Commissioners approve plans for first needle exchange program in Hillsborough County

The goal is to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases among intravenous drug users, their sexual partners and their children.

Anastasia Dawson


TAMPA — It’s a controversial solution to a complicated problem — and one that Hillsborough County has never tried before.

But with a groundswell of support from local health agencies, county commissioners gave final approval on Wednesday to launch a countywide needle and syringe exchange program.

Local governments throughout the country have operated similar programs for decades as a way to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases among intravenous drug users, their sexual partners and their children. But Hillsborough’s forthcoming Syringe Service Program, expected to begin in March, will be one of the first of its kind in state history.

Launching any county-wide programs where citizens could get free hypodermic needles and syringes in exchange for used ones was banned by the Florida Legislature until late last year, when lawmakers learned the results of a five-year pilot program in Miami-Dade County and reversed the ruling.

Local governments are still prohibited from using state, county or municipal funding to launch a needle exchange. Yet at least three other counties — Manatee, Palm Beach and Broward — have also begun efforts to begin their own programs in the wake of the decision.

For Commissioner Sandra Murman, who has worked to launch a Hillsborough-based program, the proof was in the numbers.

The University of Miami, which was tasked by the state with overseeing the pilot project, reported steady decreases in the the number of opioid-related deaths in Miami-Dade County – from 321 deaths in 2016 to 305 in 2017 to 213 in 2018. It was the only county in the state where the number of opioid-related deaths actually decreased in 2018.

In 2017, Hillsborough County reported 179 opioid-related deaths. In 2018, that number increased to 222.

The county has also grappled with a surge in the number of citizens living with HIV. In 2018, Hillsborough County counted 7,521 citizens living with the virus, at least 323 of whom were newly diagnosed. Considering that the average lifetime cost of HIV treatment is about $400,000 per person, Murman said, the new initiative will not only save lives but also taxpayer dollars.

“Hillsborough County is experiencing one of the highest HIV rates in the state of Florida. We have the highest opioid death rate. We have to do something,” Murman urged the board at Wednesday’s meeting.

“This is a tool in the toolbox,” she said. “Every single inch of this program has been scrutinized legally, medically and socially because I wanted to answer my own concerns on whether we were doing the right thing. And I can say now we are absolutely doing the right thing.”

The initiative came to the board with the unanimous support of Hillsborough’s 52-member Health Care Advisory Board as well as the county’s Behavioral Health Task Force. A lengthy review of programs throughout the country found little evidence that these initiatives led to increased intravenous drug use or crime like lawmakers feared, county health officials said.

Commissioners have yet to approve any contracts or agreements with the agencies needed to support the program. But the county’s Health Care Services department has already secured partnerships with agencies including Tampa General Hospital, the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine, the USF Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, Gracepoint, Metro Inclusive Health and the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, known as DACCO.

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The program can easily be supported by existing outreach initiatives sponsored by the university and Tampa General Hospital. The current plan is to operate the program out of vans owned by USF’s Tampa Bay Street Medicine student organization.

The group has already identified three target areas around Hillsborough Avenue and 22nd Street where the mobile teams would not only pass out free syringes, but also provide condoms, alcohol swabs and Narcan, said Dr. Asa Oxner, a doctor at Tampa General and an associate program director of internal medicine at USF.

“We have a grant already that we are using to pay for prescription medications for these patients, and that grant could be used to buy the starting stock of syringes that we would use for the exchange,” Oxner said. “We would be ready to go as soon as it’s voted into ordinance.”

Jason Wilson, an emergency medicine doctor at Tampa General, is tapped to serve as one of the program’s medical directors. With the county’s existing partnerships, Wilson said, the program can also provide those patients with mental health counseling, connect them to social services for long-term care and provide on-site medical treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes, hepatitis C and HIV.

“When I trained, patients would come in with a drug overdose and we really had no options for those patients,” Wilson said. “We would tell them, ‘Good luck, here’s a list of resources, I hope you do better.’ Patients died.”

