The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity recently announced that Florida has experienced 16 consecutive months of job growth. In total, Florida has gained 990,400 jobs since April 2020. Florida’s unemployment rate of 5% for August 2021 dropped one-tenth of a percentage point from July 2021. For 13 consecutive months, the state of Florida’s unemployment rate has remained below the national rate, currently at 5.2%. Florida’s labor force also continues to grow substantially, increasing by 65,000 over the month. Over the last five months, Florida’s labor force has grown by 373,000. Florida’s unemployment rate also has lowered over the year, decreasing by 2.9%, according to the department of economic opportunity.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
Florida’s 2021 budget is expected to be lower than it was in 2020 — due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, but incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson remains optimistic about the state’s prospects.
Those were two takeaways from Simpson’s remarks at the annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit held on Oct. 12, and organized by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
Simpson, a Republican from Trilby, predicted that 2021 will be “a very challenging budget year.”
He estimated that the state budget will be between $2 billion and $5 billion less in 2021 than its $93 billion budget last year.
“We have a lot of work do this year,” said Simpson, who was first elected in 2012 and represents Florida’s 10th district, which includes Citrus, Hernando and a portion of Pasco County.
He told those attending the summit that this will be the first time since he became a state lawmaker that the state’s budget will be lower in the coming year than in the previous year.
Despite the economic setback, Florida is well-positioned for the long-term because, for the past decade, it has been investing in infrastructure and cultivating a business-friendly environment, Simpson said.
For instance, the state has not skimped on investing in deepwater ports, and other transportation and roadway improvements. It also has slashed sales taxes on manufacturing equipment — to attract large firms and higher-wage jobs.
The state has paid off about $10 billion in debt during the last decade, bringing total debt to around $20 billion. And, it has reduced taxes by a corresponding amount, he said.
Moreover, the state boasts a AAA credit rating from all three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, he said.
To put it into perspective, Simpson noted a similarly populated state like New York is “eight, nine notches down from a AAA credit rating.
“When you think about Florida, we’re one of the lowest tax states in the union, and there’s certain states we could probably never win because we don’t have an oil reserve here to where we can give dollars away, but other than that, we have no state income tax. From a regulatory structure, we have one of the best states to do business in,” explained Simpson.
New York, which has a population of about 19.5 million, has a budget of about $200 billion, Simpson said. By comparison, Florida’s population is about 22 million, and its budget is less than $100 billion.
“We extract half of the taxes that they extract from their system to run their government, versus our government,” Simpson said.
On a related note, Simpson said about 1,000 people move into the Sunshine State every day. The state’s population is predicted to reach about 27 million by 2035.
Taxes and regulations are two of the reasons people are moving here, Simpson said.
He observed: “What’s happening is all of your high-tax states, all of your overregulated states, those folks are voting with their feet. They’re moving to Florida.”
But, Florida has issues it must address, including the funding of the Florida Retirement System, he said. That system’s unfunded liability now stands at about $25 billion.
That situation “will keep the state of Florida restricted on how much dollars we can spend in the future,” Simpson said.
On the topic of COVID-19, Simpson praised the country’s ever-improving therapeutic medicines and pharmaceutical industry for advancing with vaccine options and trials. The lawmaker hopes an approved vaccine is produced by the beginning of 2021, then widely available by the middle of the year.
With health and safety guidelines now widely known and followed, Simpson said Florida “should not be in a situation where we have to re-shut down. The more serious we take it, the more our economy will flourish.”
Meantime, Simpson said the state’s economy “is picking up,” and showing signs of recovery since about 30% of it was shut down for two-plus months in the wake of COVID-19.
It could’ve been an even larger hit, Simpson said, if not for the state’s robust agriculture industry and other central businesses, including first responders, health care providers, education, and truck drivers and delivery services.
Simpson, himself an owner of a regional egg farm operation, put it like this: “You don’t have farmers taking any days off. You have a farmer take a day off, grocery stores are gonna run out of groceries.”
State Rep. Randy Maggard weighs in on Florida’s future
State Rep. Randy Maggard, a Republican from Dade City, another speaker at the summit, echoed much of Simpson’s sentiments on Florida’s outlook in 2021 and beyond.
The lawmaker said he’s looking forward to the coming legislative session, but cautioned tough decisions lie ahead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Going forward, it will be a little bit challenging on appropriations and money,” said Maggard, who’s district 38 covers most of Pasco County east of U.S. 41. “You heard the senator (Wilton Simpson). We’re gonna be down. When you have that much of your businesses not producing revenue, something’s gotta give, but I think we can do it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, Florida will come out of this extremely well, just because of how it’s been ran. The legislators before me were always planning for the ‘what if,’ whether it’s a hurricane, a pandemic, but we were able to absorb a lot of that,” he said.
