Commissioner Murman’s jail diversion program mentioned in this Times article on the budget:

Parents implore Hillsborough County to spare after-school programs from cuts

By Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Jul 21, 2011 09:55 PM

TAMPA — Flanked by her three children, ages 6 to 16, Kim Herman had a straight-forward message for Hillsborough County commissioners Thursday night:

“Leave the kids alone.”

Herman and dozens of others appealed to commissioners, as parents have for the past four years, to spare county-sponsored after-school and summer parks programs.

She was joined by dozens of county employees, many of them parks workers facing a fourth year of layoffs, imploring commissioners to spare their jobs. With the economy still ailing, they asked commissioners to stop farming out county work to the private sector.

“We do a better job, said Tracy Thompson, a 15-year employee of the county’s water department. “We do it for less money.”

The at-times-emotional testimony capped a day of debate and sometime rancor as commissioners wrestled with budgetary matters throughout the day. Parks and recreation programs dominated discussions during an afternoon workshop as well as the evening public hearing.

Commissioners signaled during the daytime session that they want to make preserving the after-school parks programs in some fashion a priority. They asked their staff to come back next week with a proposal that would stem proposed cutbacks.

The county is finalizing a $3 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. What they are wrestling with is how to deal with a fourth consecutive year of declining property tax revenues that pay the operating costs of most of the county’s publicly visible programs.

Five years ago, the county collected $813 million in property taxes. Estimated property tax receipts for next year are just $561..5 million, down $22 million from last year.

So County Administrator Mike Merrill is recommending another round of job cuts, eliminating another 449 full- and part-time positions next year. One of the hardest hit areas is parks and recreation programs.

Once again, county officials are proposing dramatic cuts to after-school programs. In recent years, parents rallied to thwart proposed elimination of the program. This year, Parks, Recreation and Conservation Director Mark Thornton is recommending scaling back the program.

It would consolidate after-school programs at 41 parks to 12 regional parks, some of them needing to be built, and scaling back recreational offerings. Parents who can’t get to those parks would need to use programs based at schools or at the YMCA.

Thornton says the challenge is this: The cost to run the program comes out to more than $120 a child each week, while the county collects $23 on average per week.

The county initially offered the program for free. When property tax revenues started declining, commissioners approved a nominal fee. When that didn’t keep up, the fee was bumped up to $48 a week, with children from poorer families subsidized.

Enrollment for the program dropped from a high of 6,200 in 2007, with about 4,500 active participants and a waiting list. Today, about 1,800 children use after-school programs, while costs remain the same.

Commissioner Ken Hagan on Thursday asked Thornton and his staff to move forward with shrinking the number of after-school locations. But he suggested increasing the number of locations currently proposed – 12 – by another 10 to 15.

“The unfortunate reality is that our current program simply is not sustainable in the long-run,” Hagan said, explaining his support for shrinking the program somewhat.

Commissioner Les Miller said he will ask next week that the program be restored fully.

“I think your plan … reduces the issue to money,” Miller told Thornton. “I think that’s wrong.”

He said it’s about children having a place to go after school, and parks are what the public expects government to provide along with police and fire protection.

In other action, Merrill told commissioners how he plans to dole out $2 million the county will get for being home to a gambling casino, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The money will be shared between the Museum of Science and Industry, Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa Bay History Center, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the Florida Aquarium.

Merrill said it’s important to continue to invest in buildings taxpayers helped pay to build and that attract tourists. But his proposal enables the county to wean those entertainment and cultural centers off of property tax money.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she will also ask the board to support earmarking $1.5 million annually from the county’s indigent health care tax to pay for mental health care for some accused of crimes. She is proposing creating a diversion program that would identify people with mental illness who commit minor crimes, keeping them out of jail and getting them treatment.

Those who showed up for the evening hearing had mainly parks after-school programs on their mind. Children waved signs that read “I (heart) parks” and “parks rock.”

