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Picture of sign that says "For Hire."
(Photo/Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)

Area Unemployment Still High Even In “Reopening”

in news/photos/town square

While Florida added 182,900 jobs in May, the state’s unemployment rate was up to 14.5 percent, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

The slight uptick in jobs statewide doesn’t offset the 1.1 million jobs lost in Florida during April when many businesses were closed to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

That 14.5 percent rate translates into 1.4 million unemployed.

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The Rebound Pitch: Come to Downtown Safety Harbor

in city hall/news

The Safety Harbor City Commission agreed Monday night to contribute $15,000 to a six-month Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce marketing campaign that will promote the city as the Florida tourism industry tries to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 virus. 

The “Reopen Recover Reimagine” campaign is designed to help local businesses with the goal of encouraging more people to visit downtown, including day trippers and overnight guests from outside the area, as well as local residents, according to chamber officials. 

It’s part of a statewide “rebound” campaign in which Visit Florida, the state’s Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation, will be contributing an additional $5,000 to the local chamber. 

The Safety Harbor Chamber is also investing $5,000 of its funds, bringing the total for the campaign to $25,000.  

Chamber President Susan Petersen explained to city commissioners that a portion of the program will run from July to December using social media to target potential visitors from up to 150 miles away. 

“A lot of Floridians are looking for stay-cations now because their major vacation plans have changed and they are looking to go locally, so we want them to know about Safety Harbor,” said Petersen. 

Another portion of the campaign will be an 8-week effort beginning July 27 in conjunction with Visit Florida to reach more than 1.2 million Floridians ages 25 to 54 with a tourism message. 

She said the campaign will pound home the message that Safety Harbor is the place to visit.

Peterson said $2,500 of the money will go to printing and distribution of the “Discover Safety Harbor: Treasure of Tampa Bay” rack cards that are available at state visitor centers and hundreds of locations throughout the state.  The current rack cards are four years old and needed to be updated, she said. 

Also included in the campaign is the production of a video commercial about the city including an aerial view of Safety Harbor. The video would be used on chamber and city websites and social media sites.

Safety Harbor Commission Returns to City Hall Monday

in city hall/news

With limited capacity and social-distancing in place, the Safety Harbor City Commission plans to return to the city hall building for a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday night.

Masks are not required but are strongly suggested for this meeting which has a short agenda and a list of safety protocols, including taking the temperatures of all attendees.

This is the first face-to-face commission meeting since April when restrictions caused by the COVID-19 virus pandemic resulted in virtual Zoom meetings.

On the agenda:

+ More discussion about providing financial relief to residents and small businesses in the city. Commissioners have indicated at previous meetings that they are willing to allot $200,000 to $300,000 to aid to local businesses and individuals adversely impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

+ Presentation of 2019 Volunteer of the Year to William Schumacher, Board of Trustees for the Firefighters Pension Trust Fund.

+ A public-hearing on a conditional use application to allow a tourist home at a house on 85 7th Street North.

+ Presentation of the Mayor’s Award of Excellence.

There were be a sign-in sheet for all attendees who must have their temperatures taken. Attendees must also note that they have not recently traveled by air. They also must agree that they nor of their household have been recently exposed to know cases of COVID-19.

Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 will be asked to leave. Those persons may leave written comments or their phone number if they intended to speak,

All rooms in city hall will be kept at 50 percent capacity and attendees must keep 6-foot distancing. However, groups of fewer than 10 people from the same household may sit together.

Once the meeting room reaches 50 percent capacity, any overflow may remain in the lobby with 6-foot distancing. Audio of the meeting will be provided in the lobby.

Those making public comments during the allotted times will be asked not to touch the microphone.

COVID-19 Relief Programs Still Time to Apply for Aid

in city hall/news

One month after launching COVID-19 relief programs for small businesses and individuals, Pinellas County still a lot of money available from a $170 million federal grant. 

As of Monday, county officials report that 4,445 completed applications have been received for Pinellas Cares small business grants of $5,000, including 73 applications from Safety Harbor.  

Of that number, 1,002 checks totaling $5.11 million have been issued and the others are being processed. The deadline for applying has been extended until June 30. 