Maggard also addressed the state’s failures in providing timely unemployment benefits through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
In defense of the program, Maggard pointed out the DEO system was never designed to handle the influx of financial assistance requests brought about by the coronavirus, particularly between March and May.
Maggard made an analogy of the state’s unemployment system with his own career, where for 30 years he’s been vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances in Dade City.
“I can deliver 20 items a day, I’m set up for that. But, if I have to deliver 1,000 the next day, I got a problem. Well, we had a problem, because it was millions (of people), not thousands that we were dealing with,” he explained.
Maggard added he and his colleagues have “learned a lot” from the DEO malfunctions, noting the faults should be addressed in upcoming sessions.
“The pandemic really caught all of us a little off-guard,” said Maggard, who won a special election in 2019 to finish out the seat vacated by former Rep. Danny Burgess.
“If you were not an essential (worker), it was really rough. Our office held many, many phone calls and emails trying to help individuals who lost their job, to get state funding; and, it was overwhelming. It was very humbling to see what happens to your neighbors and friends here, and we all know the system didn’t work exactly like it’s supposed to,” he said.
Published November 11, 2020
Except for some weeks throughout March and April, the COVID-19 hasn’t halted much new development within the City of Zephyrhills.
That’s the word from Zephyrhills Planning Director Todd Vande Berg, who outlined a number of citywide projects during an East Pasco Networking Group virtual meeting on June 23.
Perhaps the most notable setback, Vande Berg said, involved a slight delay in court installations at the forthcoming Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellbeing Center, due to some extra safety and travel precautions taken from Miami-based construction crews.
However, the nearly $5 million project on Simons Road is proceeding well, with a grand opening scheduled for mid-to-late August.
Aside from that, the planning director said, “I haven’t heard of a lot of slowdown, at least in our community.”
Underscoring the point is the myriad projects and initiatives Zephyrhills has in the pipeline — mainly in regards to new residential construction.
Larger single-family developments underway include The District at Abbott’s Square, Zephyr Lakes, Hidden River, Links at Calusa Springs, plus various expansions to the Silver Oaks and Silverado communities, respectively.
In other words, the city’s real estate market is “very hot right now,” Vande Berg said.
He explained, “I don’t know where all these people are coming from, but these housing subdivisions are selling homes for over $300,000 with HOAs and CDDs. I wasn’t sure how that’d work in Zephyrhills, but you drive up to Silverado and before the lot infrastructure is completed, you’re seeing a ‘Sold’ sign, so it is amazing.
“Even through this COVID-19 environment the residential housing…has really stayed very strong, which helps the city from a budget and revenue standpoint.”
Vande Berg added another 550-plus residential development is being planned around the new tennis center and should be underway a year or so from now.
The Lennar project will feature one-story villas, two-story townhomes and three different lot sizes. “It’s going to be a unique project,” Vande Berg said, adding, “we’re just beginning the due process on that.”
The planning director touched on a number of commercial developments, too.
Much is contingent on the addition of two signalized intersections on U.S. 301, Pretty Pond Road and Medical Arts Courts.
Funding for the $2.3 million project is in the state budget for this fiscal year. The aim of the traffic signal project — already out to bid — is to speed up potential commercial development in the northeast and northwest corners of U.S. 301 and Pretty Pond, and to improve access to the Merchants Square and Townview Square shopping centers.
The project will “spur a lot of development” along the intersection, Vande Berg said.
Additionally, a slew of light industrial businesses have recently set up shop at Park Place Center — an industrial park situated on Chancey Road south of Skydive City. That development is funded by a group of local investors.
“There’s a lot of activity going on in there,” Vande Berg said. “If you get a chance, go back there and drive around in that industrial park and you’ll see everything that’s going on in there.
“We’re always excited when we have new, quality industrial manufacturing coming in, that creates jobs, they don’t require a lot of city services, and they generate a lot of ad valorem revenue for the city, so it’s always very positive, and you see that happening, to help diversify our community economy, and just good business overall,” Vande Berg said.
Another visible construction project underway is the rebuild of Jerry’s Crystal Bar on Gall Boulevard. The bar had been a community landmark downtown for over 60 years, until a fire destroyed the building last May.
The project will fall under the requirements of the city’s form-based code for the U.S. 301/Gall Boulevard corridor area, whereby the facade is aligned right up to the street with a wide sidewalk and all parking is situated behind the bar.
The planning director described the new building as “a big improvement” from beforehand, adding future projects within the corridor will be required to meet form-based code — a tool used to regulate new development in a manner compatible with the community’s vision.
For example, Vande Berg noted a builder is looking to erect townhomes on Seventh Street, so those structures likewise would be situated right up to the street with backlot parking.
Vande Berg observed of the zoning regulations: “You’ve probably seen that in other communities where it’s been pretty successful, so we’re doing the same thing here.”
