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Safety Harbor Marina boat ramp, predawn on March 28, 2020. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

May the Fourth

in news/town square

Today, Pinellas County beaches reopen amidst a pandemic. Tonight, the city commission will meet virtually to discuss, amongst other things, how to best support shuttered local businesses as they also begin to reopen under new guidelines. And here at the Safety Harbor Sun, we are taking a moment to reflect.

The Safety Harbor Sun launched as a hyperlocal, digital news site one year ago today. Started as a graduate school project exploring new models of hyperlocal journalism, our goals remain the same: to be a community-led, community-supported sustainable local news and information source, to be a forum for productive community dialogue and to provide opportunities for residents to participate in journalism and journalism education.

The coronavirus pandemic reinforces for us that, in this era of dwindling local news coverage, “fake news” and questionable sources, bot-driven social media discussions and deep partisanship, trustworthy local news is needed more than ever.

The Safety Harbor Sun‘s first year was self-funded (as part of that graduate school project) and we are fortunate to report that the very basic expenses of our next year have been covered through donations to our GoFundMe campaign. We look forward to the next year and hope you will continue to support us: as readers, as contributors of writing or photography, through financial support and by sharing our content with your neighbors, families and friends.

Like you, we love Safety Harbor. We are glad to be here.

Safety Harbor Library Grab & Go Service Starts May 11

in news

The Safety Harbor Public Library will begin a concierge “Grab & Go” pick-up service on Monday, May 11. 

According to a news release from the library, patrons can go online to the Pinellas County Library Catalog and look for what’s available at the Safety Harbor Library (https://pplc.ent.sirsi.net/).  

After finding the available titles that you want (books, DVDs, etc.), call 727-724-1525 extension 4112 to place them on hold. You can select up to 10 titles per library card. You need to have the card available to place items on hold. 

You can then pick them up at the library between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays only. You cannot go inside the library building which is closed because of concerns about the COVID-19 virus. 

Items must be available locally at the Safety Harbor Public Library, and not at other libraries in the county.  

You can also email the library to place your request for titles that you have selected. The e-mail address is shplref@cityofsafetyharbor.com  

Include your name, library card number, and title and format (DVD, book, large print) of items requested in the e-mail.

You will be notified by an e-mail or call when your items are ready for pick-up.

Items will be available at the front doors of the Safety Harbor Public Library.  This service will be discontinued when the library reopens. 

Please park and walk to the front doors to get your items. If you cannot park due to mobility reasons, you may drive up under the vestibule. Please have your ID ready.

While waiting for your items please remain six feet away from the next person in line. Stand lines are noted on the sidewalk. The staff will be wearing masks, and we ask you to also wear yours.

Please be patient if there is a line and follow CDC safety recommendations. A staff member will place your items on a cart for you to take. They will be already checked out to you.  

Not sure what you want to read? Look at Novelist. NoveList Plus is an online reader’s resource that helps you uncover your next great read. It has reading recommendations for both fiction and nonfiction, for all ages. It features, read-alike recommendations crafted by experts, listen-alike recommendations for audiobooks, series information, and lists such as top ten, best of, and favorites. Visit: http://tiny.cc/SHPLNovelist NOTE: Not all books on NoveList may be available in the Library.  

For information call 724-1525 x 4112 or visit www.SafetyHarborLibrary.com 

Safety Harbor City Commission Goes Virtual Again Tonight

in city hall/news

SAFETY HARBOR – Safety Harbor city commissioners will explore how the city can help local businesses at a virtual meeting set for 7 tonight. 

During the April 20 meeting, there was discussion about giving relief to local businesses effected by the recent “safe-at-home” action to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

Some businesses can reopen today with limited capacity and social distancing in place. 

One program, suggested at the last meeting, would involve giving $25 vouchers to the 6,950 households in the city. These vouchers could only be used at local businesses. Another program could offer $1,000 grants to the estimated 185 small businesses in the city.  

Among other items on the agenda: approval of the 2021 Art & Seafood Festival at the Waterfront Park planned for February, selection of three beneficiaries for the 2020 Wine Festival planned for November, appointment of two members to the Library Advisory Committee, and approval of $30,735 to replace shingle roofs on Safety Harbor city park buildings. 

Residents can participate several ways.  

Call In: Toll-free 877-853-5257. 

 Mobile Device: The Zoom application is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Enter Zoom Meeting ID # 968 6516 4399 

 Web Browser: https://cityofsafetyharbor.zoom.us/j/96865164399 

 City Website: http://www.cityofsafetyharbor.com/557/ 

Streaming-Media Television: Spectrum Channel 638 | WOW! Channel 15 | Frontier Channel 30  

To Offer Public Comment: Email: PComment@cityofsafetyharbor.com  

Emailed comments under 500 words will be read aloud during the meeting, longer emails will be provided to the City Commissioners but will not be read aloud.  

Voice Live During Meeting: “Raise Your Hand” and the host will be notified that you wish to comment, and you will be called on at the appropriate time. Please note that live public comment may only be shared during the associated agenda item or as part of audience to be heard. At all other times, live participants will be on “mute” to minimize background noise and feedback. To Raise Your Hand: – From your telephone touchpad, Press Star (*) and then 9 – From web browser or mobile app, use the “Raise Hand” icon. 

A sign posted on the window of Brian's Barbershop on March 26 shares the store's closing due to coronavirus concerns. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

The No List: What Can Open on Monday in Pinellas County & Safety Harbor

in news/photos/town square

Your dog can get a haircut but you can’t visit a barber. You can rent a kayak but you can’t get a tattoo. You can visit a tanning salon but you can’t go bowling.