“I think we have an opportunity here today to save patients’ lives,” Wilson said.


Small business impact noted, support available


Published on: December 5, 2019

Recognizing the major impact small businesses have on the local economy, Hillsborough County commissioners gave a plug to small business owners while the Riverview Chamber’s Tanya Doran asked shoppers to think beyond Small Business Saturday.

Launched by American Express in 2010 and held the last Saturday in November, Small Business Saturday aims to increase sales for smaller businesses during a time of the year when big-box stores and e-commerce interests promote Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

At their Nov. 6 board meeting, Hillsborough County commissioners, back, issued a proclamation in support of Small Business Saturday, founded by American Express in 2010 and held the last Saturday of November. Commissioner Sandra Murman, front, in red, spearheaded the proclamation, which recognizes Nov. 30 as this year’s shop local push. With Murman are, from left, Lindsey Kimball, with the county’s economic development council, and Dellinda and Greg Rabinowitz, co-founders of Urban E Recycling, which disposes and recycles electronics in the Tampa Bay area.

Doran, executive director of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, “loves the aspect of Small Business Saturday, but I want to take it outside that one Saturday a year and make it a year-round effort,” she said. “We need to get the community to realize we have these wonderful, great small businesses in our area and that to keep them open, we have to support them.”

According to Doran, 75 to 80 percent of her chamber’s almost 800 members own businesses with 20 or fewer employees.

By shopping local “you’re supporting those who work, live and play in your community,” she said. “These are moms and pops and grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles who pay taxes to support the quality of life in our community.”

Commissioner Sandra Murman presented the Small Business Saturday proclamation read at the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners board meeting Nov. 6.

“Our community would not be a success without its small businesses and our budding entrepreneurs,” she said, noting that more than 80 percent of businesses in Hillsborough County have 10 or fewer employees.

According to the 2018 Small Business Profile produced by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 30.2 million small businesses throughout the country, accounting for 99.9 percent of businesses nationwide. This accounts for 58.9 million small business employees, representing 47.5 percent of employees nationwide.

Hillsborough County supports “incubators, accelerators, education partners and other resources to help entrepreneurs be successful through access to capital, mentors and training,” said Murman, in recognizing the Hillsborough County Entrepreneur Collaborative Center (ECC), established in 2014 and spearheaded by then-commissioner Mark Sharpe.

The ECC is designed to provide easy access to business service providers, resources, mentors and specialty training for small- to mid-sized businesses at all stages of development and in a wide range of categories, including pre-venture, start-up, micro-enterprise, community-based, targeted industry and technology and innovation.

According to Murman, the ECC “is home to more than 85 partners providing more than 14,000 points of assistance” and has become “the center of gravity for anyone looking to start or grow their business here in Hillsborough County.”

The center is home as well to the Florida Small Business Development Center at Hillsborough County, which has Tampa Bay locations at the University of South Florida (Port Tampa Bay Building, 1101 Channelside Drive, Suite 210) and USF CONNECT (3802 Spectrum Blvd., Suite 111). The FSBDC provides no-cost consulting, low-cost training and access to business data and research resources. Specialized services include capital access, market growth, government contracting, international trade, cybersecurity, disaster planning and more.

Operated by the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department, the ECC is centrally located in Ybor City at 2101 East Palm Avenue, Tampa. Parking is at 2109 East 11th Avenue. The center is open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with evening and weekend hours available upon request. Call: 813-204-9267 or visit: and search for “Entrepreneur Collaborative.”