Another anticipated project moving along is a new 14,000-square-foot Veterans Affairs clinic, at 378727 Eiland Blvd. Construction broke ground last June, but work halted after last-minute changes to modify the facility’s design and layout.
Those site plan changes were recently approved by the city’s review committee, Vande Berg said, “so they should be getting along with that pretty soon, we anticipate.”
In the arena of new eateries, Zephyrhills is set to land Chipotle and Chick-fil-A franchises in the near future.
Chipotle has been approved by the city for a small commercial outparcel in the Zephyr Commons Shopping Center and construction should begin soon, Vande Berg said.
Chick-fil-A, meanwhile, will be located at the northeast corner of U.S. 301 and Pretty Pond Road. The franchise is likely waiting until the new traffic light project is a go before construction gets underway, Vande Berg said.
Some other updates and happenings for Zephyrhills the planning director shared:
- An extension of Kossik Road is complete, to service the Abbott Park residential development.
- The city is working with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on continuing State Road 56 east of U.S. 301 with four-lane alignment alternatives, as well as one-way pairs on Gall Boulevard.
- The city received a $15,000 grant from Duke Energy toward the long-range Zephyrhills Industrial Corridor master plan.
- The city has applied for a $15,000 grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to revamp the housing element of its comprehensive plan.
Published July 08, 2020
The Dade City Commission is considering a sidewalk pressure washing program to address the downtown’s main corridors — as part of a concentrated effort to provide a cleaner community appearance to attract visitors to the town.
The city already has strived to beautify the downtown of late, with recent improvements to the public parking areas on Eighth Street, including tree trimming, mulching of planted areas, and debris removal.
Now, city leaders are looking to pressure wash sidewalk areas on both sides of Seventh Street, between Church Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and Meridian Avenue, between Eighth Street and Third Street. Work would encompass concrete curbs, driveways, and both public and private sidewalk areas.
Commissioners on May 26 provided general consensus to review three third-party quotes for pressure washing services at a future meeting. Received bids ranging from $2,800 to $6,000 to $7,290 for a one-time deep cleaning. Commissioners also are requesting additional information from the companies, such as signing off on hold harmless insurance requirements.
If approved, a sidewalk cleaning project would be funded out of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA ).
Dade City Manager Leslie Porter explained the program would be similar to that of New Port Richey, which has a regular sidewalk cleaning maintenance program as part of a downtown revitalization initiative.
Commissioners agreed some type of downtown sidewalk cleaning is long overdue, and perhaps should be done as regularly as annually or biannually.
Commissioner Jim Shive couldn’t recall the last time the sidewalks had been pressure washed, or if ever.
Some type of cleaning program would be “a small investment that will definitely make the downtown shine,” he said.
“It would definitely make the walking and pedestrian areas downtown pop and make it look a lot cleaner,” Shive said, adding it makes sense to contract for such services. The city’s public works crew doesn’t have the equipment needed to perform efficiently, he explained.
Shive also observed that it’s an opportune time to undertake such a project because of lower foot traffic downtown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s time to do some things that we normally couldn’t get done in the downtown area,” Shive said.
Mayor Camille Hernandez said a sidewalk cleaning would “just give our city a refresh” and “make people feel good about their city and have some pride.
“I think this is a small investment that can make a huge difference as we continue to clean up our town,” the mayor said. She favors pressure washing sidewalks at least once a year, if done at “a reasonable cost.”
The city’s practice in the past has been to expect property owners to clean and maintain private property, including sidewalks, curbs and drives, unless part of a code enforcement action. If a property owner has not maintained their property according to city code, and the city remedies any violations, a lien is placed on the property to recoup the costs associated with the cleaning of the property.
Other updates from Dade City Manager Leslie Porter:
- Staff is in the process of ranking bid responses for the construction of a new concession stand and public restroom building at Moore-Mickens Field, 14318 Canal St. The city has budgeted $150,000 for the project. The old structure was demolished on May 22 by city public works.
- Staff is applying for a technical planning grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), to help fund an update to the city’s comprehensive plan.
- Staff is developing a budget workshop calendar for fiscal year 2020-21, with an expectation that several workshops will be required once new city commissioners come aboard following the June 30 municipal election. “We’ll really need to hit the ground running when we have our new commission installed, so I anticipate there’ll be quite a few budget workshops as we work through the process this year,” Porter said.
- Bidding is expected to open July 9 for the multimillion dollar Tank Hill wastewater improvement project. The scheduled on-site pre-bidding meeting had previously been delayed, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Published June 03, 2020
As Florida slowly lifts stay-at-home orders — caused by concerns about potential spread of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) — local leaders and officials are taking a positive, yet guarded, outlook.
They are hopeful that the regional and state economy can rebound sooner than later.
Many retailers and restaurants have announced plans to reopen to modified dine-in and foot traffic, while more parks and beaches are reopening with restrictions.
