for ages 1 to 14. Oklahoma came in second for ages 1 to 14 with a rate of 2.48 per 100,000, and Arizona was third with a rate of 2.05 per 100,000.
CLEARWATER - Is your landscaping the envy of the neighborhood - not just because of its beauty, but also because it is Florida-friendly and water-efficient?
Then you need to enter the 2015 Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards, sponsored by Tampa Bay Water.
For the past 16 years, the Tampa Bay Community Water-Wise Awards program has recognized those homeowners and businesses committed to conserving water and protecting the environment by using the most water-efficient landscaping practices.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - An August or September opening is planned for the long anticipated bait house and convenience store the county is building on the Belleair Causeway Bridge. Public Works Director Robert David gave an update of the store’s status at the May 18 City Commission meeting. The project began in January.
David said the building is now nearly complete and would be finished by the end of June. A concessionaire must be hired and other operational functions taken care of before the doors can be opened to the public, he said.
LARGO - About 300 parents and students attended Anona Elementary School’s second annual Science Extravaganza, during which individual students and classes showcased science projects May 7.
Anona’s Duke Energy STEM students presented what they learned about physics with their egg drop experiment and assisted families with a Sphero Robotic Ball obstacle course and a rocket launcher. Anona’s gifted students demonstrated their engineering skills with Rube Goldberg projects.
Gov. Rick Scott recently announced that Florida set another record in tourism numbers by welcoming the highest amount of visitors of any quarter in the state’s history, according to Visit Florida.
Visit Florida is the tourism-marketing corporation for the state.
In the first quarter of 2015 (January-March), 28.4 million visitors came to the state, an increase of 6.2 percent over the same period in 2014. The previous high for a quarter for tourism was 26.7 million visitors in quarter one last year. The average number of direct travel-related jobs in quarter one of 2015 was also a record high, with 1,186,900 Floridians employed in the tourism industry - up 4.8 percent from the same period in 2014.