Redistricting Board vacancies announced

Applications are being accepted to fill up to eleven appointments to the Pinellas County Redistricting Board. The purpose of the board is to develop one or more proposals for the redistricting of the four single-member districts and three at-large districts for presentation to the County Commission.

Applications can be found at www.pinellascounty.org/boards and must be received no later than 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4.

In 2016, the Pinellas County Charter Review Commission recommended, and voters approved, an amendment to the Charter to require a Pinellas County Redistricting Board. See Section 3.04 of the Pinellas County Charter.

The Board is composed of eleven members, appointed by the County Commission. Seven members shall be nominated by each commissioner from among residents of that commissioner’s district. The other four members shall be from the public at-large. No board member may be an elected official. Applicants must reside and be a registered voter in Pinellas County to be considered.

The Charter requires the board to be established within 30 days of receipt of the census data from the state. Once constituted, the board is required to present its proposal(s) to the County Commission no later than 150 days after its first meeting and the County Commission must take action within 60 days of receipt of the proposal(s).

The Board of County Commissioners will review all applications and make their selection at an upcoming Board of County Commission meeting.

Please Note: All material submitted to Pinellas County is subject to the public records law of the State of Florida under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.

Numerous railroad crossing closures set for north county

CSX Transportation will be performing maintenance and repairs to several railroad crossings in north Pinellas County during the second half of January, requiring temporary traffic detours at each site.

Pinellas County Traffic Management is working with Southern Commercial Development LLC, to provide official notification, traffic control and detour signage. Each crossing will be closed for two to five days, depending on the work being performed. In special circumstances where crossings are the only egress for the traveling public, accommodations will be made for these closures.

The following is a tentative list of the closures, but changes are possible once the work begins.

Jan. 19 in Oldsmar: Forest Lakes Boulevard, between Oldsmar Trail and State Street West.

Jan. 20 in Safety Harbor: N. Bay Hills Boulevard, between Flamingo Place and Widgeon Avenue, and County Road 102/Enterprise Road East, between Meander Lane and Beacon Place Drive.

Jan. 21 in Safety Harbor: Marshall Street, between Ninth Avenue North and Glenn Lane; Railroad Avenue, off of Ninth Avenue North near Butler Street; Sixth Street North, between Ninth Avenue North and Packard Court; Fourth Street North/Dr. MLK Jr Street North, between Ninth Avenue North and eighth Avenue North; and Main Street, between Legion Lane and Ninth Avenue South.

Jan. 25 in Clearwater: Fairwood Street, between Park Trail Lane and Ream Wilson Trail.

Jan. 27 in Clearwater: North Highland Avenue, between Pine Brook Drive and Palmetto Street; Palmetto Street, between North Highland Avenue and Palm Terrace Drive; Pedestrian Pathways within Clearwater Country Club; and North Betty Lane, between Eldridge Street and Jackson Road.

Jan. 28 in Clearwater: Greenwood Avenue/North MLK Jr Avenue, between Maple Street and Lee Street; Pennsylvania Avenue, between Eldridge Street and Lee Street; Vine Avenue, between Maple Street and Plaza Street; North Myrtle Avenue/Alternate U.S. 19, between Maple Street and Hart Street; Drew Street, between Northeast Avenue and North Myrtle Avenue/Alt. U.S. 19; Druid Road, between South Myrtle Avenue and South Ft. Harrison Avenue; Jeffords Street, between South Myrtle Avenue and Hamlet Avenue; and Pinellas Street, between South Myrtle Avenue and Hamlet Avenue.

Tentative ballot mailing schedule released for March 9 Municipal Elections

The municipalities of Belleair, Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Gulfport, Kenneth City, Oldsmar, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, Safety Harbor and Treasure Island have scheduled March 9 elections.

The deadline to register to vote is Monday, Feb. 8. For more information, visit votepinellas.com.

The Supervisor of Elections office has released a tentative schedule of when ballots will be mailed to registered voters. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed to military and overseas voters who have requested them on Jan. 22. State law requires the ballots to be mailed at least 45 days prior to an election.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed to domestic voters who have requested them on Feb. 2. State law requires they be mailed between 40 and 33 days prior to an election.

Absent military and overseas voters include all active-duty military, their spouses and dependents currently absent from their Pinellas County places of residence, and civilians who are U.S. citizens residing outside the United States.

Domestic voters are legal residents of Pinellas County, including civilian voters and active-duty military members who vote in Pinellas County.

Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received. To request a mail ballot, visit VotePinellas.com, call 727-464-VOTE (8683), or email MailBallot@VotePinellas.com. The deadline to request that a ballot be mailed is Saturday, Feb. 27, at 5 p.m.

Mail ballots must be received at one of the Supervisor of Elections Offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day, March 9 Voters are advised to allow at least one week for their ballots to be returned by mail to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Voted mail ballots cannot be accepted at polling places on Election Day, though voters can turn them in to a poll worker and vote their ballot in person. Voters are encouraged to request a mail ballot.