They echoed Miller’s sentiment that commissioners need to focus less on dollars and more on figuring out a way to preserve programs that keep children active and out of harm’s way.

In the past, county officials have described the after-school program as a Cadillac offering from a government that can no longer afford it.

Parent Robert Herman, whose three children attend programs at Sadie Park in Brandon, asked commissioners to consider a more modest model.

Jacob Robinson, 19, an alumni of after-school programs at the Ruskin Recreation Center, saw it differently.

“These children deserve a Cadillac program,” he said. “Our children are more than a budget.”



Commissioner Murman Presents a Commendation to the Town ‘n Country Youth Council


Ruskin Cultural Center Update

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Observer article on Ruskin cultural center plans:

Planned cultural center may get boost of county money


Melody Jameson Photo Local visions of a community cultural center here solidified further this week with the possibility of $100,000 on the horizon.


RUSKIN – Local visions of a community cultural center here solidified further this week with the possibility of $100,000 on the horizon.

The potential funds in Hillsborough County’s 2012 fiscal year budget to help initiate such a center in the community’s recently-vacated county fire station were flagged by Commissioner Sandy Murman during a board meeting last week. Ruskin is at the southern end of Murman’s long, narrow Commission District I that borders Tampa Bay.


The funding was erroneously reported elsewhere as tagged for Ruskin’s long-closed and badly-deteriorated theater building in the center of the downtown business district which is privately owned and which is on a lot inadequate for public vehicle parking.

Commissioners, under fire from citizens over quiet multi-million dollar contribution to construction of The Regent, a grand but not very publicly useful edifice in the Brandon area, earmarked $2 million for renovations of historic buildings in Ybor City during related discussions.

At the same time, the board instructed staff to outline a countywide program funded initially with $500,000 for which organizations could apply to renovate other historic sites in the county. Criteria related to applications for the monies are expected for board consideration late in September.

The firehouse cultural center money, however, is not part of the $2.5 million in renovation funding, Tom Fesler, interim county budget director, emphasized this week.

Rather, he added, the funds are a not-yet-approved item sponsored by Murman which will be subjected to an up or down vote during the commissioners budget meeting Wednesday, July 27, along with all such recommendations made by each of the seven commissioners. That session is scheduled for 9 AM in County Center.

Those commissioner suggestions that are approved and added to the 2012 budget now taking shape also will be subject to public acceptance during the final budget public hearing on September 22, Fesler noted.

Meanwhile, the local group which has been engaged for months in hashing out plans for converting the former fire station at First Avenue and First Street to a cultural activities headquarters, provided a business plan draft to Murman this week, according to Bruce Marsh. Marsh, an artist, former professor on the University of South Florida faculty, strong proponent of Ruskin’s annual Big Draw events and member of the center planning group, described the business design for the cultural center as “a work in progress.”

A $60,000 grant for the center has been pledged by the Community Foundation of Sun City Center and if the $100,000 requested by Murman is included in the next county budget, Marsh said he anticipated the funds would be used first for the substantial interior re-design necessary for functional conversion of the former fire station.

Fesler said that if the cultural center funding is included in the next budget, it probably would be dispersed based on provisions in the final accepted business plan.

The fire station building was vacated several weeks ago when county fire fighters and emergency response personnel moved into the new, larger and more serviceable Station 17 on West College Avenue at 4th Street..

Implementation of plans for use of the old station as a community cultural center would involve turning over control, management and maintenance of the county-owned old fire house property to a community-based entity such as the Ruskin Community Development Foundation. A similar arrangement already exists locally. The foundation currently operates the Camp Bayou outdoor learning center under a recently-renewed, five-year lease agreement with Hillsborough County.

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Port Licenses New Operator!

