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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. Buses and baseball top Hillsborough County commission's 2018 agenda


    TAMPA — In 2017, Hillsborough County commissioners moved a Confederate monument, planned $812 million in road construction and twice took on the most contentious local issue of all — dog legislation.

    What does 2018 have in store for them?

    The time may have come for the county to jump-start its transit system, one of the smallest in the country for a region of its size. Three county commissioners — Pat Kemp, Les Miller and Sandy Murman — told the Tampa Bay Times that finding money to expand service for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is at the top of their agenda....

  2. Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over


    TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don't take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.

    That's the message county leaders heard Friday from a panel of urban planning experts who recently studied Hillsborough's population trends and growth blueprints....

  3. Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue


    TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course.

    On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he's really lucky, it'll only cost him a dollar per hole, thanks to discounts he finds on the Internet.

    "That's why I play here,'' the West Virginia winter resident said before beginning a Tuesday morning round. "It's a good value."...

  4. How the federal tax bill could make it more expensive to build the Rays a new ballpark


    Whether the Tampa Bay Rays end up in Ybor City or in a new ballpark in Pinellas County, the federal tax overhaul underway in Congress could make it much more costly to build the team's next home.

    The version of the tax cut approved by the U.S. House of Representatives eliminates a tax exemption on bonds issued to build or renovate stadiums.

    That exemption has saved local governments — or cost the federal government, depending on your point of view — tens of millions of dollars on stadiums across Tampa Bay....

  5. Why will Pasco County be providing emergency service to a Hillsborough community?


    TAMPA — Pebble Creek, a small community in unincorporated Hillsborough County surrounded almost entirely by the city of Tampa, will now get its fire service from … Pasco County?

    Tampa and Hillsborough leaders have fought for almost a year over Pebble Creek, which has been cut off from the rest of unincorporated Hillsborough since the annexation of New Tampa. Tampa Fire Rescue has serviced the community since 1998, but the city demanded more money, from $217,928 annually to $1.4 million....

  6. Hillsborough commissioners call out two major local business organizations for lack of diversity


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners called out two prominent local business organizations Wednesday, citing a lack of diversity among their leadership.

    The Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of business leaders, needs more African-American representation, said Commissioner Les Miller, the board's lone black member. The organization's council of governors, he pointed out, has one black member out of 22....

  7. Hold on to your Bolts: Lightning in talks to stay in Tampa through 2037


    TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning and Hillsborough County are narrowing in on a deal that would keep the hockey team here until at least 2037.

    The two sides hope to have an agreement in place by January, according to county officials.

    Under discussion is a proposal for the Lightning to exercise two five-year options to extend the current lease, scheduled to expire in 2027.

    In exchange, Hillsborough County will commit $61 million over the next two decades to maintenance and upgrades of Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm and one of the area's top entertainment and concert venues. The money will come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night's stay at a hotel or motel....

  8. Once on the verge of closing for good, MOSI turned a profit in 2017


    TAMPA — The Museum of Science and Industry turned a profit this year after operating in the red for much of its recent history.

    The north Tampa museum, known as MOSI, made $90,384 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to financial statements provided to the Tampa Bay Times. The museum lost $1.4 million in 2016 and ran a $438,000 deficit in 2015.

    The last time the museum finished in the black was 2012, when an exhibit on mummies spiked temporary interest in the struggling science center....

    The Museum of Science and Industry is hoping to acquire nine vans that can visit school districts throughout the Tampa Bay region and bring science education directly to the elementary school classrooms. The program is tentatively called "MOSI in Motion." 

Photo courtesy of MOSI.
  9. Audit of Tampa airport raises questions about spending and salaries


    TAMPA — A much-anticipated audit of Tampa International Airport unearthed misuse of a state grant and raised questions about the awarding and oversight of contracts related to the airport's $2.3 billion expansion, the largest public works project in Tampa history.

    The report from the state auditor general, which is not finalized but was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, also found questionable justification for a $3.5 million public arts fund and for raises given to the airport's top executives, which in some cases were as high as 10 percent....

