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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Chamber: Hillsborough commission should revisit 20-year transportation tax

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce wants Hillsborough County Commissioners to revisit putting a 20-year sales tax for transportation on the November ballot.

The commission rejected a half-cent sales tax referendum last month. But almost immediately after that vote, some commissioners, businesses and community members started advocating for other options, such as a 15-year plan.

The chamber is the latest group to urge commissioners to reconsider asking voters to approve a transportation sales tax, this time for at least 20 years.

“Rather than allowing residents to vote on an option of at least 20 years, the Board of County Commissioners is now considering a 15-year option,” the chamber said in a release Thursday. “This is an insufficient response to our community’s transportation needs and we urge our County Commissioners to revisit their prior actions and support the option of a half-cent sales tax for a duration of at least 20 years.

“Voters should have the right to make the decision on the funding of our future transportation options and our elected officials have the responsibility of giving them a viable solution.”


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Atlanta and Texas lap Rays with new stadium plans

Remember 2007? The splashy announcement about a new baseball stadium on the waterfront? Remember the Sail?

It's been a long time since Tampa Bay baseball fans had a chance to dream about new digs. Yes, the team is evaluating sites now. And decision is expected sometime in the next six to eight months after the team reached a January agreement with the St. Petersburg City Council to explore other spots in the region.

And, by the end of September, HKS, a New York firm, will have a master plan for Tropicana Field's 85 acres that will feature a stadium as part of the redevelopment. They're in the stadium business so some splashy renderings of a new ballpark might well be delivered, too.

Meawhile, two Major League Baseball teams -- the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers --- are moving ahead with new stadiums. Both of their current homes were built after the Trop: Globe Life Park opened in 1994; Turner Field in 1996. 

The Braves will play in neighboring Cobb County next season. The turnaround from announcement to halfway mark has been speedy, although the process has come under fire for its secrecy, lack of a public vote and how to pay for a pedestrian bridge across I-285. …

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Tampa Bay Express clears latest hurdle

Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.


Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.

Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion project that will revamp 50 miles of the interstate, overcame its latest hurdle Tuesday when a policy committee voted to move forward with the recommended five-year plan.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee reviewed the Transportation Improvement Program -- the group’s list of transportation projects planned for the next five years which it must approve annually -- and voted unanimously to pass it up the chain to the full MPO board. The MPO is expected to vote on approving the five-year plan (and, thus, TBX) during a June 22 public hearing.

The audience at MPO meetings is usually stacked with anti-TBX protesters. Nearly 10 people spoke during public comment Tuesday, but, this time, most of them were members of the business community who supported the massive interstate project which will also add toll lanes to otherwise free roads.

“TBX is a tremendous opportunity,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance.”It gives us a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to make new connections in Westshore.” …

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Could Hillsborough commissioners put 30-year transportation tax back in play?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller raised the prospect that a 20- or 30-year sales tax could be brought back to life.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller raised the prospect that a 20- or 30-year sales tax could be brought back to life.

TAMPA — There have been a lot of strange and surprising twists and turns in Hillsborough County’s ongoing saga to pass a transportation funding plan.

So just file this tidbit away for a later date.

At a transportation workshop today, Commissioner Les Miller asked County Attorney Chip Fletcher whether the board could still pass a half cent sales tax for 20 years or 30 years. Recall, commissioners voted 4-3 in April against both those proposals.

It seems they can.

As Fletcher noted, the commission’s rules of order state: “Upon motion by any Commissioner, the Board may consider an action that did not pass in a prior meeting.”

Commissioners are scheduled to meet June 9 to decide whether or not to raise the sales from 7 percent to 7.5 percent for a duration of 15 years to pay for roads and transit . The vote to consider a 15-year tax was a surprise that brought back to life a sales tax hike that many thought was dead after the April vote.

Apparently, the 20- and 30-year option could be revived as well. Miller was a strong advocate for a 30-year tax. …

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Hillsborough homeless count drops nearly 6 percent from 2015

Volunteer Melissa Brass interviews Robert Gatlin at a park in downtown Tampa during Hillsborough County's annual homeless count in 2013. This year, the most recent survey found 1,817 homeless individuals, a drop of nearly 6 percent from the 2015 count.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times (2013)

Volunteer Melissa Brass interviews Robert Gatlin at a park in downtown Tampa during Hillsborough County's annual homeless count in 2013. This year, the most recent survey found 1,817 homeless individuals, a drop of nearly 6 percent from the 2015 count.

The total number of homeless people in Hillsborough County dropped nearly 6 percent to 1,817 since last year, according to the county’s annual count of individuals and families on the street or in shelters.

To do the count, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative had 330 volunteers fan out across the county, covering streets, alleys, spaces under bridges, wooded campsites and soup kitchens between 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25.

Of those counted, 62 percent were men or boys, 38 percent women or girls. Nineteen percent were younger than 18, while 7 percent were older than 60. Nearly a third said they had been homeless for at least a year, and more than half said they were homeless because they lacked a job or had financial problems.