Tampa Port approves new stevedore, MTO company

Tampa Bay Business Journal – by Mark Holan, Staff Writer

Date: Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 4:27pm EDT

The Tampa Port Authority Tampa Port Authority Latest from The Business Journals Port director Wainio’s contract renewal gets attentionMore praise for port’s Channelside garageBoston wary of former Grand Avenue owner Follow this company board approved new stevedore and marine terminal operator licenses Tuesday over the objection of unionized longshoremen.

Lawrence R. Shipp, the board’s chairman, voted against granting licenses to Tampa Marine Terminals, citing unresolved questions about whether the new company has already done dock work without a license.

Port staff is still investigating those questions. TMT attorney Anthony Cuva dismissed the allegation as “a side issue” the company has been working with port staff to clarify.

Gulf Coast Bulk Equipment of Palmetto and Hendry Corp. Hendry Corp. Latest from The Business Journals DeAngelis Diamond Healthcare Group opens new office in BirminghamCommercial Real Estate BriefsRailroad’s project spurs new development along I-35 South Follow this company of Tampa created TMT last year.

Port staff recommended granting TMT a stevedore and MTO license for handling bulk cargo. But at the company’s request the board majority granted both licenses for handling breakbulk cargo as well.

Robert Doster of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1402 and a few dozen other workers objected to the licenses for non-union workers. “Cheap labor is not skilled labor, and skilled labor is not cheap,” Doster said.

TMT principal Richard Tager, in a letter to port officials, wrote, “many established stevedores in the Port of Tampa Port of Tampa Latest from The Business Journals Tampa’s international trade scene is expansiveTampa Port readies for Panama Canal expansionMaritime Industries group questions Wainio’s contract Follow this company and the Gulf Coast region do not use union labor and instead use experienced contract labor.”

Niko Tomc, president of Jupiter, Fla.-based Poseidon Agencies Inc., and Bruce Schuck, president of Tampa-based Tred Avon Corp., submitted letters of support for TMT.

The port currently has about 15 stevedore and 10 MTO companies.

Commissioners who voted for the TMT licenses — including Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman — said free market competition is good for the port. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was absent Tuesday.

St Pete Time on Port Authority

Tampa port director gets support from bosses despite performance complaints

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Jul 19, 2011 04:19 PM

If Tampa Port Director Richard Wainio’s job is in danger, his bosses didn’t act like it Tuesday.

Members of the Tampa Port Authority governing board voiced support for Wainio a week after a group that represents 47 companies doing business at the port called on them not to renew his employment contract.

“We all know how well he’s doing in the context of this economy,” said Carl Lindell, one of five gubernatorial appointees to the board. “We’re on pretty good footing with him.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested giving Wainio a new evaluation tied to specific financial and business goals for the port.

“Let’s not make it personal,” she said. “We all respect Mr. Wainio for the job he’s done here.”

Wainio, 61, has held the port’s top post since 2005.. He earns $251,118 a year. By Sept. 30, board members must evaluate his performance and decide if they want him to stay past March 5.

On Tuesday, Board Chairman Lawrence Shipp said he directed Wainio to respond in writing to criticisms raised by the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association (PTMIA).

In a July 15 letter, the association cited significant declines in cargo tonnage and ship arrivals at the port since 2006. The authority’s operating income declined from about $5 million in the black at the beginning of his tenure to $1.1 million in the red last year, the letter said.

The group also said Wainio “is viewed as being unwilling or reluctant to solicit or accept suggestions, feedback or input in the development of port strategy, growth and operations.”

Wainio dismisses the group as not representing views of the wider port community. He e-mailed the Times a list of about 100 businesses that lease land from the port authority, noting that most are not members of the PTMIA.

Wainio also sent the names of 133 firms that belong to the Executive Shippers’ Council, a group of exporters and importers who generate a third of the port’s container cargo business.

“These firms work with us and support our efforts to grow business,” he wrote. “Virtually all of them have close and cooperative relationships with the (port authority) staff.”

In other business, the port board granted licenses for a new business to handle cargo on private property despite objections by port authority staff and union members.

