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St. Pete retirement communities decry ‘unlawful’ property appraisal, seek tax refunds

Three St. Petersburg retirement communities are accusing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s office of “unlawfully” calculating of property values, leading to overpayment of thousands of dollars on its 2016 tax bill.

In separate lawsuits, owners of the three properties are suing Mike Twitty, as Pinellas County Property Appraiser; tax collector Charles W. Thomas and Leon M. Biegalski, who serves as executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue.

The suits, filed June 19 and 20 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, are for Westminster Suncoast at 1095 Pinellas Point; Westminster Shores at 125 56th Ave. S and Westminster Palms at 939 Beach Dr. NE, all in St. Petersburg.

Each is a “church-based” community owned by Westminster Communities of Florida, a not-for-profit organization based in Orlando.

According to county records, the combined 2016 property tax bill for the three properties was $377,836: Westminster Suncoast (Property Appraiser page) was assessed $69,952.31; Westminster Shores (Property Appraiser page), $172,069.92 and Westminster Palms (Property Appraiser page) $135,803.88.

Westminster Communities is alleging property taxes assessed on each of three retirement communities it owns were based on an appraised value that “greatly exceeds the just value of the subject property.”

The company claims it is because the County Property Appraiser “ignored or did not properly apply the Florida Real Property Appraisal Guidelines” and “unlawfully, systematically, and intentionally substituted his own assessment policy instead of following” state law and guidelines.

Furthermore, they say the Appraiser’s method allegedly was “unrealistic, unjust, excessive, [and] arbitrary.”

Each of the three properties now receives a large property-tax exemption. For instance, although the Property Appraiser estimates Westminster Shores’ market value at $21.6-million, exemptions reduce the taxable amount by roughly two-thirds, bringing it to $7.7-million.

“As a result of the foregoing over-valuation, the 2016 market value and assessed value greatly exceeds the just value of the subject properly,” the suit continues, “and the ad valorem taxes resulting therefrom substantially exceed the taxes which would  have  been  levied  on  the subject  property had it been  properly assessed.”

Westminster, founded in 1954, owns 21 Florida retirement communities with nearly 7,000 residents. Although Westminster paid its assessed 2016 tax bills in full, the company is saying it is not an admission that the tax was the correct amount due.

Westminster is asking the court for a partial refund.

Rick Kriseman: As a father, an obligation to support climate action

Like Dads across the country, this Father’s Day I’m looking forward to receiving some special attention from my two kids. But I’ll also be reflecting on my obligation as a father to protect my children from growing threats like climate change.

We don’t have the luxury of being in denial here in Florida, where rising sea levels are already imperiling coastal property and infrastructure. To turn a blind eye to escalating climate impacts is to say to our kids and grandkids that we really don’t care about their future.

That’s why when Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I joined mayors, governors, university and college leaders, businesses and investors from throughout the nation to declare that “We Are Still In.”

Here in St. Petersburg, we are going further.

Later this month, I will be attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting to share our city’s message that we are committed to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. More than 80 mayors from across the country have endorsed a goal of powering our cities with 100 percent clean and renewable energy. We know that the best way to slow fossil fuel-driven climate change is to repower our economies with clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. Here in the Sunshine State, that’s a no-brainer. Working toward 100 percent clean energy will help ensure that St. Pete remains a ‘city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play.’”

We will continue to support strong climate action and a transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity and health. After all, the facts on the ground (or in the oceans and atmosphere) haven’t changed. Just the politics.

I’m proud of the fact that St. Petersburg has been on the cutting edge of preparing for climate change. We were the first city in Florida to update our land-use plans to comply with the “Perils of Flood” state law, and we are upgrading our infrastructure at a rapid pace. But while we prepare our city to adapt to climate impacts such a rising ocean, more severe storms and heat waves, I’m more determined than ever to do everything I can to help bring about a rapid transition to a clean energy economy that gets to the root of the problem.

Moving quickly toward 100 percent clean, renewable energy will not only help slow climate change, it will improve our air quality, protect our kids’ health, strengthen our economy and create exciting opportunities for today’s workers, and those who have yet to enter the workforce. Solar jobs in Florida increased by 26 percent per year last year, but we’re still far behind where we can and should be. The sky is the limit. Clean, renewable energy produced right here in Florida means more money stays in our communities, rather than being sent to out of state fossil fuel corporations.

While Donald Trump is doing everything he can to keep us bound to 19th-century fossil fuels like coal, and all of its consequences, St. Petersburg and cities and states across the country are recommitting to a clean, healthy, prosperous, clean energy future. For every step backward by the Trump administration, we’ll take two steps forward.

