Pinellas County Archives - Page 6 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Tropical Storm Colin claims hundreds of sea turtle nests on Gulf Coast

Besides the toll taken on the humans of Florida, Tropical Storm Colin claimed what may be hundreds of sea turtle nests buried beneath the sands along the state’s Gulf Coast, wildlife advocates say.

“There was damage,” said Joe Widlansky, sea turtle biologist with Sea Turtle Trackers, a group in Pinellas County that monitors the marine reptiles and their nesting habits in the region.

The nesting season just started last month, he said, and about 14 nests have been identified and marked with wooden sticks and ribbon, in Widlansky’s district along the South Pinellas shoreline. Half of those were lost, he said, and between 25 and 50 percent loss may hold true along the Gulf coast from Pasco to Charlotte County.

Nests around Clearwater, he said, appeared to have suffered losses of between 40 and 50 percent.

“Everybody on the west coast,” he said, “took a good hit.”

State wildlife officials also are beginning to assess the damage to the nests, saying high tides and storm surge flooded nests in the Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle to Southwest Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley toured St. George Island near Apalachicola Bay Wednesday, an area where sea turtle nests were said to have sustained the most damage.

“This is a top priority for the agency,” Wiley said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “We want Florida’s sea turtles to have another successful nesting season and we will continue to work with FWC’s marine turtle permit holders to help make that happen.”

At least 79 nests in Charlotte County were destroyed by the storm, representing one in every four, according to a story in Wednesday’s Naples Daily News. Turtle nest monitors there told the newspaper that another 58 nests were flooded, but it appears the nestlings there have survived the storm.

Though the numbers seem dire, sea turtles nest several times before the end of the summer, providing a natural way to propagate even if some nests are destroyed, said Widlansky.

“It’s unfortunate this happened,” he said. “It’s nature.”

But nature also protects the turtles, he said, by allowing them to lay eggs throughout the summer. So, if an early storm hits, like Tropical Storm Colin, there still is time for turtles to go on with their business of making baby turtles.

Nesting season officially begins May 1, but, the month of June typically is the busiest month for turtles laying eggs along the Gulf of Mexico beaches, he said

The eggs more recently produced, he said, have a better chance of surviving flooded nests. In some cases, eggs can survive being submerged five or six hours. Older eggs, in which the embryos are more developed and use more oxygen, are more susceptible to drowning.

Pinellas County Commission bans fracking

County commissioners voted Tuesday unanimously to ban fracking in Pinellas.

“After listening carefully to the latest science and the voices of local residents, Pinellas County Commissioners decided to permanently protect the water, health, and environment of our county from the documented damage of fracking and fracking wastewater,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida.

“This is what true leadership looks like,” she said.

Commissioner Dave Eggers conceded that fracking is unlikely in Pinellas. But, he said, the ban is necessary to make a statement and to try to protect the county’s water.

Fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process to extract natural gas or oil from underground rock. The process, opponents say, uses toxic chemicals that can pollute groundwater and pollute the air and soil. The process also uses water that, environmentalists say, is needed for drinking and other uses. And many of the chemicals used, such as benzene, are known carcinogens.

“Fracking has been an environmental disaster,” Rubiello said.

In passing the ordinance, Pinellas became the 11th county in Florida to ban fracking. The city of St. Petersburg is also considering a ban on fracking and on the storage of fracking wastewater within the city limits.

At one time, it appeared to be unlikely that fracking would be an issue in Florida. But a bill permitting fracking was proposed in the most recent Legislative session. More than 80 counties and cities passed resolutions opposing it and were able to kill the bill. But many fear the issue could come up again in the next session of the Legislature.

The Pinellas ordinance will become effective 10 days after it is received by the Florida secretary of state, county attorney Jim Bennet said. He said that means it will likely become effective sometime next week.

Pinellas County asks for suggestions on spending $7.1 million in BP funds

Pinellas residents have another chance to tell county commissioners how to spend $7.1 million in BP settlement money.

The county has created a website,, to gather ideas. The site, which will be available until the end of June, has a short survey for residents to fill out.

In July 2015, the county accepted a settlement from BP of $7.1 million. The agreement represents a one-time revenue source. Once these funds are expended, there will not be any additional related monies.

This is not the first time the county has asked residents for their thoughts on spending the money. Commissioners received more than 800 responses from a citizen engagement survey. Now they hope to get more defined ideas with this second survey.

Project ideas should be closely tied to these following guiding principles:

  • Funded projects should be aligned with the commission’s Doing Things Strategic Plan, and should be planned or funded by Dec. 31, 2017.
  • BP funds will be used for one-time-only expenditures that have a substantial and visible community impact.
  • Funded projects should support Pinellas’ economic and environmental sustainability, and/or create a sense of place.
  • Unincorporated area projects throughout the county will be given priority.
  • Use of county funding for projects within a city will require city participation.

