CLEARWATER - This time, the tears that fell from their cheeks were tears of joy. After months and in some cases, years, children and parents were reunited May 17 after being separated by the foster care system. The difference between the parents holding their children that day and the parents they were when their children were taken away was immense to those who knew them back then.
The families gathered for a reunification ceremony at the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater.
The darkness before the light
Gina Ullio, 30, of St. Petersburg endured a childhood of abuse, and by the time she hit her 20s, she was exhausted. She didn’t want to feel anymore. Ullio had never done “real” drugs, but when someone introduced her to prescription pain pills such as Roxycodone, they made her feel numb and finally let her not feel any pain.
“I was overwhelmed by things, and then someone introduced me to pills and I thought, ‘OK, I’m numb - I don’t want to laugh, I don’t want to cry,’” Ullio said. “I was just chilling. But little did I know, it was making everything all worse. It’s all just a Band-Aid. Band-Aids peel off, and then you need another and another and another, and before you know it, that’s your life. Your addiction is your life.”
For three Pinellas County residents, May 2013 was a very lucky month. All took home big prizes from the Florida lottery.
The most recent winner was Steven Vaughan, 41, of Seminole, who took home a $1 million Powerball prize from the May 18 drawing after matching all five numbers. According to lottery officials, Vaughan bought his Quick Pick ticket from Park 74 Sunoco, 7091 Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park. The Sunoco owner received a $1,000 bonus commission for selling the ticket.
As of May 22, lottery officials were still waiting for the single winner of the largest prize in lottery history to step forward. The Powerball ticket, purchased in Zephyrhills, is worth $590.5 million.
The Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County has lowered the interest rate on its First Time Homebuyers Program to 2.99 percent. The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage program is for individuals living in Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties who have never owned a home, have not owned a home in the last three years or veterans.
The Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County is a sponsor of the Certificate in Community Real Estate Development program at the University of South Florida. The program offers practical training for staff responsible for creating successful affordable housing and community based real estate development programs.
Board members, policy makers and community leaders who are engaged in promoting affordable housing will benefit greatly from the program. Students in business, urban studies, architecture and others who desire hands-on experience in project level real estate financial analysis will also find this program beneficial.
James Carras serves as the program’s Tampa Bay 2013 lead facilitator. Carras has more than 25 years of experience as principal of his own investment company, concentrating on designing and implementing solutions for community and economic development.
ST. PETERSBURG - Summer vacation is almost here and for many families that means the return of Mom and Dad’s taxi service. However, with gas prices well above $3 a gallon, many parents simply can’t afford to drive their kids around all summer long.
That’s where PSTA’s popular and affordable summer youth Haul Pass comes in. For only $35, kids 18 and under can enjoy unlimited rides on PSTA and the Clearwater Jolley Trolley between May 15 and Aug. 31. Haul Passes exclude Routes 100X and 300X to Tampa.
There’s No Place Like Home, the radio show sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, will focus on the HOPE (Home Ownership for People Everywhere) Expo, coming to the Raymond James Financial Center on Saturday, June 8, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The expo offers a vast amount of information on home ownership, as well a daylong HomeBuyer Workshop. More information is available at www.hopeexpo.org.
No Place Like Home features different issues each month. It airs the first Thursday of each month from 10:05 to 10:35 a.m. on WRXB 1590 AM. The show can also be watched on PCC-TV (Bright House 622, Knology 18 and Verizon 44), YouTube, or viewed online at www.pinellascounty.org/community/hfa/Media.htm.
ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus riders resumed their record streak last month by taking more rides than in any other April in PSTA history. The mark is a 4 percent improvement over April 2012 and the fifth highest monthly total ever.
“The fact that we set a new record even as gasoline prices were dropping and spring break was coming to end, is further proof of the growing demand for public transit in Pinellas County,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller.
Agency leaders said there are several reliable factors that can affect ridership such as fuel prices. With those costs dropping recently, they credit job growth and continued record tourism for the new high.
In a recent Pinellas County citizen research survey, results showed a growing sense of optimism, positive sentiment and trust in county government.
This is the third consecutive year that Pinellas County has conducted a statistically valid citizen survey, with the first year used to collect feedback on residents’ priorities in the midst of budget reductions.
Last year, as the Board of County Commissioners continued to move forward and plan for the future, residents were asked what they most value in the community. This year’s survey builds on that initiative as the commission continues to set the direction for the county and define the elements that citizens envision as enhancements to their overall quality of life.
As the Tampa Bay region enters the rainy season, citizens are being urged to take precautions to keep garbage dry once it’s been set out for collection.
Pinellas County operates one of the largest waste-to-energy facilities in the country where garbage is burned and converted to electricity. For the garbage to burn efficiently, it needs to be free of moisture from the intermittent rainfall that is part of the Florida weather pattern. Increased moisture in the garbage not only causes operational difficulties but can also lead to increased air emissions.
Open containers of garbage sitting out in the rain are a detriment to efficient waste processing down the line. Rainwater in garbage also increases the weight of the load and can result in increased disposal fees. If the rainwater leaks out of the garbage can or collection truck, it can cause stormwater pollution.
TALLAHASSEE - The unemployment rate for Pinellas County dropped to 6.5 percent in April, according to the May 17 report from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The not seasonally adjusted rate was down from 6.7 percent reported in March and 8.3 percent for April 2012.
Meanwhile, the county’s labor pool increased to 447,049 in April, compared to 445,508 last month and 437,176 for April 2012. Less than 30,000 were reported as unemployed - 29,270, slightly less than the 29,921 reported in March and 7,134 fewer than the 36,404 reported as unemployed for April last year.