Tampa Marine Terminal can now move both bulk materials and general cargo, such as bundled steel and lumber, on the site of an old Tampa Electric power plant.

Port staff objected, basically saying there’s barely enough business to support the existing firms. “To add more and more operators might mean that not just the new guy might fail, but other people fail,” Wainio said.

Richard Tager, a principle of Tampa Terminals, has run cargo businesses in the area using non-union labor.

Robert Doster, a 34-year union longshoreman, said the new company would cut rates to shippers and put higher-paid union longshoremen out of work.

Contact Steve Huettel at or (813) 226-3384.


Tampa Port Authority

Port board to discuss director’s performance in Sept.

By TED JACKOVICS | The Tampa Tribune
Published: July 19, 2011

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The Tampa Port Authority temporarily diffused a business association’s push to oust the port director today by postponing discussions about his performance until September.

The board said it wanted clear performance criteria in place before it could evaluate whether Richard Wainio was doing a good job.

However, board member Carl Lindell spoke out at the close of Monday’s monthly board meeting to praise Wainio’s performance, saying the board “knows how to identify leadership.”

“I could not think of who we could find to replace him,” Lindell added later. “”We have no reason for it.”

Port board member and Hillsborough County commissioner Sandra Murman said that out of fairness to Wanio, the port board should look to other governmental bodies, including the county, to ensure its performance evaluation tools are the best available.

“We should not get into personal matters, but (an) evaluation on specific goals and objectives.” Murman said.

The Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association on Thursday listed several complaints about Wainio in a letter to the board chairman. The grievances ranged from Wainio being “reluctant to solicit or accept suggestions, feedback or input” to what they said were discrepancies between the director’s monthly reports to commissioners and audited financial statements.

The business association had not sent a copy of letter to Wainio. The board forwarded Wainio a copy and asked Wainio to respond to the issues point-by-point by early August.

Wainio made no comment today about the letter. Previously, he said the complaints reflected a power struggle by a portion of the businesses that work at or with the port.

Another source of tension emerged today with the board’s approval for the new firm of Tampa Marine Terminals to do business with non-union labor on the docks. The International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1402 said allowing TMT to operate would undercut their wages at a time when work is scarce.

The board overrode the staff’s recommendation to limit TMT to bulk cargo only and approved TMT to handle break-bulk cargo such as steel, lumber and pallets, for which the staff said there is plentiful competition for work at the port.

Following the votes, the several dozen union members in attendance left en masse. Local officials declined comment later in the day on the vote.


Public Access Programming

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this article in Creative Loafing regarding cable programming:


Hillsborough County Commission supports possibilities of working with public access channel on new programming – but sounds doubtful about committing funds

Posted by Mitch Perry on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 2:23 PM


After barely maintaining their county funding for years, in 2007 the Hillsborough County board of County Commissioners stripped their share of financing the Tampa Bay Community Network (a/k/a Speak up, Tampa Bay!) the local cable access channel in Tampa/Hillsborough County. Such funding had been a contentious issue for years before the board stripped it away (who can forget the Ronda Storms/White Chocolate wars of the early aughts?).

Combined with the fact that Bright House Networks then moved the channel from the lower rungs of the cable universe into up in the 600’s, it would be an understatement to say times have been challenging for the public access channel. However, TBCN continues to survive, thanks to the funding it still receives from the city of Tampa.

Although the odds still seem stacked her, TBCN’s head, Louise Thompson, spoke before the BOCC on Wednesday to propose that the county chip in funds for programming that would appeal directly to two groups of constituents that the board is on record as having said they want to help: seniors, and the unemployed.

Thompson suggested to the BOCC that the TBNC would run a weekly show, perhaps live, that would provide information for the unemployed on how to look for jobs, that would offer career counseling, help people learn more about networking, and get more insights about job fairs and places to search for jobs. She said the channel would work with different agencies, where “we would put them on to assist viewers with knowing what to do to get a job.”

