For 20 years, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has done its part to make the holidays bright for children and families in need.
It’s a tradition, and it’s humbling, said Major Sean Jowell, with the Sheriff’s Office Support Services, who has participated in Ride & Run with the Stars for more years than he can remember.
This year’s event is Saturday, Dec. 7, 8 a.m. to noon, at Fort De Soto Park.
Ride & Run with the Stars has taken place the first Saturday in December since 1983. The event was the brainchild of three former deputies, Michael Platt, Scott Stiner and Gary Herbine. Back in those days, employees of the sheriff’s office would donate their own money to try to help families and children they knew needed help, especially during the holidays. But the need was too great. They couldn’t do enough on their own.
So, Platt, who retired as a captain and now works at the sheriff’s office as range master, Stiner, now a retired captain, and Herbine, a retired lieutenant, came up with the idea to have a bicycle riding event at Fort De Soto to raise money for the children.
“It was a very simple thing, but it really took off and grew,” Jowell said. “Now, it’s the 20th anniversary.”
CLEARWATER - Wendy Nero, Intergovernmental Relations Manager, started her fourth week on the job with a presentation to Pinellas County Commissioners on the 2014 State Legislative Program.
Nero admitted during the Nov. 19 meeting that much of the work on next year’s list of priority items to keep an eye on during the 2014 state legislative session had already been done when she started. However, she has already talked to as many stakeholders as possible about what they thought was most important.
Pinellas County Commissioners approve a list each year of items staff and paid lobbyists are asked to monitor during the legislative session. Nero pointed out that this year’s program was “not an exhaustive list” and said other issues could evolve that might require commission action.
Top of the legislative program is unfunded mandates that “negatively impact local government budgets and control.” Unfunded mandates by the state are usually imposed without discussion or consensus from local governments about the impacts they might have on available resources.
Nero presented six priority items, including support of the State Housing Initiatives Partnership and State Apartment Incentive Loan Program. According to her report, documentary stamp tax on deeds was created specifically to fund the state’s affordable housing trust fund. Lawmakers continue to redirect the approximately $100 million in document stamp revenue each year to the general fund.
BELLEAIR - For the fifth year in a row the staff at the Belleair Recreation Department has put together food baskets for people who need a helping hand at Thanksgiving. It is not a difficult task according to Special Events Coordinator Sara Borger.
“We have the most generous community I have ever been a part of,” she said. “They very much embrace the giving spirit, all times of the year and especially now.”
Borger said they put together 20 baskets for families of children who go to Mildred Helms Elementary School in Largo and another 25 for families who are using the services of the Suncoast Hospice. They are doing it with the help of some new partners.
“The Gracie G. Purdy Foundation is one of our sponsors,” said Borger. “And the newly formed Teen Advisory Council is also helping together and packs food.”
Giving baskets to the Suncoast Hospice was something that started last year once the Purdy Foundation joined the project. Gracie Purdy was a child who had terminal cancer and at one point was a patient at Hospice. Gracie’s Big Splash, one of Belleair’s signature events, is named in her honor.
Deb Shade, the director of Palliative Services at Suncoast Hospice, said the food basket donations are very important.
BELLEAIR - The fate of the Belleview Biltmore hotel is all but sealed. It appears the only thing that could save it from demolition is what Mayor Gary Katica described at a recent Commission meeting; “a guardian angel who comes from above with $150 million.”
Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater attorney who represents Daniel Ades, one of the brothers who own the hotel, said they are ready to move toward demolishing the hotel and building townhouses on the site. He said the recent discussion by the Belleair Commission on creating a new zoning designation is the first step in that direction.
“The language and the ideas of the RM-10 designation are a direct result of our discussion with city staff,” he said. “The code change would allow us to fulfill our vision of the property and we hope they adopt the proposed changes.”
The proposed code change involves loosening the height restrictions and cutting down the number of units per acre, 10, that would be permitted on the site.
Armstrong said as soon as the proposed changes are approved then they will take the next step.
“We would be part of a redevelopment application once the code changes are in place,” he said. “Once the rezoning is done we’ll be able to submit our site plan and the demolition permit would be part of that.”
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch will relinquish his gavel Dec. 31. By unanimous vote Nov. 19, Vice-chair Karen Seel got the nod to lead the commission during the next calendar year.
