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Steve Contorno, Times Staff Writer

Steve Contorno

Steve Contorno is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times covering Hillsborough County. He previously worked for PolitiFact in the Times Washington, D.C. bureau. Prior to joining the Times, he covered Congress and Virginia politics for the Washington Examiner as well as state and local governments in Wisconsin for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. A native of the Chicago suburbs, Steve graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in news-editorial journalism and a minor in political science, and holds a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he covered the Illinois legislature for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Phone: (813) 226-3433


The Contorno file:

Twitter: @scontorno

  1. Hillsborough needs 25 new fire stations, not meeting response goals, fire chief warns


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County needs 25 new fire stations in the next 25 years to keep up with the thousands of people moving here each year, Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones told county commissioners Wednesday.

    The county is already failing to meet emergency response benchmarks, Jones warned, and it will only get worse as Hillsborough grapples with one of the fastest growing populations in the country. A new fire station hasn't opened in a decade, though one is expected to go online in FishHawk later this year. ...

    Hillsborough County's fire chief told county commissioners Wednesday that the county needs 25 new fire stations in the next 25 years to keep up with the rising population. [Luis Santana | Times]
  2. County Commissioners, Buckhorn interviewed in Go Hillsborough ethics probe


    TAMPA — It seems a state ethics investigation into a Hillsborough County transportation contract is finally moving forward.

    Roughly 16 months after citizens complaints were filed, the Florida Commission on Ethics is just now interviewing the three local officials alleged to have steered a $1.35 million Go Hillsborough contract to the client of a politically connected public relations consultant....

    State ethics investigators are interviewing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan regarding a complaint into a Go Hillsborough contract.
  3. Hillsborough Commissioner takes shot across bow of Rays owners as stadium search drags


    TAMPA -- No one has been a bigger cheerleader for the the campaign to lure the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa than Ken Hagan.

    At nearly every interval during this painstaking process, the Hillsborough County commissioner has sounded upbeat and optimistic that the Rays would eventually come to a realization that they needed to move across the Bay. For years Hagan has worked behind the scenes and publicly to scout locations and court team officials....

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was disappointed in the lack of urgency from Tampa Bay Rays owners after the team's principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the preferred site for a new stadium is no longer available.
  4. Stu Sternberg: Top choices for Rays new stadium are unavailable

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg revealed some complications in his team's search for a new stadium on Thursday, yet said he's still confident they will find a new home in the Tampa Bay area.

    What were the Rays' top five choices for a new stadium — three in Tampa and two in St. Petersburg — are unavailable. That may push the team's time line for finding a new site from August to the end of 2017....

    Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg talks with reporters before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
  5. Sweetener in Hillsborough fire union contract benefits one person: the union boss


    TAMPA — Deep in the 78-page union contract for Hillsborough County firefighters is a sentence that is of considerable benefit to one person — the man who negotiated the contract for the union.

    The sentence says: "The union president, or his designee, shall be exempt from the 180-day assignment requirement to Hills- borough County Fire Rescue Field Operations for the purpose of promotion."...

    Derrik Ryan, president of Local 2294, took over in 2013.
  6. Hillsborough creates 750-foot buffer to limit medical marijuana centers



    Hillsborough County recently approved a slew of new rules for where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate.

    One rule that didn't make the cut was a limit on the number of dispensaries that can operate within county limits.

    But don't expect a marijuana business to open on every street corner just because there is no cap on their number.

    For starters, these rules only apply to unincorporated Hillsborough, not the three cities within county boundaries. Tampa is working on its own set of regulations and currently has a moratorium in place to prevent any new businesses for now....

    Trulieve manager Brian Powers helps a customer at the company's location on North Dale Mabry Highway. Trulieve sells low and high THC medical cannabis available in oral capsules, drops and vaporizers. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times]
  7. Here are the places medical marijuana businesses can open in Hillsborough County. There aren't many.


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County approved a slew of new rules Tuesday for where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate.

    One rule that didn’t make the cut was a limit on the number of dispensaries that can operate in county limits. A draft of the ordinance restricted medical marijuana licenses to one for every 67,222 residents, or 13 (actually, 11 if you count the two already in existence). Commissioners narrowly voted to eliminate that....

