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Pinellas County to break up the department that cares for environmental preserves and beaches, and monitors water and air quality

in The Bay and the 'Burg by
David DeCamp reports: County Administrator Bob LaSala has ordered officials to plan to break up the department that cares for environmental preserves and beaches, and monitors water and air quality.

If all the reductions are made, the education centers at Brooker Creek and Weedon Island preserves would be “moth balled,” according to a budget proposal released this week. The same memo by environmental management director Will Davis says it is unclear “what portions, if any” of the preserves would remain open.

The department’s remaining duties would be folded into parks, public works and inspection agencies — after a 30 percent budget cut.

The environmental cuts would amount to 25 of 85 jobs and a $2.3 million reduction in its general fund budget of $7.5 million. It would leave the preserves and environmental agency a shell of previous years — months after they were given the task of enforcing a summertime fertilizer ban.

At the preserve’s educational centers, one person would manage both sites, instead of the current four. Only six of 17 environmental lands staff would stay. Six code enforcement officers would be scrapped, leaving seven officers and a supervisor — and 18-day waits instead of two for service, Davis advised.

Here’s how some of the candidates forthe Pinellas County Commission responded to the cuts:

“We’re a tourist destination — why are we eliminating our eco-tourism?” asked former Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverly Biliris, who recently asked the county to cut commissioners’ individual aides to help spare the centers.

County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who is running for re-election this year against Biliris and three others, said she is “100 percent committed” to finding money to keep the centers open. She suggested partnering with non-profits or other government agencies. Other commissioners have expressed similar intentions.

But she supported the concept of breaking up the environmental management department, though she’s waiting to see the details.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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