The mission of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is to serve and protect, 24/7, 365 days a year.
But during the holidays, it takes on a bigger role, one that goes to the heart of the community.
Ride & Run with the Stars celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. Since the event’s inception in 1995, $500,000 has been raised to help thousands of children and their families through the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project.
The money goes to purchase items - food, clothing and toys - that are delivered to the families by community policing deputies.
“It makes it more personal,” said Cristen Smith with the Sheriff’s Public Information Office.
This year’s big event is Saturday, Dec. 6, at Fort De Soto Park. Registration is $35 per person and includes a long-sleeved T-shirt, food and giveaways.
TARPON SPRINGS - In a tourist hotspot like Tarpon Springs, image is everything. It’s the reason for the Hibiscus Street renovations and the sponge dock improvement project. And now, it’s the goal behind the city’s new chronic nuisance ordinance.
Brought forward by the Tarpon Springs Police Department, the ordinance passed through the City Commission with a unanimous vote on Nov. 18.
“We’re consistently faced with certain properties that are not only a blight but really consume a lot of resources from the police department and code enforcement,” said Police Chief Robert Kochen. “(The ordinance) gives us a little more teeth, if you will, to go after these properties.”
The ordinance, Tarpon Springs Police Department Operations Capt. Barbara Templeton wrote in a memo to the City Commission, isn’t designed to address minor issues from property owners. Instead, it will be used to combat on-going issues that fail to be resolved.
“It’s going to directly affect the quality of life for business owners, residents and visitors,” she said later.
MADEIRA BEACH - The city of Madeira Beach will play host to a college football beach celebration Wednesday, Dec. 24 on South Beach at John’s Pass.
City Manager Shane Crawford said the city will host the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl Beach Bash, which will feature players and fans from the two participating college football teams in a variety of games and activities on the beach.
The game, which will be played Friday, Dec. 26, 8 p.m., at Tropicana Field, will be carried live by ESPN. As in past years, video clips from the Beach Bash will be included throughout the game or at halftime.
Teams for the game will come from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the American Athletic Conference. Possibilities include Miami and Notre Dame from the ACC and Central Florida or Cincinnati from the AAC, Crawford said.
The Beach Bash was formerly held in St. Pete Beach.
“We put in a bid for it and got it,” said Crawford. “It should be a lot of fun.”
After practice sessions earlier in the day, the two teams will arrive in Madeira Beach for lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in John’s Pass Village.
At 3 p.m., the players will head out to the beach for a number of recreational events, including beach volleyball and paddleboards. At 5 p.m., the teams and their fans will gather at a stage and around a large swimming pool for the start of a variety of competitions. They will include head-to-head action in a belly-flop contest and other events.
BELLEAIR - One of the reasons the town of Belleair bought the Belleview Biltmore Golf Course was to make sure there would never be any development on the property. The course is valued green space in the community and stands over the town’s water supply, which could be disrupted if residential or commercial development were ever to take place on the property.
During the debate over the fate of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel more than two years ago one of the hotel’s owners, Daniel Ades, told the commission that he and his brother could sell the golf course to a developer as a way to make money. That angered the town’s commissioners, particularly Mayor Gary Katica, who vowed that it would never happen. He didn’t have a legal leg to stand on until Town Manager Micah Maxwell came up with the idea of having the town buy the course. That way it could remove development rights and preserve the green space.
Part of the $13 million dollar deal forgave the Ades brothers the $275,000 it owed in fines levied because of the deteriorating state of the hotel. The brothers had threatened to foreclose on their own mortgage thus wiping out the liens. The town saw the purchase of the golf course as a way to get something out of potentially nothing. It also got $50,000 in cash from the brothers as part of the deal.
OZONA - When Tony Marino and his wife Jayne drove past Pat’s Landing on Shore Drive back in 1999, Tony knew immediately he wanted it.
After a number of years in the corporate world with Time Warner Cable, Marino was looking for a place to store his boat but the allure of Pat’s Landing was too much to ignore. A few months later, he and his wife purchased the marina and renamed it Marino’s Marina.
Now, more than 15 years later, it is a well-oiled small business that has become a lifestyle for Marino and his wife.
But it wasn’t always that way.
After purchasing the business in 2000, Marino continued to work in Rochester, N.Y., for Time Warner before accepting a buy-out offer in 2004. He and his family moved south to live in Ozona and manage the marina on a daily basis.
Two years later, the recession hit and Marino was questioning his decision.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “For 25 years I collected a paycheck every two weeks and then I no longer had that.”
When the recession hit, many boat owners sold their boats and marinas were forced to lower their rates. But Marino bucked the trend.
She’s outspoken, passionate and not one to mince words to make her point.
Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala has worked tirelessly for 14 years on behalf of her constituents in District 4 and the county as a whole. Now, she wants to take time for herself and her family.
“My two sons were in eight and ninth grade when I was first elected. They paid a huge price for me being in office,” she said. “I decided I want to set my own schedule, enjoy this chapter of my life watching my granddaughter grow up, having family dinners, being able to travel when I want and not have to make a travel schedule around meetings.”
Latvala’s granddaughter was born in June.
“Being a county commissioner is not part-time, it is 24/7,” Latvala continued. “You are always reading reports or long agendas preparing for the next meeting, and meetings with constituents and staff.”
Commissioners also serve on many other community boards and several taxing districts, which are very important and take a lot time and thought, she said.
“We deal with such a diverse number of issues that it really takes a lot of preparation time, even after all these years,” she said. “I really want to spend time in my beautiful home in Crystal Beach, be able to entertain often and just enjoy life without the huge responsibility of public office.”