Thompson said recently she surveyed those working at the station (where there is a small paid staff but many volunteers) and learned that a third of them are without jobs at the moment.

And she stressed to the commissioners that her station was a great way to train people inexpensively to learn how to work video equipment. “Everything is video these days,” she said. “Newspapers, websites, you can’t do anything without video.” She also said this could help out efforts in Tallahassee to develop the film industry, such as it is, in Florida.

Thompson received a fairly good response from commissioners in terms of the interest in her staff and services coordinating with the county on such programming. But in terms of providing money?

It’s questionable whether there would be four votes to do that.

Commission Chair Al Higginbotham said flat out he would never vote to provide such funds, saying there wasn’t sufficient funds to maintain the budget inside the county’s own communications office.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Victor Crist praised the idea, but Murman in particular said she wasn’t sure if she could support any monies going to the project. But she has been vocal in trying to find ways to alleviate the unemployment problem in the county, and suggested that Thompson meet up with the Workforce Alliance head about working together (That agency is the lead group in trying to help the unemployed find work).

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he was ambivalent about the idea. Admitting that he tweets “non-stop” (including during meetings), Sharpe said that he was concerned that new technologies were leaving TBCN behind.

But more importantly, Sharpe said he has always been uneasy about the idea of the government running a television station (which they still do with HTV, which broadcasts BOCC meetings among other things). “I support you,” he told Thompson, but added that he would not “support any public dollars for additional services.”

Commissioner Ken Hagan brought up some history when he said it was his vote in 2006 that retained public funding for cable access, and his vote in 2007 that killed it. He said he believed there was “potential” to partner up with TBCN..

The BOCC then voted on two separate motions:

The first was to direct County Administrator Mike Merrill to work the TBCN staff to look at funding allocations, and then report back at a future budget workshop. The board voted 5-1 to approve that, with Commissioner Higginbotham voting no (Les Miller was absent).

The second motion was to for staff to study opportunities with the county to work with other local broadcasting systems (not just TBCN but others) on how to deliver “cost effective programming to our constituents.”


Apply for these Citizen Boards!

Hillsborough County News

June 21, 2011

Contact: Luann Finley, Director of Board Services, 813-272-5826

Commissioners Seek Applications For Citizen Boards And Councils

Hillsborough County Commissioners are seeking residents to serve on several County citizen advisory boards and councils. Residents interested in seeking appointment must be registered voters in Hillsborough County. These are voluntary positions, and members serve without compensation.

The deadline for applying is Thursday, July 14. Appointments will be scheduled for a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners in August or September.

An application is available in the Commissioners’ reception area on the second floor of County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa; by calling the Boards and Councils Coordinator at 813-272-5826; or on the County’s Web site at: Click on the “County Commission” link on the left-hand side of the page, then the “Advisory Boards and Committees” sublink. The electronic form can be filled out online and printed, but cannot be submitted electronically. Directions for submission are listed on the form. Note: when you click the “Print Form” button at the end of the questionnaire, it will produce a printer-friendly form and all the information entered will be visible.

The Boards and Councils that have openings are:

CHILD CARE FACILITIES ADVISORY BOARD — This Board advises the Board of County Commissioners on recommended amendments to the Child Care Facilities Ordinance; proposes additional rules and regulations to the Board of County Commissioners which effectuate the intent and purpose of the Ordinance; recommends and assists the Hillsborough County Office of Child Care Licensing in the development and implementation of training materials for child care personnel. It also advises the Hillsborough County Office of Child Care Licensing on all matters pertaining to child care facilities.

One position is vacant due to resignation. Position is for remainder of term which expires 12/31/11. Appointment to this Board is contingent upon passing a criminal background check.

Meeting schedule: Monthly, 1st Thursday, 1 p.m.

