The Florida Department of Transportation is changing the way it designs roadways to meet the needs of transportation users of all ages and abilities, including cyclists, freight handlers, motorists, pedestrians and transit riders.
Stephen Benson, FDOT’s government liaison administrator, updated members of Forward Pinellas July 12 with the latest on the Complete Streets policy adopted by FDOT in September 2014. The policy specifies a method of design that promotes safety, quality of life and economic development.
FDOT plans to coordinate with local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, transportation agencies and the public to provide Complete Streets throughout the state’s highway system.
CLEARWATER - Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton provided an update to the board July 12 about the agency’s many initiatives and some of the accomplishments made during the first six months of 2017.
It has now been three years since the Florida Legislature in 2014 approved a plan to merge the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council. The new agency changed its name to Forward Pinellas in June 2016.
Since that time, much progress has been made improving the county’s transportation and land use by the merged agency. Blanton highlighted a number of major initiatives currently in the works, including SPOTlight, which focuses on areas where land use and transportation needs to be strongly coordinated.
CLEARWATER - Forward Pinellas Chairman and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni made it clear that the agency would “live within its means” after the board unanimously approved the fiscal year 2018 budget and tentative millage rate for the Pinellas Planning Council July 12.
Rodney Chatman, Planning Division manager, explained that Forward Pinellas, which is a merged agency with functions from the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council, has two sources of revenue.
The PPC is funded by ad valorem (property) taxes. The MPO receives its money from state and federal grants according to federal guidelines and is on a two-year cycle. The Forward Pinellas Board only is responsible for approving the PPC budget and millage rate.
CLEARWATER - St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport reported the biggest June in history with an 11 percent increase in passenger traffic compared to last year. The airport served 195,060 passengers.
Officials report a year-to-date 14 percent passengers over 2016. PIE served more passengers in the first six months of 2017, which is more than in all of 2013.
New service has been announced to five new cities: Norfolk, Virginia, starting Oct. 4; Providence, Rhode Island, Oct. 27; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Oct. 13; Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona, Nov. 15; and Ogdensburg, New York (Ottawa, Canada), Nov. 16.
Gov. Rick Scott recently announced that 18,146 fewer crimes had occurred statewide in 2016 as compared to the previous year. Florida’s crime rate fell to a 46-year low.
Scott and other state officials attribute the reduction in crime to the work being done by law enforcement and the courts.
“The continued decline in Florida’s crime rate is a testament to the effective police work performed daily by our brave law enforcement officers and the great work of state prosecutors securing strong sentences for criminals,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
As local governments continue work on next year’s budgets, they’ll have more money to spend - thanks to ever-increasing property values throughout Pinellas County.
Property Appraiser Mike Twitty certified the 2017 preliminary tax rolls July 1, which showed increases in every category - just value real property, taxable value real property, net taxable value for new construction and taxable value for tangible personal property.
The county’s General Fund budget will benefit from a 7.97 percent boost in total taxable values. The dollar value of more than $5.43 billion includes an 8.08 percent gain in real property tax values plus increases in new construction and tangible personal property values.
CLEARWATER - As Pinellas County Commissioners and staff work toward preparing a balanced budget for fiscal year 2018, two pressing needs have come to the forefront - money for services for children and senior citizens.
For children, the need is additional funding for school nurses. For seniors it is a variety of services aimed at improving quality of life and helping them live at home for as long as possible. As sources of federal and state funding dry up, commissioners are looking to tap the local well to pay for these necessities.
Requests from commissioners and others for extra spending money in next year’s budget for a variety of needs - not just for children and seniors - added up to nearly $46.6 million. Problem is, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that only $9.1 million will be available to meet those requests. Staff is recommending that requests be pared down to meet projected revenue and looking for alternatives to spending cash.
ORLANDO - The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office received third place recognition for its traffic safety initiatives and programs at the 2017 Florida Law Enforcement Challenge awards ceremony July 7 at the Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando.
The Florida Law Enforcement Challenge is a Florida Law Enforcement Liaison program funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Florida Department of Transportation. Every year, the Florida Law Enforcement Liaison Program rewards the best overall traffic safety programs in Florida.
Scams have a way of resurfacing every so often and deed scams are currently in the spotlight in Pinellas County.
“Unfortunately, it seems to rear its ugly head every few years,” said Ken Burke, Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller.
Pinellas County residents have once again started receiving official-looking letters emphasizing the importance of keeping a certified copy of your property deeds. However, this seemingly informative letter that primarily targets new home owners comes with the hefty price tag of $89. The catch is simple - it’s a solicitation scam.
LARGO - Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recently announced the launch of a Discovery Day program to provide children the opportunity to take a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at the sheriff's office.
Participants will receive a welcome from PCSO staff before separating into groups and experiencing four "education stations." These stations will include vehicle displays, a modified version of the Physical Abilities Test course to see if they have what it takes to be a deputy sheriff, a hands-on crime scene investigation experience and the opportunity to take on the Targeted Response Against Distracted Driving course.
"We launched the Sheriff's Teen Citizens Academy a few years ago and have had a lot of success with it, but as we're out there (in the community) we hear from parents with children who have a lot of interest in law enforcement but aren't old enough for the teen program," said Gualtieri. "This program will give younger kids the opportunity to learn more about law enforcement and most importantly, have positive interactions with our members in the process."
