CLEARWATER - In past years, presentation of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s budget has been a near all-day affair. That didn’t happen this year.
County commissioners scheduled only four budget presentations for May 16, anticipating that Sheriff’s Bob Gualtieri would need more time than other departments to talk about his needs. After all, the sheriff’s budget makes up 51 percent of the entire general fund.
In addition, especially during and after the Great Recession, it wasn't unusual for the sheriff to exceed the target set by the Office of Management and Budget. That also didn’t happen this year.
CLEARWATER - As the clock ticks down toward the Nov. 7 referendum date that will decide the fate of continuing the Penny for Pinellas sales tax into the future, county Commissioners are hard at work prioritizing where the money should be spent.
They’re also fine-tuning the message to the public about how vital these funds are to the growth of Pinellas County.
The county and its municipalities have counted on the revenue from the dedicated 1-percent sales tax to pay for capital projects since 1990. The tax is paid by everyone who spends money in the county with about 1/3 of the revenue generated by tourists and seasonal visitors. The tax is not collected on essentials, such as groceries and medications, and it is only collected on the first $5,000 of a single purchase, which amounts to $50.
CLEARWATER - It seems after years of struggling, Pinellas County’s Local Arts Agency has finally found the path to success. This will be the third year that county government has agreed to fund the agency’s operations after several years of it trying to stand on its own.
Creative Pinellas rose from the ashes of the former Department of Cultural Affairs, which was dissolved during the Great Recession. Money left in the account, about $300,000 went to Creative Pinellas in 2012, as seed money to take over as the Local Arts Agency, an independent nonprofit organization.
Pinellas County government offices, including the Florida Department of Health, will close on Monday, May 29, in observance of Memorial Day.
County parks and Florida Botanical Gardens will remain open on the holiday. Boat ramps and beach access areas will also be open; however Parks and Conservation Resources administrative offices will be closed and beach and boat ramp passes will not be available for sale.
The outdoor areas of the county’s preserves will be open, but the Brooker Creek Environmental Education Center and Weedon Island Cultural and Natural History Center will not. Both centers’ regular operating hours are Thursday - Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Pinellas County is currently experiencing drought conditions, but the rainy season will be upon us in a matter of months. Rain brings the potential for flooding, especially since most of the county is located within a floodplain.
To help citizens plan and prepare for these summer showers and afternoon thunderstorms, the county is reminding residents to review their current insurance policies and consider adding flood insurance to their coverage.
“Anywhere it rains, it can flood. Having a flood insurance policy, whether for the home, business or rental property, is a good preparedness tool for residents regardless of whether or not they live within a designated flood zone,” said Lisa Foster, Pinellas County floodplain administrator.
CLEARWATER - The office of Ken Burke, Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, has released the Citizens’ Guide to County Finances (Citizens’ Guide), also known as the Popular Annual Financial Report and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2016.
The Citizens’ Guide is an easy-to-read financial report designed to help Pinellas County citizens understand where county revenues come from and where the money is spent. The Citizens’ Guide presents a synopsis of the county’s financial health and is based on the CAFR.
The Citizens’ Guide summarizes the essential information contained in the CAFR and provides an overview of the areas of responsibility and the operations of the County. The CAFR outlines the County’s financial position and operating activities for the year in detail and in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles.
Pinellas County’s not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down to 3.6 percent in April, according to the May 19 report from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The rate in March was 3.9 percent and in April 2016, 4.1 percent. Florida reported a rate of 4 percent for April, down from 4.4 percent in March and 4.6 percent in April 2016. The national rate was 4.1 percent in April, down from 4.6 percent in March and 4.7 percent in April 2016.
The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area reported an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent in April, down from 4.1 percent in March and 4.4 percent a year ago. The local MSA lost its first place position for the highest number of over-the-year job gains. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford moved to first place with 42,700 new jobs, a 3.6 percent increase. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater came in second with 33,400 new jobs, a 2.6 percent increase, and Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach placed third with 26,400 new jobs, a 3.2 percent hike.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County commissioners will join the rest of the national in declaring May 21-27 as Emergency Medical Services Week. As a prelude, the 2017 EMS Professionals of the Year were announced during the May 9 meeting.
Paramedic of the Year is David Sims, an employee of Sunstar Paramedics for almost nine years. He currently serves as an assistant supervisor and field training officer. Another Sunstar employee, Reilly Nolan is Emergency Medical Technician of the Year. His job as a safety officer involves teaching and promoting safety procedures. Richard Sherman, 911 Telecommunicator, is the Emergency Medical Dispatcher of the Year. He works as a paramedic assistant supervisor at Sunstar.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners heard 11 budget presentations for fiscal year 2018, including the majority of constitutional officers as well as few other departments, during a May 11 information session.
Some of the news was good and some caused great concern. The best news came from the Elections office and the worst from the Property Appraiser.
The budget request for the Supervisor of Elections is just over $7.5 million, which is less than the budget target the department was instructed to meet by the Office of Budget and Management. Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark took the opportunity to share some of the successes of her office, including that 2016 had been a “remarkable election year in a lot of ways.”
CLEARWATER - The ongoing saga of what to do about the aging Seminole water tower is continuing.
The latest effort to resolve the issue has Pinellas County commissioners asking that the county administrator reach out to the city to see if it would be interested in a lease agreement.
A half dozen Seminole residents, including former tax collector W. Fred Petty, and a city Councilor spoke during the public comment section of the May 9 commission meeting.