FAMILY CHILD CARE HOME ADVISORY BOARD — This Board annually reviews and advises the Board of County Commissioners on recommended amendments to the Family Child Care Homes Licensing Ordinance or the Rules and Regulations Handbook, including recommending and assisting the local licensing agency in the development and implementation of training materials for child care personnel; advising the local licensing agency on matters of licensing policy, procedures and priorities; and proposes additional rules and regulations regarding the intent and purpose of the Ordinance.

Two positions are vacant. Terms are for three years. Positions are specified as parents who have a child enrolled in a licensed family day care home. Appointment to this Board is contingent upon passing a criminal background check.

Meeting schedule: Quarterly, 3rd Thursday, 7 p.m.

HEALTH CARE ADVISORY BOARD — This Board improves accessibility and efficiency of care for medically poor residents of Hillsborough County through recommendations of the Board of County Commissioners for fund allocation, coordination, planning and monitoring of health care delivery systems.

One term has expired. Term is for four years. Position is specified as a mental health care provider.

Meeting schedule: Monthly, 3rd Thursday, 3 p.m.

HILLSBOROUGH AREA REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY (HART) — The purpose of the Hillsborough Transit Authority is to provide excellent customer service while building solutions to support Hillsborough County’s needs….now and into the future..

One position is vacant due to resignation. Term is for three years. Citizen appointed to this Board must reside in the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County. Citizen appointed to this Board will be required to file an annual financial disclosure.

Meeting schedule: Monthly, 1st Monday, 9 a.m.

HISTORIC RESOURCE REVIEW BOARD — This Board serves as an architectural review board for the protection of historic resources in unincorporated Hillsborough County. It recommends archaeological and historical sites to the Board of County Commissioners for landmark designation and reviews alterations and new construction on landmark sites or districts.

Two positions are vacant. One position is for three years. One position is for the remainder of term which expires 2/28/12. Positions are specified as 1) an architect or architectural historian licensed to practice in the state of Florida, and 2) an architect licensed to practice in the state of Florida. Citizens appointed to this Board must reside in the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County. After two consecutive terms a member shall not be eligible for reappointment until one calendar year has elapsed from date of termination of the second term.

Meeting schedule: Monthly, 3rd Tuesday, 3 p.m.

HOUSING FINANCE AUTHORITY — This Authority was created in 1985 to provide incentives to the private sector to relieve the shortage of affordable housing in Hillsborough County. Through partnerships with lenders, builders and developers, the Authority has assisted thousands of first-time home-buyers through mortgage loan programs, which offer below-market mortgage rates and innovative down payment assistance programs. The Authority has also assisted renters through its Multi-Family Bond programs which feature below-market rental rates to lower income individuals and families.

One position is vacant due to resignation. Position is for the remainder of term which expires 8/31/14.

Meeting schedule: Monthly, generally 2nd Friday, 9:30 a.m.

MECHANICAL BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT, APPEALS AND EXAMINERS — This Board confirms the competency and integrity of applicants applying for mechanical certification in the County, and takes disciplinary action against those contractors that fail to comply with the Mechanical Code.

Three positions are vacant. Member term is for four years. Alternate terms are for two years. Positions are specified as 1) a mechanical trade representative, and 2 & 3) alternates. Alternate members must be knowledgeable and experienced in the technical codes of this Board. Citizens appointed to this Board will be required to file an annual financial disclosure.

Meeting schedule: Quarterly, 3rd Thursday, 10 a.m.

For more information, contact Luann Finley, Director of Board Services, at 813-272-5826.




Come out and meet me for coffee at West Tampa Sandwich Shop on Friday, July 8th at 9:00 a.m.

Share your ideas for our community and our county.

I look forward to seeing you there.

When: Friday, July 8th, 2011 – 9:00 a.m.