For information about local offerings for FSBDC, a statewide network of more than 40 offices from Pensacola to Key West, visit For the Florida network, visit

For information about the U.S. Small Business Administration, including size standards and free business planning tools and resources, visit


28.5M Awarded to Hillsborough County in BP Oil Settlement

Hillsborough County, Fla. (July 16, 2015) – The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) passed a resolution Wednesday to ratify a settlement with BP Oil that will pay the County $28.5M. The settlement covers monetary damages incurred by the County following the malfunctioning of BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

“This settlement is a reward for the incredible job our businesses did, allowing us all to flourish despite trying circumstances,” said Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman.  “The oil spill took a real toll on our tourism industry, and we are so pleased to have secured this relief for our hardworking residents.”

Following the Deepwater Horizon spill, the County hired the Fowler White Boggs law firm and associated firms to identify the monetary damages caused to the County and recover those funds from the responsible parties. The settlement is due to be paid in the next 90 days.

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Hillsborough County News

April 6, 2012

Contact: Willie Puz, Communications Department, 813-272-5314

Hillsborough County To Improve Its Health Care Plan

Hillsborough County Commissioners heard the results of an audit of the County’s Health Care Plan at their regularly-scheduled Board meeting Wednesday and an action plan from staff to streamline and improve the Plan’s client eligibility review.  County Commissioner Sandra Murman called for the audit last year that led to the Plan improvements.


The evaluation of the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan (Plan) showed some current members no longer qualify, and by moving these members to other programs where they do qualify, new eligible individuals could be added. A random sampling of 380 Health Care Plan members found that 18 percent were no longer eligible and another 18 percent need better documentation to demonstrate their eligibility.


“When I requested this audit of the county’s Health Care Plan last Fall, I was concerned that some of our most vulnerable citizens, the un-insured and the under-insured, were slipping through the cracks, and not being able to benefit from one of our most important programs,” said Commissioner Murman at the Board meeting.


The County is implementing a number of changes in response to the findings. The new approach features a restructuring of duties to form a health care team dedicated solely to conducting reviews of applicants’ eligibility. This new team recently received advanced training on eligibility screening, enrollment practices, and the new data-gathering technology, as it has the potential to verify a person’s eligibility for other social service programs and county-wide services.


Though Plan participants are reviewed every six months, past enrollment practices included using an older applicant verification system. In addition, social workers were multi-tasking with each applicant to test their eligibility for many different types of social services, each with different eligibility requirements.


Hillsborough County will begin an immediate eligibility review of the approximate 14,000 Plan members using the new data-gathering technology. Should any Plan member be determined to no longer meet the Plan’s eligibility criteria, they will be notified and transitioned to other community resources in a responsible manner and timeframe. The full Plan member’s review should be complete by the end of this summer.


The Hillsborough County Health Care Plan is funded by a ½ cent sales tax. To be eligible, applicants must be a legal U.S. resident and Hillsborough County resident; have income at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level; have assets within established guidelines; not be eligible for other health care coverage; and not be in violation of the “three strikes policy.”


The typical member is between the ages of 18-64 and single. Families with children are generally eligible for Medicaid, and do not participate in the County’s Health Care Plan.



HART asks Scott to veto merger bill

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tribune article on HART board asking Governor to veto merger bill:

By TED JACKOVICS | The Tampa Tribune
Published: April 03, 2012 Updated: April 03, 2012 – 12:00 AM


The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a state transportation bill that includes a requirement that HART and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority boards identify opportunities to merge.
HART board members voted Monday to adopt a resolution that stated their opposition to House Bill 599, which was passed in the final hours of the legislative session last month.

Board members said a veto might be a long shot since Scott would have to veto the entire bill that contains statewide measures involving other transportation and mitigation issues.

Still, the board wants to make known its opposition to merger planning launched by state Sen. Jack Latvala, a St. Petersburg Republican, and a requirement to pay the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority up to $100,000 to participate in a consolidation study.

“We want to throw this under the bus, so to speak,” said Sandy Murman, HART board member and Hillsborough County commissioner.
Neither transit board is interested in combining operations or decision-making at the top, although the two systems share routes and participate in equipment and fuel purchasing pools.