The county also received 1,928 requests from individuals for money from the Pinellas Cares Financial Assistance program which grants up to $4,000 to cover bills for living expenses. Only two completed requests came from Safety Harbor, but there were 71 calls from Safety Harbor residents seeking information about money for rent, water or electric power bills. 

Of those 1,928 individual applications, 399 had been approved as of June 4, according to county records. Applying for this program also has been extended to June 30. 

The numbers for both programs are going up every day, but the money has been going out slower than expected because of public confusion, said Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton. 

Burton told county commissioners at their June 2 meeting that “we’re are doing everything we can” to reach out to the public and get claims processed. The county had set aside $35 million for the first phase of small business grants.  A phase two of the program was to have started in June but is on hold. 

Burton’s staff had identified more than 6,000 small businesses in the county that might be eligible for help when the programs launched April 30. 

The total of individuals and families has been far less than expected considering that 63,981 people were unemployed in Pinellas County as of May 22, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (up 300 percent over last year). 

“Why didn’t we get more applications?” Burton told commissioners. “The number one problem is confusion.” 

He said that 85 percent of the applications had incomplete or inaccurate information. The application process has been a challenge for some, and many were submitting incomplete documentation. Applicants for individual aid must provide documentation that they lost their job because of the coronavirus pandemic 

Burton also cited possible confusion over applying for other relief programs available such those being offered by Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg. 

Also, with that many incomplete applications, processing them takes more time. Burton said 60 county staffers have been pulled off their jobs to work on the applications. “We are trying to make it as simple as possible, but there are federal requirements that have to be met before we can cut a check,” he said. 

The Safety Harbor City Commission has considered starting a local COVID-19 relief program but has not been able to agree on how to do it. At the Monday, June 1, meeting commissioners agreed to hold-off taking any action to evaluate how the other programs are doing. 

Funding for the two programs comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The Pinellas Cares Financial Assistance offers up to $4,000 in one-time assistance to those who have lost their jobs or had a significant loss in income due to the pandemic.  The money is available to pay overdue rent, mortgage and utility bills, which is paid directly to landlords, mortgage holders or utility companies. 

For information on the small business grants go to the Pinellas County website: https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/pinellascaresbusiness/

For individual and family grants call 211 for more information or for help applying. Call volumes may be higher than usual during the application window. Text messaging ensures the most efficient response. You can also go to https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/pinellascaresindividual 

Volunteer Coordinator Cameron (left), Ilan, Dee and Sandie of the Harbor Dish prepare meals in the Presbyerian Church kitchen.

Harbor Dish: 1,000 Meals And A Happy 91st Birthday

in news/town square

When Lori turned 91 on Friday, her friends from the Harbor Dish stopped by with cards, flowers and food.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” said Lori. “They have been absolutely wonderful to me.”

Lori, who has lived in the area 44 years, injured her back and fractured her skull in December when she tripped and fell.

She is recovering but is homebound, so Dish volunteers have been bringing her meals. Lori said that she can afford to pay but she “just can’t go out right now.”

“My refrigerator is full of goodies, and, most of the time, when they bring me food, they take time to sit and chat. And I like to talk,” said Lori, a widow and former secretary at Jim Walter Homes where her late husband was an international sales manager.

Providing meals, support and friendship is what the Harbor Dish is all about, said Dish founder Christina Sauger.

Lori turned 91 and celebrated with friends from the Harbor Dish

With more than 300 active volunteers, the Dish has been serving the Safety Harbor area since 2013.

Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the non-profit group has seen need for food more than double since Florida’s safe-at-home restrictions began in March.

“We are helping a lot of working families that aren’t working right now and don’t qualify for other programs,” said Sauger, who along with other non-paid volunteers work out of the kitchen at the First Presbyterian Church at 255 5th Avenue South.

“And we’re delivering meals to a lot of elderly people who aren’t supposed to leave their homes now,” she said.

“Over the course of the pandemic we’ve given away over a thousand boxes of food,” said Cameron Zamanian, Dish Volunteer Coordinator.

Zamanian said that the Dish has a good relationship with the Whole Foods Market, collecting food every Sunday that is still good but nearing expiration.

