The big "DIG OUT" project, started in early March, on the pond behind the swimming pool is complete. There should be fewer weeds and the water level should be deeper when the rainy season fills the pond. The revamped banks have been seeded and are also waiting for rain as we are still in a severe drought. On the downside, when the rains do come, it will signal the start of the grass mowing season.

Even Betmar Creek was dug out.

As it looks now while we wait for rain.

A new air conditioner (on the right) was installed at Clubhouse 3.

The old Marathon gas station at the corner of Geiger Rd. and Eiland Blvd. is getting new underground gas tanks and will become a "7- Eleven" gas station.

There was a house fire at 5302 Mohawk St...... one was injured but the coach is a total loss.

At 3:00 AM last Saturday morning, a water line burst near the four outside air conditioners at clubhouse #2. Properties applied a temporary fix as our first "Ice Cream Social" was due to start at 1:00 PM. The event went well and I will have pics in the next "Dirt " issue.

And yes, we do need rain. Casualties at the clubhouse #2 pond. The smell was nothing short of invigorating!!

Rural King Due In Zephyrhills

Simpson Environmental Services employees work last Tuesday at the future site of the Rural King Supply Store on Gall Boulevard. A July 17 opening is planned. Supply Store Going Into Former Kmart Site

Rural King Supply has announced plans to open a store in mid July inside the former Kmart in the Town View Square.

The company will employ between 75 and 80 full and part-time workers for the retail operation and will be using local electricians, plumbers and demolition workers to refurbish the 85,000-square-foot storefront.

Rural King spent about a year planning its move to 7422 Gall Blvd., which will be its 101st store in the country and the eighth in Florida, according to Brian Hutchins, the company's vice president of Business and Development.

"We're excited about the Zephyrhills store pushing us over the 100 mark," he said. "We will be bringing several millions of dollars of retail sales to the


The demographics of Zephyrhills attracted Rural King to the area, Hutchins said.

"We are a farm and home store and we depend a lot on agricultural and rural customers. We have food items, lawn and garden items and pet food so we feel we have a lot to offer everybody," he said.

Rural King also carries hardware and automotive items, tools, sporting goods, housewares, clothing, footwear, toys and domestic items according to the company's website.

"There's a lot of business out there for all of us," Hutchins said regarding other retail stores that Rural King will be competing against, most notably TSC Tractor Supply across the street at 7431 Gall Blvd.

The Mattoon, Ill.-based company aims to open the Zephyrhills store as well as new stores in Ocala and Gainesville on July 17, with an eye on setting up more stores in the Sunshine State.


New Venue Going Into Old Bank Building

This conceptual drawing that was created a few years back shows the original design for the building. It will still have the same "French quarter feel" but the location of the patio doors have been changed and a walk up service area has been added.

The entrance to downtown's Main Street from Gall Boulevard is getting a new addition. Rather than the hulking empty building at 38421 Fifth Ave. greeting merchants and visitors, something much more lively will soon be taking its place. Zephyrhills residents Jodie Biston- Rogers, Melissa Swanstrom and a third, silent partner have been thinking about opening up a downtown hot spot for years. After considering several locations the team decided to purchase the old bank building from Biston-Rogers' father.

After starting reconstruction in mid- February, a two-story live entertainment venue, bar and lounge is projected to be finished around December. Cougars On Fifth is the name of the game for the upscale lounge designed to have a French Quarter/Ybor City vibe. "To me it's going to fill a big void in Zephyrhills. I'm hoping it will help boost the downtown activities," Biston-Rogers said. "We've envisioned this for a while and thought Zephyrhills needed something like this … restaurants in that area that don't get enough foot traffic. People don't think of coming to Zephyrhills for a full night."

The bar will operate with a full liquor license, but will not serve food in order to try to help steer business to already established downtown restaurants. Biston- Rogers said she hopes with the addition of Cougars, more people will consider visiting Zephyrhills for a full day of shopping, eating and evening entertainment. "I hope we can all work together to boost Zephyrhills and bring people to the area to see what we have to offer," she said.

Cougars' addition to Main Street will make for four establishments serving alcohol along the downtown strip with Manolo's, 4/1 Gentlemens Quarters and Zephyrhills Brewing Company. Biston- Rogers said she was a little worried she might be met with some resentment for that fact, but that overall everyone has been supportive and excited. "Members of the community are excited to see something happening downtown," she said.

The management team plans to organize several activities for the business, including live concerts, line dancing nights, and making the venue space available for local organizations and groups to hold events. Originally built in 1972, the 10,000 square foot building's previous tenants have been a slew of different banks throughout the years.