    A Southwest Airlines plane is seen along the tarmac as workers continue construction of the an elevated people mover tracks near the new people mover terminal at Tampa International Airport Tuesday, April 18, 2017 Tampa. State auditors recently reviewed the airport's expenses on the $2.3 billion expansion. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
  10. Friends stunned by arrest of suspected serial killer in Seminole Heights


    TAMPA — The person in handcuffs on the news seemed unrecognizable to many of Howell Emanuel Donaldson III's closest friends.

    He wore a white jumpsuit and was surrounded by stout police officers who looked relieved after catching the man they were sure was Tampa's most notorious killer.

    Even the name seemed strange to friends. They all knew him as "Trai." The label was even harder to comprehend: serial killer....

    Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, faces four counts of first-degree murder in the Seminole Heights slayings after his arrest on Nov. 28, 2017. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  11. College basketball teammates say Seminole Heights slaying suspect Trai Donaldson was cocky, not violent


    A couple of college basketball teammates of the man suspected in four Seminole Heights slayings recalled him as cocky but happy and harmless when he was a freshman at St. John's University.

    Trai Donaldson walked onto the Division I team for at least a portion of the 2011-12 season, according to the university. He wasn't included in a media guide from that year but his name is on an archived roster on the college team's website....

    Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, wearing a white jumpsuit, is led by officers into the Orient Road Jail early Wednesday morning. Donaldson was arrested on four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the Seminole Heights slayings, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced at a news conference hours earlier. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
  12. Buckhorn: If Seminole Heights murder suspect found guilty, 'he should die'


    TAMPA — If a jury finds Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III guilty of four Seminole Heights murders, he should be executed, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday.

    Buckhorn's remarks came at a news conference in Seminole Heights where Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan provided updates in the department's case against Donaldson.

    Asked whether he thought Donaldson deserved the death penalty, Dugan declined to weigh in, saying decisions about punishment will come later. Police, he said, are still building their case against Donaldson....

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hugs Officer Randi Whitney as he and Governor Rick Scott congratulate her on the arrest of the suspect in the Seminole Heights killings at Tampa Police Headquarters in Tampa, Fla. on Wednesday. At a press conference later in the day, Buckhorn said the suspected killer, if found guilty, "should die." WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
  13. Hillsborough Democrats have everything going for them except history


    TAMPA — For 15 years, Republicans have held a majority of seats on the Hillsborough County Commission.

    It's the longest stretch one party has controlled the board since a corruption scandal expanded the body to seven members in 1985.

    But all five Republican seats are up for election in 2018, putting the GOP on the defensive next year in a county where Democrats have seen promising gains and with a polarizing president who has so far dogged the party's candidates in races near and far. ...

    Sandy Murman, shown during a swearing in ceremony, is leaving one Hillsborough County Commission seat to run for another. Among them, four of the commissioners seeking re-election have served 32 years.
  14. Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.

    If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxpayers money.

    In a split 4-3 vote Wednesday, Hillsborough commissioners agreed to petition the Florida Commission on Ethics for reimbursement of the attorney fees spent defending County Commissioner Ken Hagan from multiple complaints. State investigators determined earlier this fall that there was no probable cause to the accusations....

    George Niemann of Dover filed an unsuccessful ethics complaint against Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. The county commission now wants to force Niemann to reimburse the county's legal fees.
  15. Before dog training vote, trainer's dog bites child outside Hillsborough County government center

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — A dog bit a young child outside the Hillsborough County Commission building Wednesday morning just before the board approved an ordinance that will regulate dog trainers.

    The child was taken to an undisclosed hospital for medical evaluation, according to Hillsborough County Pet Resources. A Hillsborough County sheriff's official said the child is no older than 5 years old.

    The dog's owner handed the animal over to Pet Resources, and the dog was euthanized shortly after, said Kara Walker, a spokeswoman for the county. Walker said the incident is under investigation. ...