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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 15, 2002


    Baby boom takes beds at hospitals

    SPRING HILL -- While North Suncoast communities happily tout their surge in new houses, hospitals are experiencing labor pains trying to make bed space available for other patients as expectant mothers fill the place.

    Last week, too many expectant mothers came to term at the same time in Hernando County. Spring Hill Regional Hospital alerted obstetricians that they had stopped taking maternity patients in labor and diverted at least five mothers to Oak Hill Hospital.

    All Hernando County hospitals reported a lack of hospital beds due to increases in obstetrics and other emergency procedures last week. Local obstetricians say get used to it. The lack of bed space follows Oak Hill Hospital's closure of its obstetrics program, doctors said.

    Similar obstetric problems are occuring throughout Florida, as pregnancy rates grow and the number of obstetricians and obstetrics programs decline, said Alfred Moffett, a Leesburg obstetrician and chairman of the Florida chapter of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

    Oak Hill, which handles about 30 percent of Hernando's deliveries, has announced it will close its obstetrics program as of Oct. 31. At Largo Medical Center in Pinellas County, the maternity ward will close by the end of the year, stung by the loss of two busy obstetricians who could not find insurance coverage.

    Pizza Hut delivery wins a 2-week reprieve

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Pizza Hut would like to deliver to the Union Academy neighborhood at night, an executive told the mayor this week, but the company has asked for two more weeks to decide for certain.

    In the meantime, Pizza Hut will deliver to Union Academy until 9 p.m., and city officials have agreed to delay talk of revoking the company's occupational license.

    Pizza Hut stopped night deliveries to the neighborhood in November after one of its drivers was robbed nearby. Because most of the area's residents are black, some residents and elected officials said the decision had more to do with race than with safety.

    In response, city officials started talks with both Pizza Hut and Domino's, which was delivering to Union Academy but not to Mango Circle. Domino's has since changed its policy.

    Casino cruise ship vanishes from dock

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Police fielded an unusual theft report Sunday: a 128-foot cruise ship that stands three stories high was nowhere to be found.

    The answer wasn't too intriguing. The Stardancer Casino Cruise ship was repossessed by a boat captain as part of a civil dispute, police said.

    Company president Samuel A. Gray and his son, company vice president Samuel Gray Jr., refused to discuss the issue. The company runs cruises out of Port Richey, Madeira Beach, Miami Beach, Fernandina Beach and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    The repossession is the latest development in a rocky year for the South Carolina-based casino boat operator. In February, the FBI froze the bank accounts of Stardancer Casino Cruises and accused an Ohio banker of helping finance the casino boats with embezzled money.

    The company's rival, Paradise of Port Richey, has charged that Stardancer shuttle boats scour and damage the bottom of the Pithlachascotee River in Port Richey.

    The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has filed federal tax liens of at least $835,000 against Stardancer Casino Inc. in five counties, including Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough.

    Enthusiasm for college's security classes dissipates

    DADE CITY -- Pasco-Hernando Community College seemed to have hit upon a good thing in the weeks and months after last September's terrorist attacks. Fears about homeland security helped the college's new security guard program become one of its most popular, practically overnight.

    A year later, the course is on hiatus, classes canceled for a lack of enrollment.

    The program still exists. The college will start up classes again, but only if more than 12 students enroll. Right now, they can't get that.

    In the days immediately after Sept. 11, analysts predicted good things for companies dealing in security, protection and law enforcement. And so the college started up two security guard programs.

    The new programs immediately filled and were so popular that the college ran multiple classes.

    The college now plans to promote the classes with ads, fliers and other promotional materials.

    City forced to defend its mural before judge

    SOUTH PASADENA -- Thanks to a group of local art critics, a judge will hear arguments about whether the Department of Transportation illegally permitted a billboard-sized sign promoting South Pasadena.

    The city will have to fight to finish its new mural, which pictures dolphins playing in the surf. It is three weeks from completion.

    What was envisioned as a project to beautify South Pasadena has turned into a divisive situation that pits the mayor, city attorney and other sign advocates against City Hall critic Dan Calabria and his supporters.

    Calabria's group has formed a new organization called South Pasadena Voters Watch and started selling T-shirts that say: "No Butt-Ugly Billboards."

    Porn awards show leaves host city speechless

    PINELLAS PARK -- Being the host city for an awards gala featuring film stars from across America should be a heady happening for a municipality that has long craved recognition.

    But Pinellas Park officials are going out of their way to avoid commenting on Monday's show and banquet at the Pinellas Expo Center.

    The 10th annual Night Moves Award banquet will feature stars like Ginger Lynn, Anna Melle and Ron Jeremy, best known for their roles in pornographic movies. Lynn may be familiar to many who don't know porn. She was featured in a biographical documentary last weekend on the E! cable channel.

    Between 3,000 and 4,000 are expected to attend the event, said Paul Allen, publisher of Night Moves, the Tampa magazine that's sponsoring the black-tie gala.

    In short . . .

    -- DADE CITY -- Prosecutors will not charge the owner of a Trilby egg farm in the deaths of thousands of chickens in March. About 2,000 to 4,000 chickens starved at the cash-strapped farm before the rest were euthanized. Though animal rights activists pushed for criminal charges, prosecutors said the deaths appeared to be the unfortunate conclusion of a once-profitable farming venture that couldn't survive a downturn in egg prices and ran out of money to buy food for the chickens.

    -- State wildlife commissioners voted Thursday to restrict boating speeds in the Alafia River, Terra Ceia Bay and to limit access to a section of the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River. The changes on the Alafia River drew angry denunciations from several Hillsborough County residents who said the speed limit will block families from skiing.

    Coming up this week

    -- Pinellas County schools begin a new era Monday when the open choice process begins. The system tosses out traditional zoned schools for a lottery system in which parents choose their top five local schools. Officials hope the competition for parents inspires schools to improve.

    -- The Florida Governmental Utility Authority will hold a public hearing Thursday in Sarasota to determine whether the purchase of Florida Water's 150 systems statewide is in the public interest. The $450-million deal, one of the largest in the state's history, would make Citrus, Polk and Nassau counties the overseers of a system that affects 250,000 people in 27 counties, including water and sewer systems in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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