BELLEAIR - More than 350 people, residents of Belleair, watched as a dream became a reality and the town got a signature centerpiece that honors the military in a location that can’t be missed. The fountain at Hunter Memorial Park was officially opened after a two-year effort to raise the money needed for the project.
It happened on Nov. 9, Veterans Day weekend as one man put it, and given the nature of the fountain, the timing of the opening couldn’t have been better.
The flags of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force and Army surround the lighted structure. The Clearwater High School ROTC presented the flag and one of the guest speakers was Retired Brig. Gen. and Belleair resident Joseph Oder.
But first up was Belleair Mayor Gary Katica who served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. He set the tone of the day by impressing on the audience how important veterans are.
“For them it is an honor and a duty that is not taken lightly,” he said. “Some families made the ultimate sacrifice and for that we should always remember.”
CLEARWATER - When Mike Dunlap became the first person to ever come through the Abilities Guild Veterans Mall four years ago, he had been living out of his car. Now he works there and helps guide other struggling veterans through the process.
Virginia Meyer, 86, founded the Veterans Mall. She served on the Abilities Guild board to raise money for the Abilities Foundation, and someone said they should do something to help the veterans. When someone mentioned making a store for homeless veterans, Meyer took the idea and ran with it.
Meyer of Largo coordinated with Bay Pines Veterans Hospital - now called C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center - between Seminole and St. Petersburg, and also James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. The Veterans Mall works with veterans who are in the HUD-VASH program at both hospitals. Those admitted into this program through the VA must meet a defined definition of homelessness, qualify for VA services, and need case management services in order to obtain and sustain independent community housing.
“The reason we work with HUD-VASH is because they’re assigned a case worker,” said Dunlap, now of Largo. “There’s someone to monitor these guys and make sure they stay on path and don’t lose their apartment. Every month, that caseworker will visit them and monitors their activities and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. The reason they come here is to make sure they succeed. We want them to succeed. There’s nothing worse than the guy who gets his apartment, has been in there two or three months and he still doesn’t have anything in there but an empty pizza box.”
BELLEAIR - After saying it was not economically feasible to save or restore any part of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the pending developer of the property has revealed that a portion of the west wing will be moved, restored and used as a hotel or inn on the property.
The revelation came in documents presented to the Belleair Commission Oct. 27 at a special meeting called to deal with the various components required to give the hotel’s owners the go-ahead to demolish the century old structure to make way for a condo/townhouse development.
JMC Communities, headed by developer Mike Cheezem, has a contract pending with the Ades brothers of Miami, the current owners of the property. Once all legal and permit hurdles have been cleared, Cheezem will take over the property and begin development.
Cheezem has been at the center of the debate because local preservationists have been fighting to have the entire hotel saved. Until recently Cheezem has said saving any part of the hotel would be impossible. The documents presented to the commission show he has changed his mind. That happened apparently after Cheezem spoke to an architect who specializes in historic properties and who indicated the west wing could be salvaged.
Roadways most likely will be crowded this weekend as locals and visitors take time off for the holiday.
According to AAA Auto Club’s Thanksgiving travel forecast, released Nov. 20, more than 46 million Americans are planning trips of 50 miles or more over the long weekend - the most since 2007.
About 4.2 percent (1.9 million) more will travel this year than last. AAA says it is the greatest growth rate for any holiday since Independence Day 2012. AAA considers the holiday travel period as Wednesday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Nov. 30.
Signs are pointing to a green holiday season for retailers relying on the generosity of this year’s gift-givers to improve their bottom lines.
The National Retail Federation recently released results of the annual Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, showing that the average person will spend $804.42 on gifts in 2014, nearly 5 percent more than last year’s actual spending of $767.27 a person.
According to a recent report from United Way, 12 percent of Pinellas County households (50,486) live in poverty. Another 34 percent (136,874) don’t make enough to pay for basic needs.
The holidays are difficult for people who are barely getting by. Fortunately, the United Way report says that community support is “good” in Pinellas. Helping others is a tradition in, especially during the holidays.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County has released a new and improved mobile app, called Doing Things for You! The app makes it easier for smartphone users to communicate with county staff.
The county introduced its first app, See Click Fix in January 2012. Its purpose was to simplify reporting of local infrastructure needs. The online tool allows residents to report and track non-emergency problems, such as potholes, illegal dumping, mistimed traffic signals and other issues.
TARPON SPRINGS -- A decade after returning from flying combat missions for the Air Force in Afghanistan, Greg Ferris says he’s finally getting his life back.
“Back then, the military really never helped out. I couldn’t even get my disability pay,” said Ferris, who was diagnosed with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I was doing it alone for 10 years. I didn’t know what was happening with me, what was happening with my wife. I got to the threshold of just giving up.”
Pinellas County and St. Petersburg officials announced at a Nov. 14 press conference in St. Petersburg that Health Care Navigators are ready to help residents sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act as open enrollment begins.
Open enrollment period started Nov. 15, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015.
Through the Affordable Care Act, those who do not have health insurance, are under-insured or are not old enough for Medicare may enroll in an insurance plan that will match their household’s budget and family’s needs.
LARGO - With $30,000 in prize money from a national contest, Indian Rocks Christian School decided to makeover its cafeteria with healthier food options.
The school was one of three winners in last year’s Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest, using Uncle Ben’s brand rice in a recipe explained in a video. Boden deVries and his parents Eva and Kurt deVries of Belleair Beach produced the winning video, making pizza rice balls with the help of his father’s production company, Bobaloo Films.