In the downstairs area, 5,000 square feet will serve as a live music venue, and will probably remain open only on weekend nights or for special events. Upstairs, 600 square feet were gutted in order to make a balcony to overlook Fifth Avenue as well as the venue and stage inside. The upstairs sports bar area will be open "all the time." Biston-Rogers and Swanstrom do not want to commit to hosting a specific genre of live music – they are open to all forms and want to provide a space for what the people of Zephyrhills want. "It's going to be a big thing for Zephyrhills … there's so much potential," Biston-Rogers said.

Melissa Swanstrom, left, and Jodie Biston-Rogers do demolition work.


Struggling West Zephyrhills Elementary gets new leader

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning has replaced the principal at West Zephyrhills Elementary School, hoping to stave off the need for a state-mandated improvement plan at the school.

Scott Atkins, principal of A-rated Sand Pine Elementary for the past four years, will take over, effective June 1. Atkins will replace Charlene Tidd, who was transferred to an assistant principal post at Watergrass Elementary on April 3. Assistant principal Peggy Gilbert is running the school in the meantime. 'West Zephyrhills is one of those schools that is very close to the turnaround option list,' Browning said. 'Scott provides the leadership that will propel West Zephyrhills to where it needs to be.' Student performance on state testing has declined in recent years at West Zeph- yrhills, with its school grade slipping to a D in 2016. Atkins, who had not asked for a transfer, said he looked forward to bringing new ideas to improve outcomes.

He said a review of data indicates work can be done to raise the results of the lowest-scoring children, including the provision of added academic supports. 'I definitely feel we can get them off the (differentiated accountability) list,' Atkins said. 'I'll certainly look forward to that challenge.' Browning suggested that he intended to hand-pick a new principal for Sand Pine, talking around questions about whether he would advertise for the job. 'We're going to put the right-fit principal at Sand Pine,' he said.


The Road Of The Future Physical Changes Underway For State Road 56

What costs nearly $11 million a mile and grows in your backyard? It's the long-awaited, muchanticipated four-lane connector known as the State Road 56 Extension and eastwest commuters cannot wait for it to be open.

But it will take three years to complete. Motorists on Morris Bridge Road have noticed crews have burned and cleared land so the Florida Department of Transportation can do prep work for the six-mile road.

The FDOT project is crucial to ease congestion along the State Road 54 corridor as well as accommodate the growth in the greater Zephyrhills area. Much like the existing portion of S.R. 56 from Bruce B. Downs to Meadow Pointe Road in Wesley Chapel, the extension will also feature a 10-foot wide multi-use path on the south side of the roadway. It will have a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of the road and include 7-foot bicycle lanes on the shoulders in each direction.

As the extension intersects Morris Bridge Road, turn lanes to access S.R. 56 will be added to the north-south artery and new asphalt will cover about a halfmile. A traffic signal is set for installation in the spring of 2018, according to David Botello, public information officer for District 7 of FDOT.

An FDOT project update sheet indicates the road is projected to open to traffic in 2020.

Cone & Graham is conducting the preparation work and Atkins has been contracted to oversee the construction. The project comes with a price tag of nearly $58 million and does not include $8 million that will be paid in interest. The City of Zephyrhills will pay $152,000 of the project's cost; the rest will paid by the county and state.

Pasco County and Zephyrhills see a big payoff for the road extension in the future. It took pressure from Zephyrhills City Council and state Rep. Danny Burgess to beat back the state's decision to scale down the extension as only a two-lane connector.

But once the county came on board with the necessary infusion of grant money, the plan ended up to be a fourlane road as originally pitched. Also in the works to ease the east-west angst, the widening of State Road 54 is in its early stages.

City officials have long dreamt of the connector serving as an economic boon for the Chancey Road industrial zone and municipal airport. But those who enjoy the rural peace below Zephyrhills aren't likely to share their glee: four developers are planning to add up to 11,000 homes along the new route.

Crews recently cleared and burned a path east of Morris Bridge Road for what will eventually become part of the State Road 56 extension from Wesley Chapel to U.S. Route 301.

There's no more "Dirt" to dish out, so that's all for now............"Dirt Meister", Jim

Judi Gearsbeck, front row left, is heading up six monthly "Ice Cream Socials", from May through October for us "Sunbirds". Pictured above are some of the volunteers that help make these events so popular.

