Commissioner-Charles-Justice-web
Charles Justice
Pinellas County Commission Chairman

We enter the New Year full of optimism about the wonderful things happening in Pinellas County. But rather than look ahead, I’d like to reflect on a year that saw us take several important steps forward, show our resourcefulness during a coastal crisis, usher in a major leadership change and mourn the passing of a dear friend.

As you may know, I was a friend and admirer of five-term Commissioner John Morroni, a wonderful public servant who had a deep love for our community. John died in May after a courageous battle with cancer. Among his many attributes, he was a strong advocate for Feather Sound, where he lived for many years, and he had a special place in his heart for our public safety personnel and nonprofits. He will be missed, but never forgotten.

Former Redington Shores Mayor Jay Beyrouti served for the balance of Commissioner Morroni’s term and made his brief tenure count. He helped move two significant projects forward: the next round of improvements on Gulf Boulevard, including utility undergrounding, and plans for a joint-use facility for EMS, fire and public safety needs in the Redingtons. After the November election, the Board welcomed former state representative Kathleen Peters as our new District 6 representative, giving us a female majority on the Board for the first time.

This fall, we bid farewell to former County Administrator Mark Woodard, who retired after 30 years of service. The County Administrator is the CEO of our county government, which is made up of 2,100 employees and has a current budget of $2.3 billion, so it’s critical to have the right person in place. To that end, the Board conducted a nationwide search for Mark’s replacement and, after receiving feedback from our community and stakeholders, selected Barry A. Burton. Barry is an experienced administrator from Lake County, Illinois, and we look forward to his leadership.

A major success for Pinellas County in 2018 was our response to the worst outbreak of Red Tide in more than a decade. Thanks to advance planning, state funding and help from our partners and citizens, we were able to keep our beaches and waterways as clean and open by removing more than 1,800 tons of Red Tide-related debris. I can’t say enough of the performance of our Environmental Management team, which not only oversaw operations, but also worked alongside many of our staff in other county departments to keep our community safe and informed.

This was also a banner year for our economy, which has fully recovered from the recession of a decade ago. I’ll touch on a few highlights:

  • Tourism again thrived. Pinellas County received a record $59.7 million in “bed tax” revenues in Fiscal Year 2018 and marked its seventh consecutive year of seeing those revenues increase. More than 102,000 jobs were supported directly or indirectly by tourism.
  • Pete-Clearwater International Airport marked its sixth consecutive year of double-digit passenger growth, boasting more than 2 million passengers, thanks to having 59 nonstop destinations.
  • A record 488,155 people were employed in Pinellas County as of September. That’s 105,000 more workers than we had at the depth of the recession. What’s more, unemployment dropped to 3.4 percent.
  • Analysts are projecting 2,096 new jobs through expansions and relocations. Jabil alone will add 300 jobs as part of an announced $67.3 million expansion of its world headquarters in Pinellas County.
  • Pinellas County remained No. 2 in the state for manufacturing jobs, with more than 32,000 jobs and annual exports valued at more than $6 billion.

Transportation and amenity improvements are too numerous to list, but I want to highlight the opening of the Lealman Community Campus with 77,000 square feet of space for programs and services in a neighborhood that was traditionally underserved. And we finalized plans for construction of the Pinellas Trail Loop North Gap segment, which will fill one of the two existing gaps in an eventual 75-mile continuous multi-use pathway.

I’m especially proud of Pinellas County’s ongoing responsible stewardship of your tax dollars. Among large Florida counties, no one has lower per capita debt than we do. Your confidence in us shows in our Citizens Value Survey, with 93 percent of you indicating trust in your local government.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you on the Board of County Commissioners, and look forward to reporting back to you this time next year with a robust list of accomplishments. What is your priority for the coming year? Please let your elected officials know.

As always, you can reach me at (727) 464-3363 or cjustice@pinellascounty.org.