Signs of optimism are beginning to show, state Rep. Randy Maggard, R-Dade City said, during an April 28 virtual town hall meeting presented by The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
“A lot of people feel we’ve crossed the high point of (COVID-19) and we’re on the downward slide. We hope so,” Maggard said.
In the same breath, he urged people to continue to take necessary safety precautions and “use common sense” in public gatherings.
“It will be good to get our economy going. It’s been tough for a lot of businesses here, it’s been tough for a lot of individuals,” he said.
Maggard also addressed “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” during the speaking engagement. And, that’s the fact that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) is having trouble managing the massive volume of people filing for unemployment benefit claims.
The state representative pointed out roughly 40% of the 1.8 million claims filed have been either bogus or scams. That has led to further delays in legitimate applicants getting their unemployment benefits, he said.
“The process just takes long when you have to deal with things like that,” Maggard said, adding the DEO is expected to have those issues resolved soon.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley, like Maggard, has an optimistic view of the future of the local economy and markets, overall.
“Things will get better. There is a light at the end of that long tunnel we didn’t think we’d have,” Oakley said.”
He said Pasco government activities have not slowed, in the midst of COVID-19.
Oakley noted that neighboring counties haven’t been so lucky as to keep operations moving along when it comes to handling regular tasks, such as reviewing building permits.
“We’ve continued to work, as we do normally,” Oakley said, “except most of our people are working from home instead of our offices.”
Oakley, 74, is still taking the virus quite seriously, however.
He reported the county had 241 positive coronavirus cases and six deaths, as of April 28. One place particularly “hit hard” is the Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City, with 20 positive COVID-19 cases, he said.
The commissioner acknowledged most of the people who’ve died from the disease have had pre-existing conditions. But, he added: “This is not the flu. It’s a little more infectious than the flu is.”
So, while businesses start opening with some semblance of normalcy, Oakley said he’s not yet comfortable to enter a restaurant or other public spaces.
“You probably won’t see me out in a restaurant, that’s just my feeling,” said Oakley. “Of course, I’m of the age that the virus will treat me a lot worse than it would for younger people, but I think there’s probably a pretty large percentage of young people, middle-aged people that will do that, they’ll go right back out, they’re not fearful of any of that, and hopefully they’re taking precautions.”
Like Oakley, Zephyrhills Police Chief Derek Brewer remains concerned about the serious nature of COVID-19 and feels it isn’t going away anytime soon — witnessing the virus’s impact on the frontlines.
Brewer said there’s an expectation the county’s coronavirus cases could peak sometime around mid-May, based on joint conversations with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and Pasco County Emergency Management.
“We may be getting close to opening the state,” Brewer said, “but, I don’t think we’re going to be ready yet to open it up completely yet.”
The police chief reported Zephyrhills has 25 positive COVID-19 cases as of April 28, representing more than 10% of all cases in the county. Additionally, the department is tracking a total of 48 addresses under investigation as possible COVID-19 cases as of that date.
Meanwhile, Brewer said the local law enforcement agency has observed spikes in domestic violence and disturbance cases, as well as increased juvenile problems, during the course of the pandemic.
On the other hand, the department has seen fewer accidents and total calls for service overall.
With fewer service calls, Brewer said officers have placed more focus on performing spot checks on local businesses that may not be in compliance with state executive orders.
He also noted the department has enacted an “extensive screening process” to determine whether someone absolutely needs to be sent to jail after an arrest. That approach is being taken to try and limit the spread of COVID-19 within the local criminal justice system.
He said the pandemic “has been a been a unique challenge for law enforcement.”
City of Zephyrhills pushing through COVID-19
Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe also offered an update on some of happenings within the East Pasco municipality throughout the town hall discussion.
Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, Poe said the city is “open for business, so there are still a lot of projects that are going on.”
For instance, work is progressing on multiple subdivisions and communities that will bring hundreds of new homes to the area. Those projects include the Oaks at Pasco and Links at Calusa Springs located on both sides of Simons Road; District at Abbott’s Square near the forthcoming Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellbeing Center; and Abbott Park, situated on the former Gore’s Dairy property that wraps behind the Publix Super Market at Zephyr Commons on Gall Boulevard.
Several commercial developments are moving along, too.
A couple notable projects under final site plan review include a new Veterans Administration clinic along Eiland Boulevard, as well as the Crystal Bar rebuild on Gall Boulevard, a longtime community staple destroyed in a fire last May.
Poe said a Chipotle Mexican Grill franchise at Zephyr Commons “is projected to come here in the next few months.” Also, the Chancey Partners industrial park project continues its build out with “a lot of businesses going in at that location.”