The residents favor saving the historical structure with Petty asking the commission to rethink its decision to demolish the structure and put the land up for sale. He said the tower was one of the county’s “outstanding heritage places” and suggested it could produce revenue in the future.
LARGO - Pinellas County officials broke ground May 10 on Palms of Pinellas, a 92-unit mixed-income housing development which will offer a new housing option for the local workforce at various income levels.
The ceremony kicked off construction for the new housing community at 13101 Belcher Road S., Largo. Construction is expected to be completed by summer 2018.
The project is made possible through a partnership of Pinellas County government, the Pinellas County Housing Authority, U.S. AmeriBank, Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, and developer Norstar/Primerica Multifamily Group.
LARGO - Pinellas County is hosting the second annual Veterans Services Information Session on Wednesday, May 24, 9 a.m. to noon, at Pinellas County Parks & Conservation Resources, Magnolia Room, 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo.
For more information, call 727-582-7828.
Veterans Services will hold an educational information session to answer questions and provide advice to veterans and their dependents regarding programs and services for which they may qualify.
CLEARWATER - The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, call letters PIE, reports its 26th consecutive recording-breaking month, setting a new record in April.
PIE served 181,649 passengers, a 24 percent increase over April 2016. Domestic was up 23 percent and International 64 percent for the month. Year-to-date passengers are up 16 percent over 2016.
Allegiant begins new service to Louisville, Kentucky on May 24, bringing the total number of non-stop flights to 57. Sunwing seasonal service to Toronto and Halifax is reporting year to date totals up 26 percent over 2016.
ST. PETERSBURG - Keep America Beautiful, a national nonprofit, recently announced that Keep Pinellas Beautiful would receive a 2017 Cigarette Litter Prevention Program Grant of $10,000 to combat cigarette litter in the county.
Keep Pinellas Beautiful is one of 37 organizations to receive grant funding for 2017, totaling $297,500, through the 2017 Cigarette Litter Prevention Program. The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, now in its 15th year, is the nation’s largest program aimed at reducing cigarette litter. Communities that implemented the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program in 2016 realized an average 60 percent reduction in cigarette litter, an 8 percent increase over the 2015 results.
The objective of this program is to encourage proper disposal of cigarette butts using a three pronged approach to minimize and eliminate their presence and impact within the county’s coastal communities. The objective will be accomplished through installation of cigarette butt receptacles in transition areas and green spaces along the coastline, as well as education of local residents and seasonal visitors through partnerships with coastal hotels and businesses. In addition, Keep Pinellas Beautiful will develop and implement educational messaging highlighting the hazards of the cigarette butt litter in the environment.
The Pinellas County division of Air Quality is issuing an Air Pollution Advisory due to elevated levels of the pollutant ozone. This advisory is effective immediately for today, Wednesday, May 10. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory ailments, the elderly or the very young may want to take this into consideration when planning any outside activities. This alert remains in effect until dusk today; however, ozone levels typically decrease during the night.
Ozone is caused by emissions of certain chemicals called oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic material in the presence of sunlight. These emissions come from industrial facilities, vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents. It is possible that high pressure atmospheric conditions, intense sunlight and brushfires in neighboring counties may have contributed to the elevated levels.
Ozone pollution is a concern during summer months because strong sunlight and hot weather result in harmful ozone concentrations in the air in urban environments, but can still reach high levels during colder months. Yesterday afternoon, Pinellas County experienced an Air Quality Index of “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” for ozone between 5 and 6 p.m. Prior to the current advisory. Pinellas County last experienced an “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” AQI in 2014 due to ozone.
CLEARWATER - St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Creative Pinellas, Clearwater Arts Alliance, North Pinellas Cultural Alliance and Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts will host the Regional Arts Summit - Maximizing the Arts Economic Impact for Pinellas County on Friday, July 21, at the EpiCenter, 13805 58th St. N., Clearwater.
St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and Creative Pinellas joined forces to focus on the economic impact of the arts for Pinellas County. The Arts Alliance conducted 800 countywide audience intercept and organizational surveys throughout 2016, and examined budgets of nonprofit cultural organizations for analysis by American for the Arts Economic Prosperity. The study measures the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture industry and its audiences.
Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, the nation’s advocacy organization for the arts, will be the summit’s keynote speaker. Cohen will present the results of the Arts & Economic Prosperity Study, a key driver for raising the profile of the arts within communities and highlighting the powerful economic contribution that the nonprofit arts sector makes.
Florida Department of Transportation crews, along with Pinellas County Utilities crews, will be working Thursday night, May 11, to connect newly-constructed water supply mains into service along Ulmerton Road in the Feather Sound area.
Customers in the area may experience low water pressure during the installation. The project is scheduled to be completed by Friday morning, May 12.
Customers in the vicinity of Ulmerton Road and its intersections with Roosevelt Boulevard, all of the Feather Sound neighborhood and portions of Carillon will be impacted.
CLEARWATER - The Pinellas County Commission started an initiative last year to enhance the resources and services available to those ages 60 and older. The goal was to become an Age Friendly Community.
The reason: Pinellas is home to many, many senior citizens. Commissioners are committed to helping them age in place and stay in the county.
The county received its Age Friendly designation April 25 from AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson. It now joins a network of 16 communities across Florida, including the city of St. Petersburg, committed to promoting greater health and well-being for people of all ages.