Long after my service as mayor is done, my kids Jordan and Samuel will be living their lives with families of their own. As parents, our most important shared legacy will be the health of the world we are leaving them. Everything we do today to confront climate change with clean, renewable energy is a gift of hope and love to our kids.

___

Rick Kriseman is Mayor of St. Petersburg.

Sundial launches Friday Night Summer Music Series

Sundial, downtown St. Petersburg’s high-profile retail, dining and entertainment center, will offer guests a special treat all summer, with its Friday Night Summer Music Series which begins this Friday.

Each Friday from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. artists will entertain shoppers, happy-hour enthusiasts, and diners. The series showcases some of the best local talents in the Tampa Bay region, with a different musical experience each week.

Acts include DJs, singer-songwriters, folk artists and jazz ensembles.

For updates and a schedule, visit Sundial’s Facebook page or sundialstpete.com.

Starting the series is a local pop-folk duo, Shane & Emily. The duo presents a positive, energetic vibe while incorporating elements of multiple genres into their original music. They travel the country playing venues of all sizes and opening for some of their favorite acts, including Caroline Kole, but they always return home to Tampa Bay.

Other acts include Austen van der Bleek, a local DJ known for creating feel-good atmospheres with an eclectic mix of styles; Shoeless Soul, a genre-bending four-piece band and newcomer to the St. Pete music scene and Jen Lowe, a singer-songwriter and multi-percussionist who has played with artists such as Jason Mraz and Ed Rowland of Collective Soul.

Sundial’s Summer Music Series is sure to add something new and fresh to an already vibrant downtown, and offer an extra incentive for St. Pete residents to visit the popular lifestyle center Friday evenings.

St. Pete to hold 2018 budget open house next week

St. Petersburg city officials are holding an open house next week, giving residents a chance to provide input and learn more about the 2017-18 budget process.

The budget open house is Monday, June 19, starting 6 p.m. at the Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

For the first hour, residents are invited to ask questions and share ideas with Mayor Rick Kriseman, City Council members and administrators. During that time, staff from City Development, Public Safety, Neighborhood Affairs, Public Works, General Government, and Leisure Services departments will be available to speak with those in attendance.

After the breakout session, Budget Director Tom Greene will offer a brief presentation on how the city budget is developed, followed by comments from residents and an opportunity for City Council members to share budget priorities.

Citizens citywide can do their part by way of a brief, one-question survey available through June 30 at stpete.org. The city will rebroadcast the budget open house throughout the summer on StPeteTV, Bright House Channel 641, WOW! Channel 15, and Verizon Fi0s Channel 20.

To access the survey, learn about the 2018 city budget or view budget documents, visit stpete.org.

St. Petersburg’s current operating budget stands at about $248 million. A new budget goes into effect Oct. 1.

St. Pete gets Army Corps of Engineers OK to build new Pier

St. Petersburg has finally received the official OK to rebuild the Pier.

This city received a permit Wednesday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last step to clearing the way for construction on the new Pier.

“The ‘New St. Pete Pier’ will be a dynamic extension of our iconic waterfront park system, and is sure to be enjoyed by residents and visitors from throughout the world for generations to come,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. “My thanks to my team, our government partners, and our community for getting us to this point.”

The 26-acre Pier District includes the pier, which will span 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay. The district also includes the pier approach from Spa Beach to city’s downtown boundary and along the waterfront from Pioneer Park and Beach Drive up to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club.

“With this permit in hand, the next stage of important work begins on our new St. Petersburg Pier,” said City Council Chair Darden Rice. “This is one of many critical steps to ensure the pier will be built in a sound way compatible with lessened impacts on the bay. Like so many others, I am excited to see construction begin on our pier.”

Council Member Karl Nurse added: “St. Pete has gone through an incredibly long process to build our fourth-generation pier. I believe our community will be happy with the new pier and uplands.”

As one of the world’s largest public engineering, design and construction agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is behind many of the nation’s biggest public works projects such as dams, canals and flood protection.

A target date for completion of St. Pete Pier project is the end of 2018.

 

St. Pete to provide free grocery shuttle from Midtown to nearby Wal-Mart starting May 13

To address food insecurity in South St. Petersburg, the city will start offering free transportation from Midtown’s Tangerine Plaza to the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter at Central Plaza.

In February, Wal-Mart closed its Tangerine Plaza Neighborhood Market, one of the few major grocery stores servicing Midtown. The city will offer the free 13-week Midtown Grocery Pilot Program beginning Saturday, May 13 and continue Saturdays in May, June, July and August.