Poe touched on various city-related projects, as well:
- Relocation of the U.S. 301/Pretty Pond Road traffic signal should get underway in August, spurring development in that area, which he said will eventually include a Chick-fil-A franchise
- Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellbeing Center construction “continues to be strong” and should be complete around July or August
- Road paving and resurfacing has been ongoing at various city streets the past several weeks
Elsewhere, the city manager encouraged residents to continue to support local businesses “either by takeout or gift cards or anything that you can do.”
He also noted he’s in conversation with Zephyrhills High School Principal Dr. Christina Stanley to “plan something special” for graduating seniors, such as a parade or other community-wide gathering at some point.
Other speakers during the town hall included Zephyrhills Mayor Gene Whitfield and Zephyrhills City Council president Ken Burgess.
Published May 06, 2020
The recently passed $93 billon Florida state budget included some big wins for East Pasco, but District 38 state Rep. Randy Maggard isn’t ready to celebrate or take a victory lap just yet.
That’s because the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will force state lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session sometime this summer — and likely result in major spending cuts for budgeted programs and projects due to a shortfall in sales tax revenues.
“This virus, it’s just going to decimate our budget,” Maggard said, during an East Pasco Networking Group virtual conference meeting on April 13.
The Dade City Republican helped secure a total of $16.6 million in appropriations to be used in projects by Zephyrhills, Lacoochee, Pasco County and Saint Leo University. These projects include intersection improvements, establishing a new robotics program, and septic to sewage for a fast-growing part of our county.
But, the freshman lawmaker admitted he isn’t sure which, if any, of those projects could be on the chopping block a few months from now.
“The problem we’re in, we all don’t know what’s going to change on us,” Maggard said. “All the good things we accomplished may not last, so that’s what we are dealing with at the moment and just watching, because It’s unchartered waters for all of us.”
Aside from budgetary impacts, Maggard outlined other issues that have or could become the result of COVID-19.
One of the more well-documented issues surfaced is the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) having trouble managing the massive volume of people filing for unemployment benefit claims.
Maggard mostly defended the DEO — pointing out the system was never designed or could’ve anticipated such unemployment levels in a state with historically low unemployment.
The lawmaker explained the DEO would typically file more than 10,000 unemployment claims in a month. Now, the department is getting as many or more in a single day.
“I think you’ve gotta put it in perspective a little bit,” Maggard said. “Nobody expected this to happen and where it’s going. Nobody expected it in our unemployment part and in our small businesses and our restaurant businesses. I just feel so bad for them, because it’s devastating…so we’re working tirelessly to try to do the right things to get us through this as quick as possible.”
He added “99% of what I do daily now is trying to help people get unemployment claims and fight it through the system.”
Maggard touched on some other unintended consequences resulting from COVID-19.
He explained statewide stay-at-home orders have led to a rise in domestic violence, and strains on waste management, while consumer stockpiling has exposed a truck driver shortage and product supply chains.
Maggard also raised concerns of the risk of utility and electric companies being overwhelmed as “everybody’s staying home under A/C, 24/7…and we haven’t even hit the summer hot time yet.
“This virus has really compounded a lot of problems and shows us a lot of weaknesses and some of the things we thought we had set up and were foolproof,” he said, “but, the good thing is we’re learning from it, we’re going to get through it…and there’s a light at the end of the end of the tunnel.”
Maggard reflects on first year in office
Voters selected Maggard in a special election last June to become their next representative in District 38 of the Florida House of Representatives — filling the vacancy created by former Rep. Danny Burgess, who accepted an offer from Gov. Ron DeSantis to become the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Participating in his first 60-day regular legislative session “was absolutely one of the biggest honors of my life,” Maggard said, adding, “to be able to walk out on that chamber floor and realize you’re one of 2,700 people that ever stepped there, it gives you chills.”
Maggard spent 30 years as vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances in Dade City. He is a Pasco County native, attended Zephyrhills High School and holds an Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College (now known as Pasco-Hernando State College).
He underscored the significance of his new role.
“Every time we press a button, we affect 21 million people’s lives,” Maggard said, “and I take that very seriously.”
With that, stopping a bill is oftentimes more important than passing a bill, Maggard said, “because every time something is passed, something is taken away, there’s some kind of freedom affected.”
“I quickly learned that my job up there was to stop things — bad policies — more than it was trying to make good policy, so I did a lot of arguing, debating over that,” he said.
For Maggard, the job overall has been “like drinking from a fire hose” — in terms of the volume of tasks and issues that come across his desk regularly.
“When you’re running for office, you can’t really get prepared for all the amount of information that you need to use, and the people you need to see, and the work you have to do to be able to vote the right way for your citizens in Pasco,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maggard commended fellow state lawmakers for working together and across the aisle, as both the House and Senate unanimously approved the $93 billion state budget in March.
He highlighted the procurement of $690 million for water protection and restoration of the Everglades; $1.7 billion dollars for hurricane response; and, $17 billion for PreK-12 education funding, including $500 million for teachers pay raises, among others.