Condo sales solid in Tampa Bay real estate market

Condo sales throughout the Tampa Bay area are bouncing back after their disastrous crash a decade ago.

The Tampa Bay Times reported in Pinellas and Pasco counties, more condos were sold in April than in any month since 2012, as far back as the Florida Realtors organization tracks sales. Hillsborough had its second best month in April, topped only by a bumper showing last June.

In Hillsborough, which had less than a three-month supply of condos in April, the desire to be near a revitalized downtown Tampa is driving up prices.

A penthouse in Harbour Island’s Grandview sold last month for $1.975 million, the most of any Hillsborough condo in the last six months and among the highest prices paid since the peak of the boom in 2005.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Metropolitan Planning Organization, Pinellas Planning Council are now Forward Pinellas

forward_pinellas_logo_colorConsider it a marriage of convenience, of sorts.

In 2014, a special act of the Florida Legislature combined the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization and Pinellas Planning Council into a single entity with a 13-member governing board of elected officials representing the different communities in Pinellas County.

After extensive consideration about its mission, role and responsibilities, the organization has been officially rebranded as Forward Pinellas.

As a transportation planning organization, Forward Pinellas’ identity conveys motion, with a focus on helping residents and businesses get to and from the places they need to go. As a land use planning organization, the name acknowledges the need for redevelopment to support a dynamic and resilient economy. The logo itself represents the complex and changing environment of land, water and transportation that connects everyone in the county.

“The organization we’ve created lays a solid foundation for Pinellas County to move forward with better transportation and sensible redevelopment,” said St. Petersburg City Councilmember Jim Kennedy, chair of Forward Pinellas. “That begins with our emphasis on a vision for how the U.S. 19 corridor functions in the northern and southern parts of our county, enhancing beach community access, and preparing a master plan for connectivity in the Gateway/mid-County area.”

The new branding of the combined local planning organizations in Pinellas County reflects a streamlining of processes and an elimination of redundancies, while also conveying the county’s vision of moving forward.

“We’re using this branding to emphasize our role in guiding how Pinellas County and its communities grow, adapt and plan for the future,” said Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas. “We need to be smart, fiscally responsible and focused on addressing the unique needs of the county and Tampa Bay to make transportation and our economy work for everyone.”

Forward Pinellas is on Twitter as @ForwardPinellas and is also active on other social media platforms. Its next board meeting, scheduled June 8, will include the unveiling of the new website, Full website functionality will follow later in June. Forward Pinellas plans a broad community engagement effort to build awareness and involve the public in decision making for countywide transportation and redevelopment.

Pinellas property values jump nearly 8 percent

Property values across Pinellas County went up by about 7.7 percent, according to Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.

The figures are estimates; final numbers are due July 1. The estimates are necessary because they are the numbers that county and city officials use when starting to build their budgets.

Estimates are necessary because they are the numbers that county and city officials use when starting to build their budgets.

While the County saw a 7.7 percent increase overall in the taxable value of real property, some Pinellas cities weren’t so lucky. Others did better.

On the high end, South Pasadena saw a 10.5 percent increase in the value of taxable real property. Indian Rocks Beach did just about as well with a 10.1 percent increase in taxable real property value.

At the other end of the scale, Belleair saw an increase of 5.7 percent; Safety Harbor, 5.95 percent.

Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park got a boost from annexations.

Clearwater had an 8.09 percent increase in the value of taxable real property. That boost includes annexations that brought in property with a total taxable value of about $3.8 million.

Largo also annexed property with a total taxable value of about $3.9 million, helping that city to a 9.3 percent increase in the taxable value of all real property.

Pinellas Park annexed lands with a total taxable value of about $2.2 million. The overall increase in the value of taxable land there was about 7.1 percent.

County commissioners want Rays to know: ‘We want you to stay in Pinellas’

The news that Tampa Bay Rays officials have discussed nine potential sites for a new ballfield with Tampa and Hillsborough officials was not welcome information among Pinellas commissioners.

It’s time, they said, to make sure the Rays know the county wants them to stay whether it’s in St. Petersburg or elsewhere in Pinellas.

It’s time to talk about other sites in Pinellas, Commissioner Ken Welch said Thursday.

“Those conversations need to be happening now,” he said.

They appointed Welch to represent them on Baseball Forever, a campaign designed to convince the Rays that their current location at Tropicana Field is the best location in Tampa Bay for Major League Baseball. That would involve re-visioning and redeveloping the property. And commissioners agreed County Administrator Mark Woodard and commission chair Charlie Justice should reach out to the Rays.

They discussed inviting Rays officials to make a presentation to them about the team’s wishes. Commissioner Dave Eggers liked that idea: “I think the symbolism is important here to show how much the Rays mean to Pinellas County.”