“It’s a lot of food, and we bring it to the church and pack it in boxes for families that have signed up for our services,” he said. “We give each family a box with food and produce that could be five to 10 meals.”

Zamanian, who joined the Dish volunteers at the outset of the pandemic shutdown, said this program helps people while reducing food waste. The Dish is also partnered with Panera Bread, Nature’s Food Patch, Bonefish Grill and other food vendors and restaurants to receive donated food and prepared meals.

Sauger said that the Dish also cooks for children at the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor on Tuesdays. “We haven’t been able to prepare meals at the Ranch because of the COVID lockdown, but we still cook the meals and deliver them,” she said.

The Dish also prepares and delivers meals to people suffering from debilitating health conditions, including elderly citizens and cancer patients.

Sauger said that some people have a misconception about the Dish.

“We are not a soup kitchen,” she said. “We give a hand up and not a handout. It’s about more than just food. It’s about providing friendly support and a sense of community.”

“We don’t qualify people,” she said. “We get referrals. We don’t require a lot of personal information, and everybody is treated with respect. You won’t often see pictures of the people we serve on social media. Everything is done privately.”

The Harbor Dish is modeled after the One World Everybody Eats community cafes, including Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchens in New Jersey. There are about 60 cafes nationwide where patrons pay what they can or pay it forward for someone in need.

“But no one is paying right now because of the virus situation,” Sauger said.
And beyond the COVID-19 crisis, there is a need. Nearly half of the children in the three elementary schools serving Safety Harbor qualified for free or reduced-price lunch during the 2019-2020 school year.


Zamanian said there is always a need by the Dish for committed volunteers as well as for donations. The Dish has one delivery vehicle, an SUV, but could use another, said Sauger.

“Our next step is to open a café where people can come in and see what we do,” Zamanian said.

“The space we are using at the church is donated and it is shared,” Sauger added. “We need a commercial kitchen.”

Plans to open a Harbor Dish café on 4th Avenue South were scrapped several years ago when bringing the building up to city code proved too costly.

The Dish is actively seeking a space for a small cafe, where everyone can dine together in dignity, regardless of means.

Sauger said that in general in these cafes, about 80 percent of customers pay the suggested amount or pay it forward for the other 20 percent, who pay whatever they can. It has been a successful model that allows everyone respect and fosters a strong sense of community — something that everyone is looking forward to getting back to after the pandemic.

To get in touch with the Harbor Dish, call (727) 796-8286 or e-mail: harbordish.harbordish.org

Harbor dish volunteers provide boxes of food for families who have been hit hard by the COVID 19 virus threat.

Safety Harbor Commission Cancels 4th of July Fireworks

in city hall/events/news

Safety Harbor city commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to cancel the city’s annual 4th of July parade and a fireworks show that would have been held at the Waterfront Park.

However, commissioners instructed City Manager Matt Spoor to work with the American Legion Post 283 on possibly holding a “scaled down” 4th of July drive-thru of local neighborhoods.

The possibility of drawing huge crowds to town during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the main reason for canceling this year’s celebration. Previous 4th of July fireworks shows have drawn an estimated 10,000 spectators.

Safety Harbor joins other cities in the area that have canceled fireworks including Clearwater, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Gulfport, and Sarasota.

Mayor Joe Ayoub said he had received a call from Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri who advised that with all the other fireworks shows being canceled, people from those towns might come to Safety Harbor if there was a fireworks show.

Ayoub said he was “fine with having no fireworks this year”.

Commissioners Cliff Merz, Andy Zodrow, Carlos Diaz and Nancy Besore agreed that the potential crowd would be unmanageable and a potential health hazard.

The commission also received e-mails and comments from residents who oppose having fireworks and a parade this year.

“I think the patriotic thing this year is to keep our people safe,” said Besore.

City Manager Spoor said the American Legion Post, which sponsors the parade, wants to do something on the 4th, possibly something similar to a recent drive-thru graduation celebration organized for Safety Harbor school children.

A caravan of decorated cars traveled through neighborhoods where graduates and their families could celebrate from their yards, driveways or garages.

Commissioners also kept open an option to hold a fireworks show for Veterans Day in November which will be discussed at a future commission meeting.

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