What's one penny to you?
If you are a Pinellas County resident, it is thousands of capital projects ranging from enhanced flood control and natural resource protection to rebuilt bridges and new emergency facilities – including our Sheriff’s Administration Building in Largo.
The “Penny for Pinellas,” initiated in 1989 and subsequently reapproved in 1997 and 2007, is up for renewal November 7th, when residents will vote on whether to sustain it from 2020 to 2030.
A 1-percent sales tax paid by everyone who spends money in the county, the Penny has supported investments in the areas that matter most to citizens without relying on property taxes. In fact, one-third of revenue has been contributed by the county’s six million annual tourists and seasonal visitors, which provides citizens tangible cost savings.
Since 1990, the Penny has generated more than $3 billion for investments by the county and its 24 cities, which – aside from court and jail facilities – is allocated according to a population-based formula aligning with state statutes.
Previous Penny-funded projects include the widening of Keystone Road, Curlew Creek erosion control, additional hurricane shelter space, the Bayside Bridge, new public safety equipment, and more. The Penny covers the cost of more than 70 percent of local government capital projects such as these and attracts funds from other sources, like state and federal agencies.
As a sales tax, the Penny is not collected on groceries or medications, and it is only collected on the first $5,000 on a purchase.
Before each vote on the Penny’s renewal, county and city officials set priorities based on identified needs in the community, feedback from citizens, results from the annual Citizen Values Survey, and long-term goals outlined in the Pinellas County Strategic Plan.
These priorities are evaluated at least once a year as part of the budget development process to ensure they remain aligned with community needs and available funds.
In March, Pinellas County Government hosted three open house meetings throughout the county to answer citizens’ questions and to hear their feedback on previous and potential Penny projects.
But it’s not too late to educate yourself. Learn about previous Penny-funded projects with an interactive “Accomplishments Map,” see what approving the Penny really means for you, and find out how you can get involved by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/penny.
Every strawberry, zucchini, and tomato that ripens to its fullest potential at First Fruit Hydroponic Farm helps the children of Pinellas PAL do the same.
A 501(c)3 nonprofit “u-pick” farm tucked inconspicuously behind Kellogs Kennel in St. Petersburg, Pinellas PAL First Fruit Hydroponic Farm organically grows a variety of crops for patrons to browse and pluck from the stems themselves, with all profits benefitting the at-risk youth of Pinellas County through the Police Athletic League (PAL).
As many as 200 people – parents, children, church groups, and garden clubs alike – flock to First Fruit every Wednesday and Saturday to pick St. Petersburg’s freshest crops, ranging from cucumbers, squash, green beans, and snap peas, to lesser-known kohlrabi, and most-popular strawberries.
An auto-feed drip system that uses “media” instead of soil, hydroponics is a simple, fruitful method of farming in Florida’s harsh, growth-restrictive climate that is often inhospitable to plant life.
“It’s a simple way to grow a lot of vegetables in a small space, but you have to put work into it,” said First Fruit farmer, Steve Endrodi. “Yes, it will auto-feed, but you still have to weed a little bit, plant, and of course, talk to your vegetables – some things never change.”
Endrodi, who grew up in New Jersey, learned about farming from his father, a produce broker whom he accompanied on several business trips to Maine and New York.
Although he served in the Navy for four years and had a thriving – albeit stressful – career in software tech support, gardening and farming were his constant escape from life’s pressures.
“This is my wheelhouse,” said Endrodi, now a vegetarian who lives off his personal hydroponic farm. “So, this was just a natural way to go.”
PAL leases the about 1/3-acre farm and the 500 hydroponic stackers it houses with $35,000 in grant funds. Since its opening in March 2016, First Fruit has brought in $12,000 in sales.
The profits, however, are secondary.
“No. 1, it’s about the kids – about educating kids,” Endrodi said. “And no. 2, it’s about fresh food for the community, especially Lealman, which is a food desert.”
Throughout the week, First Fruit hosts groups of all types, from adults who are interested in starting their own gardens to children learning about sustainable farming, nutritious food choices, and how to incorporate them into their diets.
Fifteen-year-old PAL student Isaiah said he has only been working at First Fruit for a little more than a week, but he has already learned a lot: about pruning, about planting, and about life.
“What I’ve been doing is basically managing the plants and making sure there are no dead leaves or roots, so they look appealing,” Isaiah said. “But it’s also about being kind to people and always smiling, because first impressions are important.”
Together, Steve and Isaiah strive to create a fun, friendly, and inviting atmosphere with produce aisles as clean and stocked as the grocery store, but instead of off the shelves, visitors pick produce off the plants.
“Parents will come up, worried their son or daughter ate four or five strawberries, but I say that’s part of the fun!” Endrodi said. “If they have a smile on their face, it’s worth it.”
Pinellas PAL First Fruit Hydroponic Farm, 3215 46th Avenue North in St. Petersburg, sells its produce from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays. Visit its Facebook page for a list of available produce and upcoming events, and visit www.pinellaspalfirstfruithydroponics.com to learn more and donate.
Some people are born to be law enforcement officers.
Others are not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take an interest in public safety, stay abreast of what is happening in their neighborhoods, and strive to make a difference in their community as do deputies at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO).
For people of the latter inclination, the PCSO hosts the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.
The Sheriff’s Advisory Board is a civic organization comprising Pinellas County residents with a general interest in law enforcement who meet monthly to receive updates on agency functions and programs.