On a separate topic, HART chief operating officer Katharine Eagan said bus ridership increased 7 percent in February compared with a year ago to 1.2 million passengers. The increase is overcrowding buses and forcing some riders to stand while traveling at least seven routes beyond rush-hour runs, she said.
“We are becoming victims of our own success,” Eagan said.

The latest route to fill buses and require standing is Route 18 on 30th Street. Eagan said the agency doesn’t have the money to buy additional buses for Routes 1, 2, 6, 12, 32 and 34.


Hillsborough County News
March 30, 2012
Media Contact: Carol Michel, Communications Department, 813-307-8380, mobile 813-426-2494

Hillsborough County And UCF Partner To Create New Jobs

Hillsborough County has partnered with the Florida Economic Gardening Institute at the University of Central Florida to offer an Economic Gardening program to help local qualified businesses achieve financial success. Economic Gardening is a concept developed to address the needs of growth-oriented small businesses to promote job creation and increase their sustainability.

The initiative, offered through the Institute’s GrowFL program, will provide specialized services and support for CEOs of second-stage businesses. Second-stage businesses are for-profit businesses that employ seven to 100 people. To be eligible for this program, businesses must be headquartered in Hillsborough County, and provide services or products locally, as well as for regional, national or international markets.

The program will assist qualified businesses with market research, business strategy, competitive analysis, Web and social media strategies, and search engine optimization. These services are designed to help companies increase sales rapidly, with the goal of creating new jobs within the company and bringing positive economic benefits to the local community.

“I fully support the efforts for economic development by our County staff in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Partnership to promote jobs and growth for our small businesses in the Tampa Bay area,” said District 1 Commissioner Sandra L. Murman, who is a strong small business advocate. “I am proud of the fact that we are giving every citizen a chance to realize their dream of owning a successful business.”

Since its inception in 2009, GrowFL has helped create more than 3,200 direct and indirect local jobs, and contributed more than $510.4 million to Florida’s economy.

Business can apply for the program at


Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tribune article on Congressional transportation bill:

By TED JACKOVICS | The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 16, 2012 Updated: March 16, 2012 – 12:00 AM


Traffic crawled along the westbound lanes of Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa late Thursday morning, five hours before the evening rush hour would jam things up even more.

Congestion like that is what’s at stake in a transportation bill tied up in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill is pitting Republicans against Republicans and threatens highway projects, construction jobs and transit funds for agencies including HART.

Although the Senate this week approved a two-year, $109 billion bill to fund highways and transit, there’s no assurance the House will act by a March 31 deadline to forestall a major transportation funding collapse.
The good news locally: I-275 reconstruction between State Road 60 near Tampa International Airport and the Hillsborough River downtown should not be affected by the outcome of the pending federal bill.

Contractors will submit bids in April — the maximum bid is about $255 million — to complete reconstruction of I-275’s southbound lanes from the Hillsborough River to Himes Avenue, and both directions between Himes and State Road 60.

Construction will begin after the Republican National Convention in late August and will take four to five years to complete.

“This project will move forward as planned,” Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kristen Carson said. “The funding is over 80 percent federal, but there is some state funding. The funding has been in place and to our knowledge, should not be affected by the transportation bill.”

The same cannot be said for continued federal transit funding and road and bridge projects that could affect up to 2.8 million jobs nationwide.

“This transportation bill is all about jobs,” said U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “The House of Representatives is tied up in knots in a rigid ideological battle. We need to come together and pass the Senate bill.”

The bill, co-sponsored by one of the most liberal Democrats, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, and one of the most conservative Republicans, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, keeps federal highway, transit and other surface transportation projects intact, although not at levels President Barack Obama sought.

In the House, various Republican versions separated transit appropriations from highway bills, which transit supporters fear would lead to less money, and tied expanded oil drilling to transportation measures.

However, Republicans have not been able to agree about specifics. With the March 31 deadline two weeks off, they are faced with adopting the bipartisan Senate measure or risking national voter backlash from business and workforce interests.

Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority board member, joined Castor on Thursday to back passage of a transportation bill, saying, “Politicians, let’s wake up.”
If the bill isn’t signed by March 31 and there is no extension, HART wouldn’t be reimbursed for the reserves they are using now and would enter fiscal 2013 with $5 million less in its budget, HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said.

J.C. Miseroy, of Granite Construction of Tampa and chairman of the Florida Transportation Builders Association, said transportation projects need to be budgeted on an ongoing, long-term basis.

“If you don’t have long-term funding, it’s hard to make plans and you end up with a mess like this,” Miseroy said, pointing to unfinished construction along I-275 and midday traffic congestion.


Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Business Journal article on U.S. Senate transportation bill:

Tampa Bay Business Journal by Mark Holan, Staff Writer
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 2:46pm EDT

Mark Holan
Staff Writer – Tampa Bay Business Journal

With the rumble of trucks and cars on Interstate 275 in the background, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and a bipartisan group of business and political leaders today urged passage of the Senate’s $109 billion transportation bill.

Some $2 billion is at stake for Florida road construction, public transit and even bicycle paths.
Unfortunately, Castor said, “the House is tied in knots” and failure to pass a bill by March 31 means no funding for projects such as the still-incomplete widening of I-275 in the background of her press conference.

The three-term Tampa Democrat opposes House Republican provisions that could bring offshore drilling to Florida’s coast and strip out federal funding for public transit.

Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who also sits on the county’s bus agency board, joined Castor’s call to restore transit funding to the House bill.

Castor also was joined by Alison Hewitt, president of the Central Florida chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials; Mark House managing director of The Beck Group; The Beck Group Latest from The Business Journals Slideshow: A look at First Baptist Church’s open design philosophy A look at First Baptist Church’s open design philosophy CAMLS serves up catering business Follow this company and J.C. Miseroy, chief estimator of Granite Construction; Granite Construction Latest from The Business Journals VTA closes in on contractor, moves ahead on BART project SMUD facility aims at extreme efficiency goalsDesign-build team picked for 0M Boulder Turnpike improvements Follow this company and chairman of the Florida Transportation Builders Association.

“We want more than a temporary extension,” Miseroy said. “We want to put people to work permanently.”
House said that “transportation is a key backbone to economic development.”

But the short-term crisis of passing a transportation bill is overshadowed by the long-term disaster of not having enough money to pay for transportation, Brad Plumer wrote online in today’s Washington Post:
“At the moment, it looks like the federal government will simply run out of money to fund the nation’s transportation needs. That’s because the Highway Trust Fund, which is paid for by the federal gas tax, is running out. Americans are buying more fuel-efficient cars and driving less. And the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax isn’t indexed to inflation. Already, there aren’t sufficient funds to maintain transportation spending at current levels.”

“At the moment, it looks like the federal government will simply run out of money to fund the nation’s transportation needs. That’s because the Highway Trust Fund, which is paid for by the federal gas tax, is running out. Americans are buying more fuel-efficient cars and driving less. And the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax isn’t indexed to inflation. Already, there aren’t sufficient funds to maintain transportation spending at current levels.”

Nobody wants to pay higher prices. But if you think roads are bumpy and the mass transit is skimpy today, getting around could become even rougher in the coming years.


Commissioner Sandy Murman, speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for Friendship Village on March 13th.


Commissioner Murman quoted in this 10News story on Soccer goal safety:

by Noah Pransky 10 News

TAMPA BAY, Florida – Months after a 10 News investigation called attention to often-ignored safety recommendations on soccer fields, tens of thousands of Tampa Bay-area kids are now safer.

City and county leaders are scrambling to anchor down heavy soccer goals that had been left precariously balanced and unsecured at nearly every field in Tampa Bay. It was a heavy steel goal that killed 18-year-old Corey Hawk in Lake Wales five years ago when it tumbled over.