A mini-shuttle bus will transport up to 25 passengers from Tangerine Plaza, 1794 22nd St. S. to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 201 34th St. N., about 2.5 miles.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the shuttle will be for those residents “facing transportation challenges,” and who relied on the former Tangerine Plaza Wal-Mart. The project is part of an effort to focus on food insecurity as the city measures the demand for a future grocery store in the Plaza.

The shuttle schedule will be between the hours of 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. every Saturday starting May 13. There will be four pickups at Tangerine Plaza, unless there is a traffic delay: departing the Plaza on the hour at 10 a.m.; 11 a.m.; Noon; and 1 p.m. The mini-shuttle will leave from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the half-hour: at 10:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; with the last departure at 1:30 p.m.

A driver will arrive at Tangerine Plaza at 9:45 a.m. and wait for passengers in the parking lot area near the overhang of the former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store.

Kriseman said the city will distribute “Healthy St. Pete” cloth shopping bags four shuttle passengers along with a voluntary rider survey, to gauge need and usage of the service.

Rick Kriseman needs to respond forcefully to Rick Baker’s Trumpian ‘St. Petersburg carnage’

It’s been seven years since Rick Baker exited City Hall as its most powerful, successful mayor. Hardly a day has gone by that someone — perhaps this site more so than anywhere else — has wondered whether he’d have to, like Cincinnatus, come in from the fields to save the city he loves.

Today, St. Petersburg received Baker’s response, as he forcefully declared that he would challenge Rick Kriseman in what wrestling promoters would call a loser-leaves-town match.

Before I analyze what I thought was a semi-dystopian speech by Baker, I need to make it clear that SaintPetersBlog, both the site and the publisher behind it, are neutral in this race.

That may be hard to believe given my extensive history with Baker, but I owe it to the readers of SPB — which basically launched in 2009 to improve upon the lackluster coverage by the local media of that year’s mayoral race — to provide the best, most even-handed analysis of this race.

So, for now, my heart may be with Rick Baker, but my mind and keyboard have no allegiance.

It’s with that declaration that I can say today’s launch by Baker was good but not great.

Baker and his fledgling campaign — still building a campaign website, repurposing old logos and slogans, making sure the phone lines don’t go to other candidate’s voicemails — did a solid job building a crowd for the speech. (It deserves extra points for making sure the launch took place early enough in the day so as to avoid the warm Florida sun.)

It was reassuring to see local campaign veterans Nick Hansen and Brigitta Shouppe circulating behind the scenes. Jim Rimes‘ presence means Baker has one of the best in the consulting business to offer strategic guidance.

It’s hard not to chuckle at media consultant Adam Goodman‘s inexhaustible repertoire of making sure everyone knows he is attached to a candidate. But he’s also a pro who knows how to cut a sharp commercial.

Functioning as one part crowd-builder and one part carnival barker, Amscot executive and former mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons never stopped moving as he glad-handed almost everyone at the event. He even tried to be kind to me.

Gibbons: “I hear we’re getting together soon.”

Me: “No, I don’t think so.”

Gibbons: “But <name redacted> mentioned we’d be getting together.”

Me: “No. That won’t be happening.”

Gibbons: “Um … OK.”

Me: “Exactly.”

Standing behind Baker was a coalition as diverse as a big-city parade.

“Look, there’s Wengay Newton!”

“That’s Minister So-and-so!”

“Why is the guy who sells OxyClean standing behind Rick?”

As for Baker’s speech … I really don’t know where to begin other than to say it’s exactly not what I would have wanted Baker to say.

First of all, it was mercilessly too long. By minute thirty, people were done looking at their watches. By minute forty-five, people started worrying about being late to work.

Second, the former mayor employed too many sentences that only served to remind people of his former mayorishness.

Mind you, no one in the crowd was unfamiliar with the encyclopedia of Baker’s many, many accomplishments.

Baker could have had everything done in 20 minutes, just saying: “I got sh-t done.” Not even the most loyal supporter of Rick Kriseman would disagree.

But it was Baker’s view of the present St. Pete that was more alarming than his insistence on focusing on the past.

Like Donald Trump, who stood on the National Mall and bemoaned the “American carnage,” Baker did everything but describe the St. Petersburg carnage.

“They have no successes,” Baker said, before blasting Kriseman for failing to build a new Pier.

City Hall is bleeding money, Baker added. The baseball team is leaving, Baker warned. The black community is ignored, Baker opined.

And running the Sunshine City into the ground, Baker contends, is Kriseman and a coterie of overpaid political appointees accountable to no one.

Oh, and by the way, the entire town is covered in sh-t because Kriseman broke the sewer system.

Not that this isn’t a compelling argument. Undoubtedly, it’s the kind of thing I know Baker has heard, including from me, every day since Kriseman entered City Hall.