“The Republicans and Dems, we do have some differences,” he said, “but, we can sit down and have a breakfast, both sides, and talk and work something out, and I think that’s what good government’s supposed to be.
“We were called not to be politicians, but to be statesmen. I’m arguing for East Pasco, but somewhere in the middle there, we’ve gotta do what’s best for 21 million people.”
Published April 22, 2020
Pick up paper unemployment forms
Both Hillsborough and Pasco counties are handing out paper unemployment forms at specific libraries.
The location near The Laker/Lutz News coverage area is at Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library, 2902 W. Bearss Ave. The library’s drive-thru will be open seven days a week, from 9:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once completed, residents also can drop off the forms at either drive-through, and library staff will mail the documents for them.
Printed unemployment forms will be available just outside the entrance to these libraries, in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
- Land O’ Lakes Library, 2818 Collier Parkway, in Land O’ Lakes
- Hugh Embry Library, 14215 Fourth St., in Dade City
If you’re unable to visit a library in person and would like to request a blank application form by mail, please contact the library at "> or through the “Ask A Librarian” feature at PascoLibraries.org.
Once completed, residents can mail the form to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
For more information about Pasco County Libraries, including the library catalog, E-content, programs, events and links to all Pasco County Library branches, visit PascoLibraries.org.
Hillsborough County emergency help
As the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) fallout continues, Hillsborough County officials are reminding residents about assistance available to help people meet their food needs.
Here is a look at some programs:
- Hillsborough residents age 60 and older can apply for food assistance through Hillsborough County Aging services. There is no income requirement to participate in the federally funded program. To find out more, call (813) 2727-5250.
- Feeding Tampa Bay is offering drive-thru distribution of free, pre-packaged groceries to Hillsborough County residents in need. Distribution is on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., in Tampa. Check Feeding Tampa Bay’s website before the events, to be sure there have been no changes. To find out about other food assistance programs and information, visit FeedingTampaBay.org, or call (813) 254-1190.
- Tampa YMCA Veggie Van is distributing free pre-packaged bags of produce in several neighborhoods in Hillsborough County. No ID, paperwork or pre-screening is required to receive the food. Learn more, visit Tampa Veggie Van on Facebook.
- SNAP recipients across the state starting April 21 will be able to use EBT cards to make eligible food purchases from Walmart and Amazon online.
Pasco Planning and development open online
Pasco County’s planning and development department is only accepting electronic submittals via its online portals. It is not accepting hard copy application packages, hard copy re-submittals or checks.
All project information must be uploaded in Accela and all payments must be made online via e-check ($1.99 fee) or credit card (2.65% fee) through the Accela Citizen Access (ACA) portal.
Tips for reducing stress
Here are some suggestions from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help reduce potential stress and anxiety, as the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic disrupts our daily lives.
Manage how you consume information
Equip yourself with information from credible, reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). See “Basic information” section for more links.
Be selective about how you consume news. It’s generally a good idea to stay engaged and informed. Having some limits on your news consumption can help:
- Watching or listening to the same news constantly can increase stress. Reading can be an easier medium to control how much and what kind of information you’re absorbing.
- Set limits on when and for how long you consume news and information, including through social media. It may help you to choose a couple of 15-minute blocks each day when you will check news/social media and limit your news consumption to that time.
- False information spreads very easily on social media and can have serious consequences for individual and public health. Always verify sources and make sure they are reputable, especially before sharing anything.
Follow healthy daily routines as much as possible
Your daily habits and routines can help you feel more in control of your own well-being.
Even simple actions can make a difference:
- Make your bed
- Get dressed
- Connect with loved ones
- Move your body
- Make time for breaks
- If possible, take regular short breaks during work or between shifts. During these breaks, go outside and engage in physical activity if you can.
- Practice good hygiene, especially by cleaning your hands
- Get enough regular sleep, it is critical for your immune system
- Eat nutritious food as much as possible, especially fruits and vegetables
Published April 22, 2020
Prevent the spread
Help prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily.
Source: Florida Department of Health
Get lawn and garden advice
Working on the yard? Expert advice for lawn or garden issues is now just a click away thanks to new Virtual Plant Clinics with UF/IFAS Pasco County Cooperative Extension Service. Meet online with a master gardener on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at bit.ly/pascoplantclinic. Master Gardeners can help with pest identification, weed control, spring growing tips and more.
Don’t cause plumbing headaches
If you’re using wipes to clean surfaces in your home and office, be sure not to flush them.
Flushing wipes, even those labeled as “flushable,” can create a costly plumbing mishap in your home later. Visit HCFLGov.net/DontFlush for more information.