Commissioner Susan Latvala won the vice-chair’s position, 5-1. Commission Norm Roche voted no. Commissioner John Morroni was absent. Roche said he was voting no on principle not because he thought Latvala was incapable of carrying out the duties of vice-chair.
Seel last served as chair in 2010. Latvala served as chair in 2011. Morroni was chair in 2012. Roche was elected to the commission in 2010.
Seel thanked her fellow commissioners and said she was “very much looking forward to working with you next year.” Welch thanked Seel her support during his year as chair. In turn, Seel thanked Welch, especially for the job he did communicating with the public on behalf of the commission.
“Your emails were always on point,” she said. “Very nicely done.”
County administrator’s contract
The commission also voted unanimously to amend the County Administrator Bob LaSala’s contract.
The amendment, effective Nov. 19, adds 120 hours of annual leave to LaSala’s “leave bank.” It changes the way the administrator earns leave to match the method in place for exempt employees with 20 years of service. The change ups his annual leave from 29 days to 32 days - an increase of three days.
TARPON SPRINGS - In time with the soft breeze that drifts over the water, tie-dyed dresses and wind chimes flutter against the stores on the sponge docks. The merchandise racks that crowd the sidewalks, calling to tourists and locals alike with their brightly colored apparel, are a staple to the area. But maybe not for long.
If anything is certain about the sponge docks, it’s that the fight isn’t going to be settled quietly.
Originally approved as Ordinance 2013-18 with a 5-0 vote at the Sept. 17 City Commission meeting, Ordinance 2013-24 limits the outdoor display of retail merchandise along public streets and sidewalks to the primary frontage of a building. Five additional criteria were approved as part of the ordinance:
- Displays won’t block access to the public sidewalk.
- Displays cannot extend more than 30 inches deep and 36 inches high (the height restriction was originally set at 36 inches, was later raised to 66 inches, and then set again at 36 inches).
- Displays located entirely on private property under a roofed porch area at least 36 inches high can use display racks up to 66 inches high as long as they don’t obstruct accessibility.
CLEARWATER - What should come first - the levy of the tax or the purpose for the levy?
Pinellas County Commissioners spent a portion of their Nov. 19 meeting working on the ballot language for a Nov. 4, 2014 referendum. The county’s legal team and the attorney for Pinellas County Transit Authority have been negotiating for weeks on how best to ask voters to approve a change in the funding source for transportation needs.
Plans call for changing the funding method from an ad valorem tax to a 1 percent sales surtax. The additional money would be used to improve the county’s transportation system, including the addition of rail service.
County Attorney Jim Bennett prefers ballot language based on what has been used in the past for Penny for Pinellas referendums. PSTA prefers language closer to what has been used in Hillsborough County.
The ballot title, which is restricted by state statute to 16 words, is close in both versions.
The county’s states, “Levy of one-percent sales surtax to fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for countywide-public transit.”
PSTA’s reads, “Levy of countywide one-percent sales surtax to fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for public transit.”
State and local officials are celebrating a banner year for tourism.
More people visited Florida during the third quarter of 2013 than ever before, according to preliminary estimates released Nov. 15 by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. About 22.9 million visitors came to Florida from July to September, an increase of 1.7 percent over the same time last year.
“Because every 85 visitors to our state supports on Florida job; a growing tourism industry equates to more jobs for Florida families and a stronger economy,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a press release.
Estimates show that 72.6 million visitors made Florida their destination through the first three quarters of 2013 - up 3.4 percent over last year. Visitor spending from January through August statewide was $51.8 billion, a year-over-year increase of 5.8 percent. Direct travel-related employment grew by 2.8 percent, providing an additional 29,700 jobs.
“So far this year, we’re up nearly 2.5 million visitors who increased their spending by almost $3 billion, led by a double digit increase in international visitors,” said Tammy Gustafson, chair of Visit Florida’s board of directors. “This continued momentum is a testament to the strength of Visit Florida’s marketing efforts, the power of the Sunshine State brand and the dedication of the nearly 1.1 million Floridians who work in the state’s tourism industry.”
DUNEDIN - A sinkhole that caused the loss of two homes in a subdivision off Pinehurst Road continued to expand Thursday afternoon, but nobody was hurt.
The sinkhole, which was 60 feet wide by 40 to 50 feet deep, formed off Robmar Road, leading to the evacuation of seven homes, four on Robmar Road and three on Mary Jane Lane.