But the truth is, St. Pete is doing fine. It has big ticket issues it must solve. And Rick Baker is probably the better executive to solve those issues.

But little about St. Pete is, as Baker said today, “disastrous.”

That’s why, if he wants to win, Kriseman needs to double-down on his criticism of Baker.

Don’t, as John Romano seems to want, keep the race a low-key affair.

Blast, and blast away. Nonstop.

The message is simple. Just as it was simple for Joe Biden when articulating the rationale for Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012.

“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” the Vice President said throughout the 2012 campaign.

“The Rays are still here and a new Pier and sewer system are on the way,” is what Kriseman surrogates should say every day between now and the election.

Meantime, they should knock it off about Baker being against black people because he didn’t support Obama. Didn’t Baker endorse Herman Cain for president? Yes he did, proving that Baker has no issues with a black man in the White House.

As for my advice for Baker, it’s the same as it ever was. Don’t let your candidacy be about you “saving” the city. Again, the city is fine. It can be better, but to return to my Roman Republic reference above, the barbarians are not at the gate.

Voters want a vision of St. Petersburg in 2021, not a nostalgia tour of the city from 2001.

Mike Deeson: If I were king — I would end The Pier project immediately

Although there has been some kind of Pier project in downtown St. Pete since the late 1800s, the city has changed, and the Pier is not needed.

When I first moved to Tampa Bay 35 years ago, downtown was anything but vibrant. The Vinoy, now a crown jewel, was closed, full of broken windows and in search of a developer.

Young people didn’t seek downtown as a destination. The only things the drew people was Spring Training and the inverted pyramid Pier — I could never figure out why.

Back then, St. Petersburg was known for its green benches and (jokingly) was called the home of the newlywed and nearly dead.

But that was then, and this is now; things have changed.

Downtown is alive with outdoor cafes that draw people even during weekday nights … the Vinoy is a world-class hotel … the new Dali and Chihuly museums bring thousands to the city. but there is this little problem called sewage running in the streets and being dumped into Tampa Bay.

The city sewer system is a mess and needs a fix that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars … while the city administration says it can take care of the problem through issuing bonds.

Remember, bonds are like a loan that has to be paid back … and spending money on the Pier is like running out and buying a Rolls-Royce when your roof is leaking.

Now, there is an expense to stopping the Pier project; the city claims it will cost $35 million because of bond obligations it took out for the project … but others, including [St. Pete City] Councilman Karl Nurse, believes it will be much less … But still, even if the administration has wasted $35 million … that is less than half the $80 million it wants to spend on the Pier.

And continuing, in my mind, is throwing good money after bad.

I know Mayor [RickKriseman is hellbent on completing this project, but I believe it is a waste of money, particularly at this time.

It is unnecessary and foolish … and if I were king, it would end today.

 

Charlie Crist to be ‘carved up’ at Suncoast Tiger Bay After Hours April 20

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club often likes to “carve up” politicians for lunch. Next week, they will have one for dinner, too.

Congressman Charlie Crist is the special guest for the Club’s “Tiger Bay After Hours” event Thursday, April 20. The St. Petersburg Democrat will appear at a special evening meeting, which begins 6:30 p.m. at The Hangar Restaurant at the city’s waterfront Albert Whitted Airport downtown.

There will be appetizers and a cash bar. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

As seating will be limited, organizers have announced a firm RSVP deadline of Monday, April 17 – walk-ins will not be accommodated. Tickets are free for Tiger Bay Club members, and $10 for guests.

Reservations are available online. The Hangar is at 540 First St. SE in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Rowdies MLS chances improve as St. Louis rejects soccer stadium plan

Chances St. Petersburg will get a Major League Soccer expansion franchise improved Tuesday after voters in St. Louis rejected a proposal to use public money for a new soccer stadium.

For a city that just lost the NFL Rams, St. Louis residents could just not justify spending $60 million for a new stadium. The stadium plan lost by 3,000 votes, 47 to 53 percent.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he was “’confident’ St. Louis would get an expansion team in the league if the stadium got public financing.”

The league is looking to grow from 24 to 28 teams; two new clubs will be announced this year, teams will begin playing by 2020.

St. Louis was one of about dozen cities, including St. Petersburg, vying for an expansion team.

MLS representative Dan Courtemanche told the Post-Dispatch that the defeat was “clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community.”

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards promised the City of St. Pete that no taxpayer money would be used to expand Al Lang Stadium in his bid for an expansion slot.

Edwards also said he would pay the $150 million expansion fee.

St. Pete is holding a referendum May 2 to ask voters to allow the city to negotiate with Edwards for up to a 25-year lease for Al Lang Stadium. It is an essential part of the Rowdies receiving the MLS bid.

 

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