Food pickup points
The YMCAs of the Tampa Bay are teaming up with community partners to feed families and fight food insecurity during these unprecedented times. The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, YMCA of the Suncoast and YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg are working with Feeding Tampa Bay, local school districts and other organizations to help provide fresh food to families across Greater Tampa Bay.
FEEDING TAMPA BAY MOBILE PANTRY
Anyone can receive a free pre-packaged box of groceries in a drive-thru type model.
Mondays, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the James P. Gills Family YMCA, 8411 Photonics Drive, Trinity.
PASCO COUNTY SCHOOLS
School buses deliver free bags of food, which include breakfast and lunch for five days for each student.
East Pasco Family YMCA, 37301 Chapel Hill Loop, Zephyrhills
Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
For additional food pickup locations and information, visit the Pasco County Schools website (Pasco.k12.fl.us) and the Hillsborough County Schools website (SDHC.k12.fl.us).
Con artists are trying to take advantage of the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Better Business Bureau urges you to protect yourself from these common scams:
- Phony cures and fake masks: The BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of people receiving emails and messages claiming that, for a price, they can buy products the government is supposedly keeping secret – ways to prevent or cure coronavirus. Medical experts are working hard to find a coronavirus vaccine, but none currently exists.
- Economic impact payment (Stimulus Check) scams
As soon as stimulus packages were announced and approved, scammers quickly got to work sending out fake economic impact checks and asking consumers to pay fees to get their money earlier than what the IRS has promised. These claims are false and open consumers to the risk of identity theft and outright theft of the funds in their bank account.
- Phishing Scams
As more people work from home, con artists have stepped up phishing scams. They may claim to be from an official department of the employer to offer IT support or claim the company issued computer has a virus. They may use scare tactics, stating the computer will crash if you don’t act immediately, all in an attempt to gain access to your computer remotely, or to your personal or company’s information.
- Government Impersonation
Another common phishing scam brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is fake emails and text messages claiming the government needs you to take an “online coronavirus test” by clicking a link they provide. No such test currently exists, but if you click on the link, scammers can download malware onto your computer and gain access to your sensitive personal information.
- Employment Scams
Many people are looking for work online in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns. Fraudsters find ways to take advantage of this by posting phony work-from-home jobs promising remote work with good pay and no interview required. These cons often use real company names and can be convincing.
After you are “hired,” the company may charge you upfront for “training.” You may need to provide your personal and banking information to run a credit check or set up direct deposit. You may be “accidentally” overpaid with a fake check, and asked to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Or, you are asked to buy expensive equipment and supplies to work at home.
- Shortage Scams (price gouging)
Supplies such as hand sanitizer, face masks and toilet paper are selling out in stores across the U.S. and Canada. Scammers take advantage of this situation and stockpile items in high demand. Then, they seek out potential clients, online and in person, and sell the products at extremely high prices. Price gouging is illegal and high demands for products can lead to con artists selling products that are used, defective or otherwise mishandled. In some cases, scammers will con people out of their money by accepting payments for products that don’t exist.
This has been an issue with face masks. Masks are sold out in most local stores and major online sellers. Instead, consumers are turning to unfamiliar online shops. Unfortunately, phony sellers abound. These scam online retailers take shoppers’ money – as well as personal information – and never deliver the masks.
As people spend more time at home and outdoors, during the pandemic, these tips from Hillsborough County’s Management Services, may be useful. Following them can help reduce the population of mosquitoes on a property, and reduce the potential for being bit. Here are the pointers:
- Empty water containers at least once per week
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- Properly apply an approved repellent, such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon-eucalyptus or any other EPA-registered repellent
For more information about mosquito protection and breeding prevention, visit HCFLGov.net/Mosquito.
These websites offer a wealth of information:
Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.: PascoEDC.com
North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce: NorthTampaBayChamber.com
Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce: GreaterPasco.com
Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce: ZephyrhillsChamber.org
Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce: DadeCityChamber.org
Hillsborough County government: HillsboroughCounty.org
Pasco County government: PascoCountyFl.net
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC.gov
Florida Department of Health: FloridaHealthCovid19.gov
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity: FloridaJobs.org
U.S. Small Business Administration: SBA.gov
Pasco County Schools: Pasco.k12.fl.us
Hillsborough County Schools: SDHC.k12.fl.us
Published April 15, 2020
The economy has been flattened by coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), and businesses are seeking a way to continue operating or to reopen their doors.
A $2 trillion stimulus package— the largest in the nation’s history — is called the CARES Act, which stands for Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security.
Part of that package is specifically aimed at assisting companies with fewer than 500 employees, said Bill Cronin, CEO and president of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.
“It’s intended to assist small business owners in whatever needs that they have right now. So, once it’s implemented, there’s going to be lots of resources for small business, as well as some nonprofits and also some other types of employers,” said Cronin, who helps recruit and build business growth through the nonprofit economic development agency he leads.