“If I had the money, I’d buy a house," 30-year-old Jon Lloyd told a reporter on the day of the count. "But at my income level now, I’m better off buying a toothbrush and shampoo and washing up over there,” pointing to a spigot near Church Park in Town 'N' Country.

The count also found that: …

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Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth tweets "dysfunction within City Hall is astounding"

For the past several months, former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth has flirted with the idea of getting back into local politics to put a stop to what he calls "dysfunction" in City Hall. He brought it up in 2012, again in January and now in a tweet:



Hackworth was responding to a posting of a Times article about the recent closing of a Sunshine Law investigation of Commissioner Heather Gracy and Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston that opened following the forced resignation of Rob DiSpirito in January. He said although the investigation didn't yield any evidence of wrongdoing, he doesn't believe the commissioners' actions were fair.

"I understand the evidence of criminal activity was not there, but I think that there was plenty of evidence to indicate that people were acting in inappropriate ways that didn't serve the best interest of the city of Dunedin," he said in a later interview with the Times. "Our residents are looking for good government -- it's what they deserve -- and I don't think they're getting that." …

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$400,000 in federal clean-up money for St. Pete's southern neighborhoods

The federal government has awarded $400,000 in EPA Brownfields Assessment grants to clean up eight sites and conduct assesssment on 20 more in the city's newly-created South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. 

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields grants will boost jobs and business opportunities in South St. Petersburg by cleaning up properties that need it through environmental remediation," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor in a news release.  “Redevelopment in South St. Petersburg will open up all sorts of economic opportunities in neighborhoods where new jobs are needed most."

That Friday afternoon release stated Castor "championed" the grants, which emerged as a recommendation from a series of environmental justice discussions held by the congresswoman last year in the Tampa Bay region. 

 Mayor Rick Kriseman applauded the news.  …

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Jim Norman withdraws from candidates debate at Tampa Tiger Bay Club

Jim Norman

Jim Norman

After getting walloped in a local Republican straw poll Tuesday night, county commissioner candidate Jim Norman has withdrawn from a candidates debate at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club, where he was virtually certain to have been asked about ethical issues in his past.

The forum at lunchtime today was for candidates of both parties for the countywide district seat. Norman faces Tim Schock in a Republican primary.

Norman is attempting to restart his political career as a former state senator and county commissioner, which ended under an ethical cloud in 2012 involving a $400,000-plus loan from a political supporter to Norman’s wife to buy an Arkansas vacation home.

Norman confirmed his participation in the forum weeks ago.

George Sucarichi, a long-time political ally of Norman attending the meeting, said Norman had to skip the meeting to tend to his ailing father in Jacksonville, who has severe health problems that sometime flare up.

“When that happens, he hits the pavement,” Sucarichi said of Norman. He said Norman left for Jacksonville last night. …

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Clendenin makes school board run official

Alan Clendenin, first vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party, has filed to run for the Hillsborough County School Board in countywide District 7.

With five weeks remaining before the June 24 qualifying deadline, candidates have been entering and leaving some of the races with this lineup as of now:

William Person will challenge incumbent Susan Valdes in west Hillsborough's District 1.

In North Hillsborough's District 3, incumbent Cindy Stuart, next in line as board chair, faces challenges from Alicia Toler and Ramil Kaminsky.

Central Tampa's District 5 is wide open, with Doretha Edgecomb stepping down in November. Candidates Joseph Jordan-Robinson, Lynette Tracee Judge, Jacqueline Coffie Leeks, Tarance Delento LeNoir and Tamara Patrice Shamburger have filed so far.

The at-large District 7 seat, long held by Carol Kurdell, will also come open. Clendenin joins a crowded field that includes Joseph Caetano, Carlos Frontela, Lynn Gray, Stanley Gray, Norene Miller and Randy Toler.

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Tampa council member requests that police look into Walmart calls following Times investigation

A Pinellas Park police cruiser rolls past the entrance of a Walmart supercenter in February.

Boyzell Hosey/Tampa Bay Times

A Pinellas Park police cruiser rolls past the entrance of a Walmart supercenter in February.

Tampa council member Frank Reddick requested Thursday that police officials appear with a report at the next city council meeting on June 2 with information on how many calls the city’s Walmarts received in the past year.

He also wants to know the nature of the police calls, as well as how many arrests resulted from those incidents.

Reddick’s request comes days after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that local Walmarts accounted for nearly 16,800 police calls in just one year. That's two calls an hour, every hour of every day.

Many of the calls were for shoplifting and other thefts, but thousands more were for general disorder, like disruptive teens, that didn’t rise to a level of a crime. The responses to Walmart sapped hours of police time that several law enforcement officials told the Times could have been better spent patrolling neighborhoods and preventing other crimes. Other businesses, including Target, accounted for far fewer police calls than Walmart.