Pinellas commissioners to county administrator: Find money for school nurses

Much of Thursday’s discussion about Pinellas County’s budget centered on school nurses – or the lack of them in a proposed spending list for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“The school nurses are not in the recommendations,” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard told commissioners.

It was an unpopular omission from the $15.7 million list.

“We’re either going to pay now or later,” Commissioner Karen Seel said. “I’d rather grow healthy children.”

Seel was the driving force behind a proposal to shift some of the money that is raised for the health department so it could fund a dental program for $179,000 and seven LPNs for $264,089. The dental program was on the list. The nurses were not.

The nurses were destined for the seven neediest schools in the Pinellas County School District: Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose, all in St. Petersburg; and Sandy Lane and High Point in Clearwater. All are elementaries. All have a high percentage of poor children.

“These are the schools with the highest poverty level in the county, the greatest need,” school board chair Peggy O’Shea said. “These kids, for a lot of different reasons, don’t have access to health care.”

Pinellas schools receive no funding to pay for school nurses, Superintendent Michael Grego said. While the district does have health clinics at four high schools and some nurses, it cannot afford to pay for them.

“This is a major community issue,” Grego said.

Commissioner Janet Long agreed, saying, “If we don’t look after anybody, we need to take care of our children. They are the future.”

Woodard said he heard their message and would try to find funds for at least some of the nurses.

O’Shea said she hoped the county would be able to fund all seven.

Pinellas tax rate expected to stay the same

Pinellas property owners can expect their county property tax rate to remain the same in the coming fiscal year, according to County Administrator Mark Woodard.

The current tax rate is about $5.28 per thousand dollars of assessed, taxable property value. A homeowner with a house worth $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay about $528 in county property taxes.

Woodard made the prediction Thursday morning during a budget workshop with county commission members. He also unveiled a list totaling $15.7 million in recommended new expenditures for the 2016-17 budget that goes into effect Oct. 1.

“This is not final,” Woodard told commissioners. “This is my seeking your input.”

The budget will not become final until the commission gives its final approval in September. Before then, Woodard said, commissioners will have several opportunities to weigh in and change the overall proposal.

But Thursday’s workshop concentrated on new expenditures that would be added to the overall county budget, which stands at about $2.06 billion for the current fiscal year. Various agencies had requested about $24.1 million in additional funds.

“We don’t have the resources to fund all of those needs and priorities,” Woodard said.

Instead, he recommended funding about $15.7 million of them. These were 30 items he described as constitution an “incremental restoration of services (eliminated in the recent recession) within the resources that are available. This is a balancing act.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was the big winner. About 60 percent of the funding when to items he had requested, including $1.3 million for helicopter maintenance, $2.5 million for training costs, and $5 million for new cars.

The $5 million for the new cars exceeded Gualtieri’s request of $1.8 million for vehicles. But Woodard explained the $1.8 million was a recurring payment for leased vehicles. The $5 million would be earmarked to purchase new vehicles. Once the sheriff’s fleet has converted to owned vehicles, the $1.8 million recurring cost would disappear.

Also on the list: about $1.6 million for services to the homeless, $100,000 for the Lealman Community Redevelopment Agency, $253,000 for recreational programming in the unincorporated area, $155,200 to the Supervisor of Elections for the presidential general election.

Public hearing on proposed Pinellas charter changes went without comment

The first public hearing to gather public comment on proposed changes to the Pinellas County charter went swimmingly.

No one commented. And only one member of the public even showed up.

It took a bit less than 15 minutes to call the meeting of the Charter Review Commission to order, read the six proposed referenda, ask for comment and adjourn.

The CRC has one more public hearing scheduled before a final vote on their report. Then, the report and any proposed changes go to the Pinellas County Commission, then to the November ballot for voters’ approval.

The charter acts as Pinellas’ constitution, laying out the framework for the way county government operates. A charter review commission is appointed every eight years to look over the document and decide if changes should be made. Those changes are subject to voters’ approval.

The CRC is proposing six changes:

  1. Clean up charter language that is outdated or obsolete because of Constitutional law issues or passage of time.
  2. Require county commissioners to appoint CRC members who live in the commissioner’s district.
  3. Give the county’s constitutional officers – sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of the court – say in the hiring, firing and evaluation of the county attorney.
  4. Create a redistricting board that would be convened after each census to provide recommendations on changing election boundaries to be in compliance with changes in the population.
  5. Reduce the number of signatures citizens must get on petitions to place a proposed charter amendment on the ballot and extend the time the citizen has to gather those signatures.
  6. Evaluate the estimated costs or savings of proposed changes to the charter.

The final CRC public hearing on the proposed amendments is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 15 at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

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