These are some of results of efforts by the state of Florida and Pinellas County to ease the restrictions put in place in March to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Keep Reading

Major Ayoub’s Town Hall: Water Bills, Closing Main Street, Curbside Library

in city hall/news

A virtual Safety Harbor town hall meeting Saturday had citizens commenting about opening parks, resuming city services, and closing off Main Street to allow more outdoor dining at restaurants.

And a few complained about unusually high water bills.

Mayor Joe Ayoub, Fire Chief Josh Stefancic and City Manager Matt Spoor gave updates on how the city is dealing with the safe-at-home measures that closed many businesses and services during April in an effort to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also closed are City Hall and other city buildings such as the Safety Harbor Community Center, the Safety Harbor Museum, and Rigsby Recreation Center. And those are not likely to reopen until June 1, said Spoor.

Also closed are all parks, including the skateboard park, playgrounds, basketball courts and baseball fields. These may be reopened sooner than June 1, Spoor said. It depends on what the state and county officials do so there is no timeline,

Spoor noted that yard waste and bulk trash pick-up resumes on Monday.

He urged the public to be patient because the city has a limited sanitation staff and it may take a day or two to collect it. “We’re going to keep running as many yard waste crews as possible until we get it all picked up,” he said.

While the Safety Harbor Library remains closed, the book drop-off boxes will be reopened Monday and a curbside pick-up service should begin on May 11, Spoor said.

“You still won’t be able to go inside the library,” he said. “But you will be able to check out books and pick them up.”

Even though Governor Ron DeSantis’ lastest executive order allows libraries and museums to reopen with limited capacity and social distancing, the libraries in Pinellas County are not prepared to open at this time, Spoor said.

“We are working with our partners in Pinellas County so we all open when ready,” he said. “If one library opens before the others, then they’re going to have a rush of patrons and it would be hard to handle.”

The libraries are preparing for the eventual opening by putting face shields at the counters.

Spoor also said the city recreation staff is back at work planning for summer camps and activities and the city is still considering plans for the Fourth of July celebration.

In anticipation of Monday night’s virtual City Commission meeting, Mayor Ayoub asked for comments on closing off a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic to make room for increased outdoor dining at restaurants.

Beginning Monday restaurants can reopen for outdoor and inside dining with limited capacity and social distancing. Ayoub said several cities, including Dunedin, are considering closing off streets to traffic.

Most comments were in support of closing off Main Street to help restaurants. James Shaw said his family supports it and asked if Second Street North could also be closed to traffic to help those restaurants.

Ayoub said that would interfere with the north/south flow of emergency vehicles and there are not as many open parking spaces on Second or Third streets that restaurants could use.

Another resident, Debbie Ollerman, commented that she didn’t think Main Street should be closed off while Diane Castillo said local restaurants need our support.

Greg Soulliere was among several residents who complained about higher than usual water bills.

City Manager Spoor said that recent social media posts about high water bills had prompt the city to re-read many household water meters and all but two were correct. He said water use in the city was up last month all through the city because more people are at home, more are cooking, more are taking showers and so there is more usage.

But more comments came in about higher than normal bills. One woman said her bill was doubled. Another woman said that her water bill quadrupled and there are only two people in her home.

To see the entire town hall meeting go to Mayor Joe Ayoub’s Facebook page.

More Pinellas Businesses Can Open With Restrictions

in news

Pinellas County Commissioners agreed Friday to follow Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first phase of “reopening” Florida by voting unanimously to allow some local businesses to open at 25 percent capacity and with 6-foot social distancing.

The Commission also voted to extend the county’s state-of-emergency status, with the recommendation that residents wear masks in public, as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread and claim lives.

Under Gov. DeSantis’ order announced this week some businesses such as restaurants and retail stores that were shutdown last month can reopen on Monday with limited capacity and social distancing.

Museums and libraries are also allowed to be open under the same restrictions.

Still closed are businesses that involve close contact such as salons, dance studios, barber shops, massage studios, movie theaters, gyms, tattoo parlors, concert venues, bars, pubs, and amusement centers.

Counties and cities can invoke their own restrictions but Pinellas Commissioners voted Friday to rescind the county’s original safe-at-home order and follow the Governor’s order. The county’s order has been in effect since March 25.

Earlier this week, Commissioners voted to open the county’s beaches beginning Monday, May 4.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said they spent more than five hours Thursday trying to determine what could and could not be open and still be in compliance with the Governor’s plan.

Gualtieri said they tried to interpret the Governor’s order “in the most liberally construed way” to allow as many businesses as possible to open under the restrictions.

“The key is social distancing and following the 25 percent capacity, ” Burton said.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters questioned why yoga studios and dance studios couldn’t open because those businesses could meet the restrictions and they were not singled out in the Governor’s order.

Gualtieri said that the Governor only named a few specific types of businesses and the order “was clear as mud.”

“Everything that was non-essential remains non-essential,” Gualtieri said. “And yoga studios are non-essential and the only thing in the non-essential category that can reopen is retail goods and store fronts.”

“Sheriff, I hear you,” said Peters. “But I just wish you could be a little more flexible and generous on that because he (the Governor} said ‘I did not close any businesses down. The municipalities did that. I said they could be open.’ But that’s not what we interpreted.”

Commissioner Janet Long said she felt like the Governor was “throwing us under the bus” with that comment.

Burton and Gualtieri also expressed frustration over the Governor’s comments and orders.

“The Governor’s orders have been difficult to interpret and we have had to apply some judgment to that,” Burton said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can. In five hours, we went over hundreds and hundreds of types of examples of things that we could face.”

Burton said that the county will soon post a “no list” of things that will remain closed and anything that is not on the list will be allowed.

Burton said that things will change, and, while the Governor did not give a timetable for the second phase of his plan, the changes could come within weeks.

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