“It’s increasing as we speak,” said Dunedin Fire Chief Jeff Parks, who was at the scene along with firefighters, Pinellas Sheriff’s Office personnel and other officials.
Nevertheless, Parks expected that some homeowners could return to their residences today.
The fire department received a call at 5:40 a.m.
“At the one home at 1112 Robmar, the daughter heard a noise that sounded like somebody breaking in the back. The father went out there. That’s when he found the hole. He called us and the sheriff’s department and we evacuated the buildings when we got here,” Park said.
Between 10 and 11 a.m., the numerous news reporters on the scene heard the sound of what appeared to be glass or tile shattering.
The hole was expanding somewhat to the north of the homes on Robmar Road and further to the west, Parks said.
PALM HARBOR - Even the rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the vendors and patrons of the first monthly farmer’s market at East Lake Community Library Nov. 2.
“This has already exceeded my expectations, even on the first market,” said library manager Colleen Davis. “The market went extremely well, despite the monsoon. It really didn’t hold a whole lot of people back. They just came with their umbrellas and rain slickers.”
Davis came up with the idea after Palm Harbor Library Director Gene Coppola, then acting director for East Lake, challenged her to come up with a way the library could be used in the community. Amidst the controversy of the outgoing library director, Davis said she wanted to bring “some positive press back into this library again.”
She considered a community garden, but decided right away that she didn’t want to pull weeds in the heat of the summer.
“One sleepless night, it just hit me: a farmer’s market,” she said.
To start, she merely advertised in the front of the library that vendors were needed for a coming farmer’s market. The response was “incredible,” she said.
ST. PETERSBURG - The Tampa Bay Rays announced plans Dec. 3 for a major upgrade to Tropicana Field that will significantly enhance the fan experience for the 2014 season.
The project will create 360-degree pedestrian circulation around the lower seating bowl at Tropicana Field. The improved circulation will provide easier access to and from ballpark gates, concessions and activity areas throughout the facility. Existing cross-aisles in the lower bowl will be extended from the left and right field foul poles to create a walkway lined with drink rails as it winds toward center field.
SEMINOLE - The city of Seminole Fire Rescue has hired a new fire chief.
The city has made a conditional offer of employment to Heather Burford, fire chief for the Ridgefield Fire Department in Connecticut, said City Manager Frank Edmunds. Burford has accepted the offer and her anticipated start date is January 13, 2014. Her starting salary is $91,000.
“Ms. Burford is an enthusiastic mid-career professional who responded well during our selection process,” Edmunds wrote in an email to the members of City Council.
CLEARWATER - Nine years ago, Sandy Neither moved from New York to her home on Alligator Creek in Clearwater. Over the years, she successfully transformed her yard into a Florida Friendly Landscape.
Neither is the 2013 winner of the Community Water-Wise Award in the single family residential category for Pinellas County. Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch presented Neither with her award, a garden stepping-stone, during the Nov. 19 commission meeting.
DUNEDIN - The public and Dunedin city officials alike are all anxious to know what will happen with the Toronto Blue Jays, and if they will continue their spring training in Dunedin.
All entities will have to wait a little longer for firm details, but Parks and Recreation Director Vince Gizzi, Mayor Dave Eggers and other city staff have been diligently working to find out as much information as possible to try to keep the Jays in the city. They also are working through other possibilities in case the Jays do decide to fly away to another city.
TREASURE ISLAND - City Manager Reid Silverboard told Treasure Island Commissioners Nov. 19 that additional funding or possible cuts in the Recreation Department programs at Treasure Bay Golf and Tennis may be needed when city leaders consider the fiscal 2015 budget next summer.
“The mayor has asked me when we come up to budget next year to be prepared to have a discussion about Treasure Bay, what we offer out there and what changes or how we can enhance it or add things,” said Silverboard.
No snow is needed to celebrate the winter holidays in Pinellas County. Plenty of festive fun can be found throughout each and every town, including the following.
Holiday boat parades
- St Pete Beach and South Pasadena Holiday Lighted Boat Parade ST. PETE BEACH - The St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena holiday boat parade and tree lighting is Friday, Dec. 6. The boat parade starts at 6 p.m. at the Blind Pass Bridge and heads south to the Bayway Bridge. Free tree lighting festivities take place at Horan Park, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive. Enjoy crafts, music, lighting of the Christmas tree, a visit with Santa, music, food and refreshments. Visit www.spbrec.com for more information including the parade route and boater application, or call 727-363-9264.