“Understanding what goes on in the sheriff’s office is important,” said Stan Sofer, a five-year Advisory Board member. “There’s a lot more than just ‘policing.’”
At meetings, members view presentations from different agency divisions, are updated on recent community happenings, participate in selecting patrol and detention “Deputy of the Quarter” award recipients, and often, speak directly with Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
“We’re ordinary citizens who do not necessarily work in law enforcement, but we get these briefings from law enforcement about what’s happening in the community and what to look out for,” said recently inducted member Berny Jacques. “We can give feedback, ask questions, and we can take that back to our community, wherever it may be.”
Perhaps the Advisory Board’s flagship is the Community Grants Program, which launched in 2014.
The program, which is accepting applications through March 31st, funds local initiatives that serve Pinellas County youth, provide a service, or fulfill a need.
“These are nonprofit organizations that want to help other individuals, whether it’s women seeking protection from bad relationships, or housing, or taking care of children, or youth programs – mostly to benefit individuals who need help,” Sofer said.
In 2015, the Community Grants Program disbursed $8,000 in varying increments to 10 programs that ranged from afterschool care to mental health education to workforce readiness coaching.
Applicants fill out an extensive application, detailing the program or organization’s purpose and goals, how the grant funds would be spent, how many people would benefit from the funds, etc.
At the deadline, Advisory Board grant program executive board members – Sofer and Jacques included – determine the grants’ amounts and recipients.
Upping the ante this year, the Advisory Board plans to distribute $10,000 in up to $1,000 increments, which will be presented to recipients at a ceremony in May.
“It’s important, because it shows that the sheriff’s office has skin in the game when it comes to community development,” Jacques said. “It shows the sheriff’s office is here to advance those who want to advance themselves.”
If you are interested in applying for a Sheriff’s Advisory Board community grant or becoming an Advisory Board member, contact the PCSO Community Programs Section at 727-582-6621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
People make mistakes. They do stupid things. Sometimes, they make bad choices because they are down on their luck and don’t feel they have another option.
But it is important to realize there is a big difference between people who do bad things to purposefully hurt others and good people who make an error in judgment because they are young, immature, or in a bad situation.
In Pinellas County, time and again, we see people make mistakes, get convicted, serve time or pay large fines, and ultimately, leave with criminal records that haunt them all their lives. This is especially true today due to the ready availability of information from websites, like those that provide mugshots regardless of the offense.
After much discussion and planning, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has decided that simply because people do something wrong doesn’t necessarily mean they should be saddled with undue repercussions the rest of their lives. In October, we initiated an Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program that aims to prevent small errors from keeping people from getting a job or stable housing.
The program’s most important aspect is its provision of an alternative to making an arrest for law enforcement. Instead, if a person meets certain criteria, he/she can avoid a police record, stay out of the criminal justice system, and modify future behavior, while lessening the number of people filling our jails and prisons.
The criteria that must be met are critically important. The person must take responsibility for his/her actions, agree to make restitution to any applicable victims, and present no risk to others. Additionally, the person cannot have a misdemeanor conviction two years prior or a felony conviction five years prior. A person is not eligible if he/she has gone through the diversion program within the previous three months and can go through it only three times in his/her lifetime.
We looked closely at our misdemeanor laws and narrowed them down to the following offenses eligible for the program:
People who are diverted into this program must report within 48 hours, at which time they are screened, placed in a program for issues like anger management or substance abuse, and required to perform community service. Anyone who fails to comply with the rules is ineligible to participate in the program in the future.
To be clear, this is not a step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The laws remain very firm on that subject. It is, instead, an effort to treat crime equitably while giving deserving people another chance.
Through the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program, the county avoids over-utilizing the expensive and time-consuming criminal justice system and processes, while broaching the broader issue: separation of recidivists and criminals from immature youth. There is a difference, and this is an important step toward tackling the discrepancy.
If you heard about a new, FREE device that prevents 80 percent of car burglaries with the push of a single button, would you want one?
Lucky for you, the not-so-new technology is already available, and you almost certainly own it: vehicle door locks.
Last year, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responded to more than 1,300 vehicle burglary reports, 80 percent of which required “no forced entry.”
As the easily accessible temporary storage site for recent shopping purchases, expensive personal items, like laptop computers and cell phones, and often firearms, unlocked vehicles are major burglary targets.
Of the 103 firearms stolen from vehicles in the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction in 2015, 80 were taken from unlocked vehicles, and two were from vehicles left completely open.
In instances like these, vehicle burglaries can be more than just physically and financially inconvenient.
In 2014, 23-year-old Marco Antonio Parilla, Jr., shot and killed Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek with a gun he had stolen from an unlocked vehicle.
Regardless of whether you’re quickly running into the post office, warming up your car before you’re ready to leave, or think you’re parked in a “nice part of town,” there is never a good excuse for leaving your vehicle unlocked and your belongings – including the vehicle itself – unprotected.
In addition to locking your car doors, there are several precautions you can take to prevent vehicle burglaries. For instance, if you must leave valuables in the vehicle, don’t leave them on the seat or visible from the outside. If you store them in the trunk, place them there before you park in public, where burglars could be watching.
Park your vehicle in well-lit, public areas when possible. If your vehicle doesn’t have an alarm, consider purchasing one. The noise alone is often enough to scare away inexperienced criminals. Combine these tactics with consistently locked doors, and the only thing those burglars will be breaking into is a run in the other direction.
This year, make a New Year’s resolution that will protect you, your belongings, and your community: Make sure it’s secure, and LOCK IT UP!
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