Where: West Tampa Sandwich Shop, 3904 N. Armenia Avenue, Tampa, FL  33607



Water Rate Increase hits Hillsborough

Tampa Bay Water approves 3-cent rate increase, reservoir expansion

By Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Jun 20, 2011 11:05 AM

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Times article on Tampa Bay Water rate increase:

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water will raise its rates as it raises the walls of its reservoir, voting Monday for both a 3 cent rate increase and for expanding its reservoir by 3 billion gallons.

The utility’s board also voted to hire a Nebraska-based firm, Kiewit Infrastructure Group, to handle the expansion and repairs to the reservoir’s walls, which have repeatedly cracked.

“This is a historic moment for Tampa Bay Water and for the region,” Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who chairs the wholesale regional utility, said after the vote to expand the 15.5 billion-gallon C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in rural Hillsborough County.

Water rates throughout Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties would go up by 3 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used, or just under a quarter for the typical user of 8,000 gallons a month. The increase is necessary, according to finance director Koni Cassini, because during the reservoir repair the reservoir will be emptied, and the utility’s Apollo Beach desalination plant will be run more frequently to supply water at a higher cost.

The total price of the repair and expansion of the reservoir is now estimated to be more than $162 million, with $120 million to fix the cracks and another $42 million for the expansion of a facility that originally cost $144 million to build. The utility plans to ask the Southwest Florida Water Management District for financial assistance, although that state agency is facing a 36 percent budget cut mandated by the Legislature.

Some Tampa Bay Water board members had initially questioned the need for expanding the reservoir, but they voted unanimously to approve the expansion. The most vocal critic, St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse, said he would vote for it because when completed the 18.5 billion-gallon reservoir would lead Tampa Bay Water to be far less likely to use its desal plant, which produces the most expensive water in the system.

However, Nurse and other board members strongly opposed the rate increase included in the $164 million budget for next year, especially since demand for water in the Tampa Bay area has fallen because of the economic slump.

“My constituents are going to ask, ‘How can you justify raising my rates?’ ” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman told her fellow utility board members. “We cannot put any more burdens on our rate payers.”

Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda warned that if they did not raise the rates a little right now, the reservoir repair cost might force them to raise the rates a lot later and then “the sticker shock to the rate payers is really going to be troublesome.”

The rate increase, raising rates to $2.55 per 1,000 gallons, passed on a 5-3 vote.

At this point the utility staff members hope they will be able to offset at least some of the cost with money from suing the company that designed the reservoir, HDR Engineering. But if that does not cover the cost, then rates may have to go up, with the average user seeing a boost of about $1 a month.

The utility’s general manager, Gerald Seeber, strongly urged the board to approve doing the expansion of the reservoir now even though water demand has dropped. Seeber contended it’s less disruptive to do the expansion work during the repair than to try to do it after it’s fixed; and $42 million is less than the estimated $200 million to $300 million to build a second reservoir.

The utility opened the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in June 2005 to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. The reservoir covers about 1,100 acres in Hillsborough County.

The walls consist of an earthen embankment as wide as a football field at its base, averaging about 50 feet high. An impermeable membrane buried in the embankment prevents leaks.

The embankment’s top layer, a mixture of soil and cement to prevent erosion, began cracking in December 2006. Some cracks were up to 400 feet long and up to 15 1/2 inches deep. Workers patched the cracks, but the patches didn’t last.

An investigation found that water is getting trapped between the soil-cement lining and the membrane. As long as the reservoir is full, the trapped water remains stable. When the utility draws down the reservoir, though, pressure increases on trapped water in some areas, producing cracks and soil erosion.

The cracks have not been deemed a safety hazard, but utility officials say if they don’t fix their underlying cause, conditions could get worse.

However, HDR Engineering says the problem is not that serious and could be solved with a simple monitoring and maintenance program that would cost less than $1 million a year — a contention utility officials say is false.

Now that the board has approved hiring Kiewit, the utility’s staff will begin negotiating a contract with the company. The goal is to get a contractor hired by Aug. 15 so design and permitting can start by Sept. 1 and construction can start by September 2012. The work is likely to last two years.


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