As allowed by state law, the municipalities have chosen not to conduct early voting.

The following municipalities have canceled their elections because the number of qualified candidates did not exceed the number of offices up for election: Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach.

Four PSTA Bus Operators Test Positive for COVID-19

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) received notification from four bus operators, that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

One of the four last reported to work on Jan. 1. The 14 days prior the operator drove the following route:

The first bus operator last reported to work on Friday, January 1st, 2021. The 14 days prior to that time the operator only drove the following routes:

• Route 78 on Dec. 21.

• Route 52 on Dec. 21.

• Route 66 and Route 78 on Dec. 22.

• Route 18 & Route 78 on Dec. 24.

• Route 79 on Dec. 25.

• Route 18 and 14 on Dec. 26.

• Route 19 on Dec. 28, 29, 30 and 31.

• Suncoast Beach Trolley on Jan. 1.

The second bus operator last reported to work on Jan. 10. The 14 days prior to that time the operator drove the following routes:

• Route 30 on Dec. 28, 29 and 30.

• Suncoast Beach Trolley on Jan. 5, 6, 7 and 8.

• Route 65 on Jan. 10.

The third bus operator last reported to work on Jan. 14. The 14 days prior to that time the operator drove the following routes:

• Route 52 on Jan. 1.

• Suncoast Beach Trolley on Jan. 2.

• Route 38, 75 and 79 on Jan. 3.

• Route 61 and 18 on Jan. 4, 5 and 6.

• Route 38 and 75 on Jan. 7.

• Route 61 on Jan. 9.

• Route 78 on Jan. 11, 12, 13 and 14.

The fourth bus operator also last reported to work on Jan. 14. The 14 days prior, the operator drove the following routes:

• Route 23 and 60 on Jan. 13.

• Route 18 on Jan. 14.

PSTA does not believe any passengers came in contact with the drivers, who remained socially distant from all passengers. However, anyone who feels like they experience symptoms should seek medical advice.

The operators have received medical treatment.

PSTA requires riders to wear protective face coverings and to use transit for essential travel only. Essential travel means taking trips to work, hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, food distribution centers, schools, to provide care for family members, and other similar destinations.

In the middle of March 2020, PSTA announced it is enforcing rear-door boarding only, except for those with mobility devices. Rear-door boarding and temporarily going fare-free reduces crowding at the farebox and limits exposure between passengers and bus operators.

In addition, bus operators have the discretion to limit the number of riders on their bus to no more than 15 people at a given time. PSTA is supplying bus operators with gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

In total, including non-public facing employees and service providers like Jolley Trolley and CareRide, PSTA has 44 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

For more information, visit psta.net.

Pinellas County awarded grant for smart transportation technologies

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County has been selected to receive $4.6 million in federal grant funding for the research and application of smart transportation technologies.

The Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, supports innovative solutions that use cutting-edge technologies to improve mobility and safety.

The county will use the grant funding toward its Pinellas Connected Community project and expanding its smart city data platform.

Planned system enhancements for the existing Advanced Transportation Management System/Intelligent Transportation System include accelerating deployment of connected vehicle infrastructure along several key corridors; development of a centralized smart cities database for collection, dissemination and use of real time information to improve the safety and operation of the transportation network; improve pedestrian and bicycle safety with enhanced detection systems; and advancements in communications with road users regarding the status of the network.

“The Pinellas Connected Community project will ultimately improve connectivity, reduce congestion, and enhance safety throughout the County,” said Ken Jacobs, Transportation Division Director. “Investing in advanced transportation technologies will ensure that the County’s transportation network is well prepared to integrate future developments.”

Pinellas County was one of only 10 agencies selected to receive ATCMTD grant funding. The Pinellas Connected Community project is a partnership among the Florida Department of Transportation, city of Clearwater, city of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Forward Pinellas.

St. Pete-Clearwater International releases 2020 passenger report

CLEARWATER — The beginning of 2020 started out very strong at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, aka PIE, with January and February passenger increases over 2019 of 7% and 14%, respectively.

The first flight cancellation due to COVID-19 came on March 17. Domestic traffic was down 39% for the year, and International traffic was down 52% in 2020. December passenger traffic was down 39% over December 2019.

Allegiant announced a new route to PIE with Fargo, North Dakota beginning Feb. 11. Allegiant flies 52 non-stop routes plus PIE has charter flights to Gulfport-Biloxi on Sun Country Airlines for the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. International flights on Sunwing are currently suspended.

The airport’s Covid-19 Action Plan is ongoing with face coverings required in the terminal.

Habitat for Humanity, Sheriff’s Office partner to offer new community policing course

CLEARWATER — Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties is proud to announce the addition of a new course to its Homeownership Program curriculum in partnership with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“Community Policing & You” will provide Habitat homeowners with tools to increase their knowledge on crime prevention, safety and community policing.

Habitat homeownership candidates must demonstrate a need for adequate shelter; the ability to pay back a zero-interest loan and be willing to partner with Habitat to invest 350 to 450 “sweat equity” hours and complete 20 homeownership classes.

