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  • Week in review: Plug pulled on sale of water utility

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    Week in review

    Plug pulled on sale of water utility

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 16, 2003

    A controversial deal that would have given two Panhandle towns ownership of the state's largest private water utility is dead.

    Florida Water Services, which serves more than 500,000 customers in 26 counties, including Citrus, Hernando and Pasco, announced last week that it was ending its $492-million sale agreement with the towns of Milton and Gulf Breeze.

    None of Florida Water's 152 water and sewer utilities fell within the towns' jurisdictions, and that bothered some customers and elected officials. Local governments had filed lawsuits to stop the sale since it was announced in September.

    With their competitors out of the way, representatives of the Florida Governmental Utility Authority say they are ready to negotiate. The authority's principal members are Citrus, Nassau, Polk and Osceola counties.

    With the $492-million deal between Florida Water and the Panhandle towns foundering, the group made a $416-million offer for the facility in February.

    Sellout concert was too much of a good thing, city says

    CLEARWATER -- Despite its financial success, concerts such as WildSplash last week in Coachman Park put too heavy a strain on city resources, Clearwater officials say. Critics bashed the ensuing noise, brawls and drug use.

    For Clearwater officials, it's a matter of balance: How much fun is too much?

    On Saturday, the crowd swelled to about 15,500, many of whom came to see New York rapper 50 Cent, whose popularity has skyrocketed with a string of recent hits.

    Extra police were called in by 7:30 p.m. to help quell disturbances after the park reached capacity and some people were turned away.

    City Manager Bill Horne said the crowd just grew too big.

    "For me, it's all about the size of a concert," he said Tuesday. "We really only want about 12,000 people max in the park."

    From now on, Horne said, the city will enforce that number as a sellout, for both advance and walk-up sales. The only exception will be the Fourth of July.

    Bold flier gets attention all right -- from a deputy

    ZEPHYRHILLS -- The white fliers gathered on the car windshields, at least for a time.

    "One of Our Citizens was MURDERED! by a police officer!" exclaimed the flier, which featured a small, smiling picture of Sharleen "Sally" Jones.

    The 39-year-old woman was shot on May 22 at Dan's Fine Jewelry after she reportedly raised a gun toward a deputy.

    The fliers so angered one Pasco County sheriff's deputy that he started snatching them up at midday Tuesday, officials said.

    That didn't sit well with the deputy's bosses.

    "The reaction to it is understandable but not acceptable," Pasco sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said, "and it will not happen again."

    Larry Hayner, the Zephyrhills man who printed and distributed the fliers about his slain daughter, took the news in stride.

    "It shows that people are running scared, what else?" he said.

    Hayner said he hopes the stark flier with its bold accusations of a government coverup will prompt a new investigation into the shooting.

    Stadium takeover may cause Hillsborough problems

    TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners are planning to take ownership of Raymond James Stadium to settle a dispute over its tax bill, but one county official says that could open a can of worms best left closed.

    Property appraiser Rob Turner told commissioners in a memo last week that their plan could present even more problems, such as triggering a provision that would allow the New York Yankees to pursue a more favorable agreement.

    Officials with the Tampa Sports Authority said the Yankees already have as good a deal at Legends Field as any sports team in town. So the "most favored treatment" provision wouldn't come into play, they said.

    The issue came to a head two years ago when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that sports arenas owned by local governments are taxable.

    Because the court ruling doesn't apply to counties, having the county take over the stadium makes the tax bill go away, except for small parts such as skyboxes, for which the Tampa Bay Bucaneers pay taxes.

    City will buy land to lure supermarket

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The city is shopping for a grocery store for a poor neighborhood underserved by basic services such as stores and banks.

    To make shopping a pleasure for a would-be developer, the St. Petersburg City Council agreed last week to spend $1-million to buy a block of the Midtown area, with hopes of one day luring a grocery store there.

    "I think most of the community sees that this is seed money for really, really great things," council member Bill Foster said.

    For years, the city tried to entice a grocery store chain to Midtown but was unsuccessful.

    The only chain grocery now within its boundaries is a Winn-Dixie at the northern edge.

    Ron Barton, economic director for the city, said the intent is to have the land assembled, which might make the block more attractive to a developer.

    In short . . .

    TAMPA -- If a consultant's report is any indication, the ear-ringing thump of popular nightclubs on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City is about to get turned down a notch -- maybe several. Police have long complained that they have a hard time communicating by radio because of the noise. Within a few weeks, a noise committee will hear the report and hold at least one community meeting to gather input before making recommendations to the City Council.

    ST. PETE BEACH -- From Memorial Day to Labor Day, an inflatable water slide will be installed on the beach behind the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort. Some residents opposed the idea, but the city insisted that the water slide, which is about three stories tall and 175 feet long, can be removed at any time for any reason.

    CLEARWATER -- The first time pop art icon Peter Max came to Clearwater, it was to paint fiberglass turtles. This time, it's for a huge heart. A 30-by-50-foot heart is the focus of a mural that will decorate the west exterior wall of the new Medical Arts Building at Mease Countryside Hospital. The mural is an enlarged version of a Max painting, Heart Series IV Version II #1. Max's visit kicked off an $11-million capital campaign for Mease Countryside and its partner hospital, Mease Dunedin.

    Coming up this week

    Are St. Petersburg's liquor laws antiquated? On Thursday, City Council member John Bryan will present his plan to change the law that now forbids beer and liquor sales until 1 p.m. on Sundays. Bryan advocates allowing alcohol sales as early as 8 a.m., although he would consider 11 a.m. or noon if the proposal stirs too much antagonism. Some clergy members already have vowed to fight any changes.

    Parents in Pinellas County should know by next week whether they got their favored schools in the district's new school choice program. In addition, the School Board will hold a workshop on its budget at 9 a.m. Tuesday. This comes on the heels of teachers raising a stink over the news that the superintendent's future executive assistant will earn between $44,324 and $64,447 and that the position's minimum education requirement is a high school diploma. To earn the same salary, a Pinellas teacher would have to have a doctorate and work 18 years.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

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