CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch released his second state of the county address Aug. 2. Topics include next year’s budget, emergency medical services, transit and surface water management.
“This address is part of our ongoing effort to help our citizens stay connected with their local government,” Welch said in a press release. “It’s a way of keeping our citizens up to date with important issues as initiatives and projects move forward throughout the year.”
Welch began his address with an update on development and the approval process for the fiscal year 2014 budget, which he describes as “one of the main responsibilities of the commission.” The $1.7 billion proposed budget is available for review at www.pinellascounty.org/budget.
“There is still time to weigh in on next year’s budget,” Welch said. “From now through early September, the Commission will receive additional public comment on the 2014 budget, and we encourage your feedback via the website, by calling the budget office at 727-464-3596, or by attending and speaking at one of our Commission meetings or work sessions.”
Two public hearings on the budget are scheduled. The first is Thursday, Sept. 5, and the second and final hearing is Tuesday, Sept. 17. Both begin at 6 p.m. in the fifth floor Assembly Room at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.
Emergency management services
“One of the most important budget challenges facing our county involves our emergency medical services, or EMS fund,” Welch said. “EMS is a vital service provided by the county in partnership with our cities and fire districts, and with our ambulance provider, Paramedics Plus doing business as Sunstar.”
The county’s EMS system responds to more than 136,000 calls for emergency medical assistance each year.
“When you dial 911 for a medical emergency in Pinellas County - world class medical response is only minutes away,” Welch said. “The reality is however, that while the system is clinically excellent, it does face fiscal challenges due to a number of factors, including the decline in property values in recent years, combined with an increase in the cost of EMS services, including personnel, fuel costs, and medical supplies.”
Welch promised to update the public in his November address about efforts to implement a plan by consultant Fitch and Associates that could reduce the cost of EMS. For more information, visit www.pinellascounty.org and look for the link to the Fitch Report in the Special Interest section.
“One thing about our community that is not yet world class is our system of public transportation,” Welch said. “This is especially true in the area of public transit – where Pinellas and the broader Tampa Bay region lag behind every other major metropolitan area in the United States.”
He provided an update on the transportation and economic development plan, and the community transportation conversation – GreenLight Pinellas.
“The foundation of this initiative is a November 2014 referendum for a 1 percent sales tax to modernize our bus system (PSTA), and add light rail connections between Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park, Gateway and St. Petersburg, with an eventual connection to Tampa,” Welch said. The plan also includes the elimination of the current PSTA property tax. For more information, visit GreenLightPinellas.com.
Surface water management
“An important part of our county’s infrastructure is our surface water management program,” Welch said. “Surface water management entails two important focus areas – water quality and storm water management. While many Pinellas cities have a dedicated funding source for surface water management, the county does not. With higher federal and state standards for water quality, combined with an aging infrastructure of pipes, ditches and drains in the unincorporated area, the time has come for Pinellas County to address the issue of water quality and storm water management in a more effective and sustainable way.”
The commission is considering levying a dedicated fee to property owners in the unincorporated areas to pay for a comprehensive surface water management program. Welch said the fees would provide money to repair and refurbish older sections of stormwater pipe, dating back to 1978, which is at “high risk of failure.”
“The program will extend the life of the entire stormwater drainage system and improve the health of our environment,” he said.
If the commission approves the new fee, it would become effective in October. The 2014 fiscal year begins Oct. 1. For more information, visit www.PinellasCounty.org, and click the Surface Water Assessment link in the Special Interest section.