The education curriculum is designed to provide skills and knowledge to be a successful homeowner; tools that a traditional home buyer might not have. They learn how to budget, how to stay away from predatory lending, and how to be a good neighbor. Eight of these required classes revolve around the financial portion of being a homeowner.

The new course, “Community Policing & You,” will be available to Habitat homeowner candidates on Jan. 27.

“At Habitat, our work calls us to change lives and perspectives in community in which we live. In partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, we’re confident that this new course will help do just that by strengthening community connections, transforming misguided perceptions about police and policing, and be an avenue for positive community change”, said Mike Sutton, president and CEO of the Habitat Pinellas and West Pasco.

The “Community Policing & You” course will be led by Deputy Will Lawson, and subject matter will include Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED); knowing your neighbors/lighting/ general safety tips; community policing and will provide local community resources.

“We’re excited to strengthen our partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties by providing ‘Community Policing & You’, a new educational opportunity for Habitat homeowners”, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “This partnership furthers our commitment to Community Oriented Policing, while providing PCSO with yet another way to positively impact the community.”

The course will empower homeowners and their children to get hands on experience with their course material. Children of homeowner candidates now have a new way to contribute to their parent’s sweat equity requirement by engaging in a local initiative such as the My Brothers/Sister Keeper initiative, Teen Police Academy and mentorship. Habitat homeowner candidates also have new opportunities to earn sweat equity hours though engaging in the Citizens Academy or other programs.

Since 1985, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has served over 850 families and individuals through its new home buyer and exterior repair programs using locally raised funds. Volunteers and the future homeowners construct the homes, which are sold at no profit and financed with a zero-interest loan.

Mortgage monies are used to build even more homes, making each donation to Habitat a perpetual legacy to the community. Habitat believes that homeownership contributes to family stability, leading, in turn, to community stability.

Additionally, the affiliate raises funds through their two ReStores, home improvement outlets where donated household and building items are sold to the public. For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, call 727-536-4755 or visit www.habitatpwp.org.

Kids Tag Art Pinellas gets creative with virtual awards ceremony

LARGO — Kids Tag Art Pinellas celebrated the imaginations of fifth grade students during its first-ever virtual awards ceremony at Largo High School on Jan. 14.

2021 marks the sixth consecutive year for the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program, which is a partnership with the Pinellas County Tax Collector and Pinellas County Schools. Funds are raised for local elementary art classrooms by encouraging fifth grade students to design their own, front-facing vanity plates during art class. These plates are then sold to the public at kidstagartpinellas.org, with 100% of the proceeds returning to the participating art classrooms.

The winning artwork is selected by a panel of judges made up of retired art teachers. Each Award of Excellence winner receives a special certificate and medal to mark their achievement. Program sponsors select designs to receive special honors by choosing their favorite design or best work from a themed contest. Sponsor Choice winners receive a framed copy of their design on a metal tag along with a swag bag full of goodies.

The coveted top honor, the Tax Collector Choice Award, was selected by Tax Collector Charles W. Thomas. This year's winner, Oliver O. from Curlew Creek elementary, masterfully drew a manatee and a scuba diver. In addition to a framed tag, Oliver won four tickets to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a Cicis Clearwater pizza party for four and a Tampa Bay Lightning hat signed by number 17, Alex Killorn.

"I selected this design because of both the artistic skill of the young artist who created it and because it is the perfect representation of life in Pinellas County - where our beautiful beaches and their inhabitants are always present in the lives of our residents," Thomas said in a press release.

The program relies heavily on support from local businesses and when the pandemic hit, the future of Kids Tag Art Pinellas was unknown.

"As we began planning for this year's Kids Tag Art, we were hopeful, but unsure, of what kind of response we would get from both the schools and the sponsors, as COVID-19 had hit our community pretty hard," Thomas said. "However, I am pleased to say that everyone really stepped up and that during a time when much was lost, this community still chose to give."

More than 1,100 students from all over the county participated in this year's program and the tax collector's office raised more than $30,000 in donations alone from generous local sponsors. Since its inception, more than $200,000 has been raised by Kids Tag Art Pinellas for local elementary art classrooms and programs. The winning tags from each year are put on display at tax collector offices throughout the county.

In addition to tag sales, Kids Tag Art Pinellas helps to bridge the elementary art funding gap by collecting donations from community sponsors like Platinum Sponsor CenterState Bank and other various sponsors to include, Tag Agency of Pinellas, Direct Mail Systems, Florida Heart Research Foundation, Bill 2 Pay, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Office & Flooring Worx, Lauren's Kids, Cicis Clearwater, Motor Vehicle Network, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, LifeLink, the Tampa Bay Lightning and DPrint.

To find out more about the program, or to become a sponsor, visit kidstagartpinellas.org. Follow agency updates about Kids Tag Art Pinellas on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @PinellasTC.

The full awards ceremony can be viewed by the public at https://youtu.be/AdFnlWZgy9Y.