In a Thursday story about local officials’ responses to the investigation, Reddick told a Times reporter that the volume of calls was “ridiculous.” …

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Tree program championed by former mayor gets money to plan, not plant

Former Mayor David Fischer, the city's tree czar, and some environmentalists, have advocated spending $500,000 of the city's BP settlement money on planting up to 550 trees across the city.

On Thursday, the City Council authorized spending a fraction of that amount---$25,0000---for planning and research, but decided to delay a decision on the balance until the city's finances become clearer.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he supports the tree-planting proposal, but worries about a $2.8 million deficit reported by budget officials last week. The temporary deficit, drive by police overtime costs, often disappears by the end of the city's fiscal year at the end of September. 

But Gerdes said he wanted to be cautious.

"Go do all that," Gerdes said of the plannning efforts. "And give us a couple months to figure it out."

Council member Steve Kornell, the only council member to vote against the appropriation, said he resented what he perceived as some of the tree-planting supporters' dismissal of the need to spend BP money on replacing aging sewer pipes.  …

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Newton and Fiorini to face off in June Democratic candidate forum

Dan Fiorini

Dan Fiorini

Wengay Newton and Dan Fiorini, Democratic candidates for the House seat now occupied by Darryl Rouson, will attend a June 11 candidate forum at the Sanderlin Center in St. Petersburg.

In a House dominated by Republicans, District 70 is something of a rarity -- a safe Democratic seat.

Rouson, a conservative Democrat forced out by term limits, held the seat for eight years. Considered a St. Petersburg district, it also includes parts of Manatee, Hillsborough and Sarasota. Democratic voters hold a nearly 4-1 advantage.

The winner of the Democratic contest will face Cori Steven Fournier, a Republican, in the general election.

Here's the release:

The South Saint Petersburg Democratic Club in conjunction with the Saint Petersburg Democratic Club and the Gulfport Democratic Club will host a Candidate Forum on Saturday, June 11th at the Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd. Ave South in Saint Petersburg.

Democratic candidates from Florida House District 70 will be featured starting at 12:30 p.m.

Dan Fiorini and Wengay"Newt" Newton from Florida House District 70  have both indicated they will attend. …

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Dunedin commission suspends search for new city manager

The Dunedin commission responsible for ousting former City Manager Rob DiSpirito in January has unanimously decided to hold off its search for a replacement and let new commissioners, set to be elected in November, pick up the pieces.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said the recent search the city did using a consulting agency called The Mercer Group yielded 87 applicants, but the commissioners were less than impressed with the results.

"The caliber of the applicant pool just didn't fit for Dunedin," she said. "Most of the top 10 candidates didn't have the type of experience we were looking for."

Bujalski said some applicants had never been a city manager. Others had, but only in a very small cities, and some even had background issues. She said the city is looking for a very "seasoned professional" to fill the spot.

The city originally agreed to pay The Mercer Group more than $14,000 to find a replacement, but since no one was chosen, only had to fork up a little more than $4,500.

The mayor said the poor selection of candidates could be a result of what happened with DiSpirito. …

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Tarpon Springs police investigate mysterious anonymous letters sent to three former city officials

Tarpon Springs police are investigating a series of anonymous letters containing threats and personal attacks sent to three former city officials who openly criticized Mayor Chris Alahouzos during the recent election in March.

The letters, sent with fake return addresses and without signatures, were found in the mailboxes of former Mayor Anita Protos, former City Manager Beverly Billiris and former Commissioner Cindy Sanner, who each say they believe the letters are a form of retaliation from the Alahouzos campaign.

Alahouzos, who accused the women and opponent, Frank DiDonato, of Sunshine Law violation during the race, says he has no knowledge of the letters. Former Commissioner Jim Kolianos, who served on the mayor's campaign, says he is sure "there is no one on our committee that would do something like that."

But Protos says she disagrees and believes it is because the women "spoke out on issues related to the business of the city."

"Who exactly is responsible, we'll never know," she said. "But it seems to have been a vindictive person of hate that sadly doesn't realize we live in America, where we have the freedom to support who we want." …

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Bob Buckhorn has a hostage thing going on

[Tampa Bay Times]

[Tampa Bay Times]

More than just about any American mayor, Tampa's Bob Buckhorn is used to surrendering.

Buckhorn surrenders the city every year to the invading "pirates" for Gasparilla. And next Wednesday, he will once again be "captured" by bad guys only to be rescued by an international contingent of commandos.

It's all part of the International Special Operations Forces week conference that kicks off next week at the Tampa Convention Center.

The conference, which has become a biannual event, coincides with the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa and will bring together representatives from more than 80 nations focused on "evolving the network to counter emerging threats," according to U.S. Special Operations Command.

While the ISOF convention is closed to the public, and the SOFIC convention has limited access, mostly to the military, intelligence community and industry, the mayor's capture, as in the past, will be a public event observed by thousands. …

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