ST. PETERSBURG - Duke Energy meteorologists are forecasting slightly above normal temperatures this summer in Florida, which can cause a seasonal spike in customers’ electric bills.
Duke Energy Florida urges customers to take control of their energy use by making simple, energy-efficient changes in their homes. Follow these 10 low-cost to no-cost energy-efficiency tips to save on your energy bill all summer long:
- Set your AC to the highest comfortable setting. Every degree increase saves you about 5 percent in cooling costs. Energy Star recommends a minimum set point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Florida Association of Counties presented Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, with a Legacy Award during the 2017 FAC Annual Conference & Exposition in Palm Beach County. The Legacy Award is presented to legislators who have demonstrated a commitment to, and support of, local governments throughout their career in the Florida Legislature.
“I was very honored to receive this prestigious award from county commissioners who are in the front lines in keeping government responsible and responsive to the people of Florida”, said Latvala, a multiple time award recipient from the Florida Association of Counties.
“It is critical to have partners in the legislature who understand the importance of home-rule and fight for their communities”, said FAC Executive Director Ginger Delegal, “We are proud to recognize Sen. Latvala’s partnership and his steadfast dedication to putting policy above politics.”
The rainy season is here, which is good news for the local mosquitos. Standing water is important to the life cycle of the incessant bloodsuckers.
Water serves as the birthing room and nursery where the larvae can live until they become adults. It only takes four days for water left in flowerpots, garbage cans, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires, buckets and the like to become prime breeding areas. The females, which are the only ones that take a blood meal, only need a ¼ to ½ inch of water for their larvae to survive.
SEMINOLE - The park surrounding the Seminole Water Tank Station is now closed as conractors hired by Pinellas County Utilities prepare the station for demolition. Site preparation work began the morning of July 5.
A pipe contractor hired by Utilities is currently locating supply lines to be capped before a demolition contractor begins work. Fencing will be installed around the perimeter of the property within the next few weeks. The station, which is owned by Utilities, has been inoperable and unneeded since 2012.
The station was once part of water distribution infrastructure operated by Utilities. It was built in the 1950s, used throughout several decades and taken out of service when new utility technology made it obsolete. However, ongoing annual maintenance costs amount to more than $13,000, compounded by deferred maintenance expenses estaimated at $125,000. The demolition will save Utilities rate payers money and prevent continuing deterioration of the tower with the potential to create a public safety hazard.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County staff presented its list of proposed fee changes June 13 as part of the preparation process for the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Three considerations are involved in setting fees, including making sure they cover the cost of the service being provided, as well as remaining competitive and affordable. User fees made up about 2.8 percent of the General Fund budget and brought in just over $14.575 million in fiscal year 2016.
The good news is that staff is not asking to add any new fees to General Fund categories for FY 2018; however, there is an ask for changes that would amount to an estimated $204,000 in additional revenue. The majority of the increase comes from park services and includes a proposed fee increase of $4.50 for Area 1 tent sites and Area 2 camper/trailer sites at Fort De Soto, and $4.50 increase in cancellation fees for those premium camping locations.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 will include nearly $176 million to pay for capital improvement projects.
The majority, $144.5 million comes from the Penny for Pinellas infrastructure tax, with another $17.1 million coming from grants, $6.4 million from local option fuel taxes, $5.8 million from other revenue and fees and $2.1 million from tourist development taxes.
County staff recently updated commissioners with the latest information on the 10-year Capital Improvement Program including spending plans in five categories - transportation, public safety, physical environment, general government/housing/economic development and culture and recreation.
CLEARWATER - After months of working on a plan to restrict medical marijuana manufacturing and dispensaries with zoning rules, Pinellas County Commissioners opted June 20 to abandon staff’s work and take no action.
State lawmakers passed a bill during the special session, which ended June 9, that essentially removed local control. Senate Bill 8A delegates the authority to regulate cultivation, manufacturing and delivery to the state. It does allow local government to regulate retail dispensaries, but only two options are available: an outright ban or enforcement of requirements that are the same for pharmacies.
Pinellas County government offices will be closed on Tuesday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. In addition to being closed for the July 4th holiday, the Pinellas Clerk of the Court, Tax Collector and Property Appraiser offices will also be closed on Monday, July 3.
The courts of the Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco) will not be in session Monday, July 3 or Tuesday, July 4, except for first-appearance advisory hearings and emergencies.
County parks, boat ramps, beach access areas and the Florida Botanical Gardens will remain open. However, Parks and Conservation Resources administrative offices will be closed and beach and boat ramp passes will not be available for sale.
CLEARWATER - Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors today approved the agency’s fiscal year budget with no wholesale rate increase. The 2018 budget maintains a wholesale drinking water rate of $2.56 per 1,000 gallons for the seventh consecutive year.
“Tampa Bay Water’s board is committed to providing clean, safe and reliable water at an affordable price,” said Christina Sackett, Tampa Bay Water’s chief financial officer.
Tampa Bay Water is projecting a 7.2 million gallon per day increase in regional water demand, 4.4 percent more than 2017. The increased demand provides enough revenue to offset an additional $1.6 million needed for fixed and variable costs due to the increase in demand.