Cronin and Eileen Rodriguez, regional director for the Florida SBDC at the University of South Florida, participated in a Zoom video conferencing session on April 1, with Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore.
“This particular pandemic, has really, I think, taken a lot of people by surprise,” Rodriguez said. “The scope and magnitude of it is so much more than just our normal disasters, which you know, we’re used to the hurricanes. This is a completely different animal. It’s just so huge.”
While various assistance programs are available, getting through the process can be difficult, Cronin said.
“It is confusing, even for us as practitioners, between state, federal and local programs. So, I can’t imagine what it’s like sometimes, as business people, trying to navigate all of these different resources — in a time when it’s challenging enough as it is, with all of these external pressures,” Cronin said.
He outlined some of the programs available to help businesses.
“The most popular program that I think most of you are going to be interested in is called the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. It is designed for companies that employ fewer than 500 workers,” he said.
In essence, the loan is designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.
SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
Rodriguez talked about the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program .
“We help small business owners who are currently navigating the loan process.
“We don’t actually make decisions on which loans get approved or denied, but we do work with the independent Emergency Bridge Loan committee that makes those decisions,” she said.
“The team at the SBDC — the entire team — is really working as fast as we can to process all these inquiries and applications that have come in.
“Right now, we’re probably hovering around 4,000, just to give you a sense of the type of volume that we’re looking at,” she said.
“Everybody is trying to move as quickly as possible, to help all of the small businesses that have been affected, which frankly, has been pretty much everybody in the state of Florida, and of course, across the nation.”
Information is changing constantly, Rodriguez added. “Changes occur daily, and I might even say, hourly.”
“What I’m saying right this minute could possibly change in an hour, two hours, this afternoon, tomorrow,” she said.
It’s essential to check officials websites for up-to-the-minute information, she said.
The Florida Emergency Bridge Loan Program was activated on March 16 by the governor’s office.
“They released $50 million for that program. Small businesses can qualify for up to $50,000 in most cases. These are interest-free, short-term loans. And, by short-term, I mean 12 months,” she said.
“Let’s say you would be awarded a loan today. You would have 12 months to pay it off. It’s interest-free for those 12 months. At 12 months and 1 day, if that loan is not paid off, you will have to start paying interest and that interest will be retroactive, back to Day 1.
“This loan does not convert to a long-term loan at that point. It’s still a short-term loan and for all intents and purposes, you will be in default of your loan on that 366th day,” she said.
To apply for this loan, go to FloridaJobs.org, which is the Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. Applications are now being accepted directly through their portal, which was activated on March 23.
Business owners can qualify for both the short-term and long-term loans, she said.
The Small Business Administration also offers an economic injury disaster loan. It allows loans of up to $2 million, and self-employed workers are eligible.
The interest rate is 3.75% for for-profit companies; 2.75% for nonprofit companies.
“This is pretty much considered a working capital loan, again, to help with payroll, with fixed debt, accounts payable, any other bills,” Rodriguez said.
“You don’t have to go through a bank to apply for it. This loan is directly with the Small Business Administration’s disaster assistance program,” she said.
Rodriguez said she has no idea how long it will take for loans to be processed.
“I will tell you that they are overwhelmed, because, again, this is not just a Florida program. That’s a national program, a federal program. They’ve had over 1 million — 1 million — inquiries and applications already.
Pasco Chairman Moore offered some words of support to the small business community.
“You will continue to be the heartbeat in Pasco County,” Moore said.
“We want to see you all get out of this, we want to see you succeed. We want to see everybody working.
“We’re going to get through this,” Moore said. “We’re going to get through this together.”
Published April 08, 2020
As businesses and individuals cope with sudden losses causes by impacts of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), various agencies and organizations are stepping up to provide information about resources that can help.
The Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., has compiled a list of useful resources for the business community.
There also is useful information on websites maintained by Pasco and Hillsborough counties, and the Pasco and Hillsborough public school systems.
The local chambers of commerce also are offering information that may prove useful.
Here is a look at some of the resources available, as reported by the Pasco EDC:
- The Business Damage Assessment survey assesses the impact of COVID-19 on Florida’s local businesses, including those in Pasco County. The survey, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), will evaluate businesses affected by COVID-19 and the impacts the virus has had on the local economy, so actions to implement economic relief programs for businesses can begin.
- The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program is available to small business owners in all Florida counties statewide that experienced economic damage from COVID-19. These short-term, interest-free working capital loans are intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a major catastrophe hits and when a business has secured longer-term recovery resources, such as sufficient profits from a revived business, receipt of payments on insurance claims or federal disaster assistance. The SBDC Tampa Bay can assist companies through the process.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest, long-term disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters, to repair or replace uninsured/underinsured disaster damaged property. SBA disaster loans offer an affordable way for individuals and businesses to recover from declared disasters.
Published April 1, 2020