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    Metro Week in Review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 6, 2002

    Farmers fret as ag classes face threat

    INVERNESS -- Just as housing developments have slowly swallowed up citrus groves and dairy farms, the new suburban lifestyle is swallowing up the agricultural education classes that were once a staple of the local public schools, some Citrus County ranchers and farmers complain.

    Construction crews already transformed part of a cow pasture near Citrus High School into a home for portable classrooms. And earlier this year, workers began turning another part of the pasture into the new high school baseball field.

    Now, as the School Board debates what to do with the former gymnasium that now houses the agriculture program, some local leaders in the farming and livestock business are worried about the future of agricultural education in Citrus County.

    Several who have asked to speak to the School Board on Tuesday say that even if the community isn't as rural as it used to be, there is still a need for a strong agricultural program.

    They want to derail any discussion of moving the county's three high school agriculture programs into one state-of-the-art agri-science academy.

    Public defender drops cases on county's lap

    DADE CITY -- Public Defender Bob Dillinger last week carried out the threat he made this summer to dump more than 100 criminal cases on Pasco County -- a move he says could cost the county more than $860,000 a year.

    Dillinger says his attorneys are overburdened to the point that clients can't get quality legal representation.

    By law, defendants who cannot afford attorneys -- and who cannot for some reason be represented by the Public Defender's Office -- are entitled to a private attorney, paid for by Pasco County.

    The state provides Dillinger's $10-million annual budget to represent poor defendants in Pasco and Pinellas counties. But associated costs and the cost of hiring outside attorneys falls on the counties.

    Dillinger in August asked Pasco to chip in $158,000 a year to hire three attorneys, two for misdemeanors and one for felonies. He said he would settle for $58,000 so he could add one felony attorney to his team of three felony attorneys in Dade City.

    The county, he said, ignored his request.

    He is meeting with county commissioners Monday and hopes a resolution is reached before the Oct. 25 hearing date.

    Bacteria will feast, and belch, for the good of mucky lake

    INVERNESS -- Inverness will soon have an influx of bottom-dwelling gluttons, and city officials are just thrilled.

    An Orlando inventor plans to pour millions of muck-eating micro-organisms into a 27-acre pond during the next few months. If all goes well, these single-cell critters will gobble up the organic sludge that has muddied Cooter Pond for decades.

    "The pond may not get perfectly crystal clear, but it sure would be nice to see the bottom," City Manager Frank DiGiovanni told the Inverness City Council on Tuesday.

    What's more, the six-month feeding will be a free lunch for Inverness.

    Richard E. Gray, president of Scientific Water Solutions Inc., will provide the cleaning at no cost to the city in order to demonstrate his "Bio-Juice" system to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The state agency will monitor and evaluate the project starting next week.

    Jilted utility group still makes its pitch

    INVERNESS -- In what may be an exercise in futility for a utility, the governments that had planned to pool their resources and buy Florida Water Services are pressing on with their plans.

    Florida Water Services already has agreed to sell its 152 systems statewide -- including systems in Spring Hill, Citrus Springs, Hillsborough County and other Tampa Bay area communities -- to a pair of Panhandle towns for $507-million.

    And yet the Florida Governmental Utility Authority on Thursday pressed forward, passing a resolution stating its competing $450-million proposal is in the public interest.

    Yes, they got the memo about the Florida Water sale to the towns of Gulf Breeze and Milton, which formed the Florida Water Services Authority two weeks ago to buy the state's largest utility.

    But FGUA members believe that sale won't hold up, and they want to be ready with their own offer just in case.

    The FGUA, a coalition of Citrus, Nassau and Polk counties, had planned a historic takeover of the private utility. But getting all the governments on board and deciding a price took so long that Gulf Breeze, a beach town that has made a cottage industry out of bond issues, swooped in and stole the deal.

    Pasco tennis center under a volley of criticism

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County Commissioner Steve Simon spent last week building his case that the county needs to slow down a plan to use tourist tax dollars to build a tennis stadium, an idea he calls a speeding train heading for commission approval.

    Meanwhile, Saddlebrook Resort owner Tom Dempsey on Wednesday offered a written guarantee to Pasco County that taxpayers would not foot the bill for events at the proposed $5.7-million tennis stadium.

    But Simon argued in meetings around the community that such a stadium would be out of place in Pasco and would attract people unlikely to spend their money in the county.

    "I don't see (a tennis pro) at the Cracker Barrel at breakfast in the morning," Simon told a Holiday Rotary Club meeting. Simon is suggesting a multipurpose youth sports complex.

    County commissioners voted to hold a joint session with the Tourist Development Council on Thursday to hear Saddlebrook's proposal.

    In short . . .

    WEEKI WACHEE -- A female bear was killed by a car Monday night near Aripeka on U.S. 19, the second to die on the road near the Pasco-Hernando county line in the past two weeks. Wildlife officials believe both bears left orphaned cubs. These deaths are especially devastating, they say, because the mother bears had learned to avoid the countless man-made hazards and to pass that knowledge on to their cubs.

    -- TAMPA -- Hillsborough County's public access television station may continue broadcasting, at least for now. A federal judge on Monday ordered the county to continue funding for public access, while a lawsuit filed by the station to keep it running proceeds.

    Coming up this week

    -- A Port Richey homeowners association is expected to decide next week whether to file a lawsuit against a family it says is running a business because it gets money from the state to help support five foster children. Deed restrictions do not permit businesses in Forest Lake Estates, and the $2,028 per month the state gives the Gourlay family to help with expenses of five foster children is a money-making operation, they say. Meanwhile the state attorney general's office has weighed in, saying such deed restrictions could be violating the family's civil rights.

    -- A new batch of endangered whooping cranes is being trained to follow an ultralight aircraft to Florida. The birds are expected to depart by midweek in Wisconsin and head to the federal preserve in Chassahowitzka near Crystal River.

    -- A judge will hear testimony in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. Five doctors have weighed in on whether Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed, allowing her to die after more than 12 years in a vegetative state.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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