    A map of where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in Hillsborough County.
  8. Hillsborough commissioners approve guidelines for medical marijuana businesses

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Medical marijuana dispensaries won't be able to operate near schools, bars or one another, but there won't be a limit on the number of marijuana businesses that can operate in Hillsborough County after all, commissioners decided Tuesday.

    To the shock of even some colleagues, Commissioner Pat Kemp narrowly won support by a 4-3 vote to strip provisions that would have limited the number of dispensaries to 13 in all of unincorporated Hillsborough. She also won enough votes for an amendment that removed a point system for awarding the limited number of licenses, which heavily benefited a handful of medical marijuana businesses already licensed by the state....

  9. President of Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry resigns amid financial woes


    TAMPA — Molly Demeulenaere is out as president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry after a two-year tenure marked by persistent financial woes that started before her time but showed few signs of improvement.

    Demeulenaere's departure was officially called a "resignation" in a news release Tuesday. But MOSI's board of directors met Feb. 28 to discuss a "leadership assessment," according to an agenda obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Local officials close to the museum operations have questioned her long-term prospects since she was given the job....

    Molly Demeulenaere leaves as the museum takes steps toward a move downtown.
  10. Hillsborough commissioners approve $812 million roadwork plan despite calls for more transit

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — A majority of Hillsborough County commissioners agree the day is coming when the county will have to make a sizeable investment in buses and other forms of mass transit.

    But Wednesday was not that day.

    Instead, commissioners voted 6-1 for a 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that is heavily focused on road work. First-year Commissioner Pat Kemp, whose top issue during the 2016 campaign was transit, was the lone dissenter....

  11. Hillsborough Commissioners vote 6-1 to approve road-centric $812 million, 10-year transportation plan


    TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a road-centric $812 million, 10-year transportation plan Wednesday despite calls from residents and one of their own for more transit options.

    The proposal will pump about $276 million into road and bridge maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as widening and building new roads and improving traffic flow....

    Hillsborough County commissioners approved a 10-year, $812 million transportation project focused on improving county roads and bridges.
  12. Kemp hopes to derail Hillsborough transportation proposal to get more transit


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp plans to put up a fight for transit when the board votes Wednesday on its $812 million transportation plan.

    Kemp said Tuesday she has serious concerns about how the county plans to spend that money during the next 10 years, namely that just over $1 million is earmarked for transit projects.

    “We cannot continue down this path for another four years,” Kemp said. “We've got to start doing what we can to move forward on transit now.”...

  13. 'Sarge's Law' could bring new rules for dog trainers in Hillsborough, entire state

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — She was just inside the doorway of a veterinary hospital when Lorie Childers felt Sarge's heartbeat fade as he took his last breaths.

    Only minutes earlier, Sarge was a happy, healthy Shih Tzu-Pekingese mix puppy that jumped up and down as she picked him up from doggy day care.

    But at day care, she and Sarge took part in lessons to teach Sarge to heel. To quell the dog's excitement, a trainer clamped his hand over the dog's mouth while grabbing the 8-pound puppy's neck with his other hand....

    Spurred by the death of Sarge, her Shih Tzu-Pekingese mix puppy, after training in 2015, Lorie Childers of Land O’Lakes is gaining support for her “Sarge’s Law” proposal, which would regulate the dog training industry.
  14. Existing medical marijuana providers would have edge in Hillsborough under proposed rules


    TAMPA — Medical marijuana businesses already approved by the state would get a significant leg up on future competition under regulations being considered in Hillsborough County.

    Draft language of the new rules — which could be approved as early as next month — show Hillsborough plans to create a 30-day window for marijuana companies to apply for a limited number of licenses....

    Trulieve, the company behind Florida's first legal marijuana crops, makes capsules, droppers, syringes and vaporizer cartridges similar to an electronic cigarette. Under Hillsborough County's proposed ordinance, existing growers would have an advantage to obtain the limited number of licenses available to dispense marijuana. Associated Press file
  15. Transit at center of debate of Hillsborough County's transit-less transportation plan


    TAMPA — There is a relatively small amount of money, about $1 million, for transit projects in the 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners discussed Wednesday.

    Yet transit dominated most of the two-hour conversation.

    There are two transit-related items in the spending package: $750,000 for a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and $350,000 for a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops....

    Pat Kemp, Democratic candidate for Hillsborough County Commissioner