According to goal manufacturers, 300- or 400-lb. goals are often left unanchored by field maintenance crews because anchors and/or sandbags make it harder to mow.

But just as fast as the initial report brought the issue to the attention of local leaders, many of them have stepped up with quick fixes for both the short- and long-terms.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman asked county staff to survey its fields. Of 106 soccer goals, only 12 were properly secured. 

“I was alarmed, completely alarmed,” Murman said. “We’re taking every step we can to make sure we’re going to have a permanent solution in place and that we’re following the guidelines.”

Hillsborough County Administrator Michael Merrill ordered sandbags immediately dropped on the goals after seeing the 10 News report and told leagues to present a long-term fix within two weeks. All had to utilize anchors, additional sandbags, or chains.

“(Leagues) were furnished a copy of a report entitled ‘Guidelines for Movable Soccer Goal Safety’ authored by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Merrill wrote in an e-mail to commissioners. “The County Attorney’s Office was also consulted regarding our levels of liability, and they provided assistance with wording for additional notification to leagues.”

The city of Tampa wasted no time either and bought permanent anchors for all of their goals.

“We wouldn’t have known about it had you not done the story, so we’re glad you brought it to our attention.” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “Clearly, there was potential liability. Clearly, a young man lost his life unnecessarily. I don’t want that to happen in my city.”

Permanent anchors were installed at numerous fields less than a week later.

In Polk County, where Hawk died in 2007, the presidents of all the local soccer clubs met to discuss the 10 News story and goal safety. Fighting the frustrating battle for years, they say they need more help from everyone when it comes to securing goals.

“Safety is not just the league’s responsibility, safety is every single person’s responsibility,” says Lake Wales Soccer Club President Robbie Shields.

Sheilds sent an e-mail ultimatum to coaches that he’ll pull the team off the field if they are practicing near unsecured goals.

Pinellas County commissioners and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster also took immediate action, encouraging their staffs to draw up language mandating local leagues lock down their goals.

However, in Pasco County, a month after 10 News first brought the problem to commissioners, only some of the county’s goals had been unanchored down on county fields. Many were tied down to fences, but several goals on several different fields remained unsecured.

Jack Mitchell Park had five heavy nets with too few sandbags to meet more anchoring guidelines. There were five other nets with no anchoring whatsoever. At John Testa Field, four large goals had no anchoring at all.

Commissioners repeatedly referred questions to Pasco County Parks and Recreation Director Rick Buckman, who said via email that leagues were told to take care of the problem.

“All the co-sponsored soccer league leaders…have been instructed to look at this issue and secure the goals in some fashion (stakes, sand bags, or chains) when in use or available for public use,” Buckman wrote. “If there are issues, the volunteer leadership of the program involved is to be contacted by the park supervisor or an operations manager.

“It is difficult to monitor use when staff is not available and the co-sponsored youth sports organizations are not on site. We will continue to communicate with the co-sponsored youth sports leadership on this issue to help ensure user safety.”

While three states have recently passed laws to mandate goals be secured at all times, Florida is not one of them. But the problem of unanchored goals has been around for decades.

In 1995, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a report about the dangers of goals on 500,000 fields across the county. It puts the responsibility of goal safety on park personnel, parents, school officials, sports equipment purchasers, and coaches.

Goal manufacturer KwikGoal states on its website that goals are to be anchored at all times. The warning has also appeared on goalposts, catalog pages, assembly instructions, and other marketing materials for more than two decades.

Both the US Youth Soccer Association and the Florida Youth Soccer Association stress safety on their websites, reminding coaches and referees to inspect “before every practice, training activity, and game” all goals for safety.

The CPSC believed its 1995 guidelines could help prevent deaths and serious injuries resulting from soccer goal tip-overs in the United States. In the 16 years since, there have been 16 goal-related deaths and at least 30 serious injuries.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to

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