Attendees proceed through a condiment line where a choice of eight different toppings are offered for your cup of ice cream. I usually take a spoonful of each.......yes I do. If an ice cream sundae is not your "cup of tea", a root beer float can be had.

Later, contestants were picked from the audience to play in the old TV edition of the "The Match Game". And a good time was had by all of the 144 who attended.

"Burger King" is undergoing a facelift both inside and out.

A new bank is being constructed on the old "Whataburger"site next to the Microtel Inn & Suites motel behind Lowes.

A "Forth of July Picnic" was also held for us "Sunbirds". Here the barbecue crew, headed up by Randall Gearsbeck, second from left, prepares the burgers for the 146 attendees.

Inside Clubhouse #3, chief honcho Judi Gearsbeck, front row center, along with some of the volunteers, prepare the picnic menu of a burger, potato chips, drinks and for dessert, a brownie.

"Share The Wealth" and door prize tickets were also sold.

Entertainment was provided by the "Dynamic Duo" of Johnny Ellis and Denise Drew. There was also a "free pass swim day" for all Betmarians.

Installation of the new rubberized roof is now complete over the shuffle board court.

View of the new Wawa gas station site, across the street from the Marathon gas station on the corner of Gall Blvd. and County Rd. 54.

Also rumored, there will be a Culver's family restaurant going in next to Wawa.


Railroad & Industrial Federal Credit Union Opens Zephyrhills Branch

Railroad & Industrial Credit Union is opening its ninth branch in Florida at 36239 S.R. 54 in Zephyrhills, next to Dave's Soft Serve Ice Cream. The branch in the building where Center State Bank used to operate represents an expansion of the credit union into the Pasco County market, said Allen Jernigan, a credit union spokesman.

The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce will hold a ribbon cutting at the credit union at noon on June 22. There will also be business networking at the new branch from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on June 22.

A grand opening celebration will take place there on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with train rides, bounce houses, prize raffles, gift basket drawings food, drinks and giveaways for the whole family.

“We are excited to be offering our services in Pasco County,” said Pete Giorgianni, President and CEO of RIFCU. “The Zephyrhills branch is part of our strategic initiative to expand our footprint in the Tampa Bay market,” he said. RIFCU was founded in Tampa in 1935 as a member-owned, not-for-profit financial institution. RIFCU had $70 in assets when 14 railroad employees met to charter the credit union.

Over time, assets have grown to more than $325 million. As well as offices, RIFCU offers a mobile platform, including a responsive design website, Apple App, and Google Play App.


Water Rate to Increase for Infrastructure Funding

ZEPHRYHILLS - As city officials report near completion of a controversial overhaul of Zephyrhills' water meters and billing system, the City Council is now eyeing a water rate increase next year to tackle aging underground infrastructure.

Council members got a first look at a study during a work session Monday night that proposes a 4 percent water rate increase and an 8 percent sewer rate increase for customers starting Oct. 1, 2018, and running through 2022.

The proposal would mean single-family homeowners that use 3,000 gallons of combined water and sewer a month would see their bills rise from $40.03 to $43.14, an increase of 7.8 percent. Users of 5,000 gallons would see their bills increase from $53.29 to 57.52, a 7.9 percent increase. The study found that 79 percent of residential customers use 5,000 gallons or less a month.

Plans call for the revenue from the rate increase to go toward utility operating expenses and $27 million in capital projects planned through fiscal 2022. City Manager Steve Spina told council members that the water and sewer infrastructure is in constant need of upgrades, adding that during a recent streetscape project, workers found pipes that were 60 years old.

The numbers in the study are not set in stone. The council is set to discuss them during its June 26 meeting, followed by two public readings of the ordinance should they decide to move forward.

During the work session, there were calls from council to explain the proposed increase to the public in as much detail as possible. Council members pointed out that the city is still in the midst of completing the meter upgrades and billing service changes.

Last fall, the city began rolling out a program through a contractor, Arizona-based FATHOM, to replace all of the city's meters and begin a digital monitoring bill-paying system that will cost the city $6 million over two years. Spina pointed out that next year's proposed increase has nothing to do with the project, but would be earmarked for infrastructure upgrades.

Spina admitted the rollout of the FATHOM program has been difficult and generated numerous complaints from residents, but said implementation is 90 percent complete. The city man ager told the Tampa Bay Times that the majority of complaints stem from people receiving higher bills because FATHOM's system is more precise in calculating usage and finds leaks that the old system did not detect.

City Council President Alan Knight said he has fielded many calls about the FATHOM project and expects public scrutiny over a possible rate increase.

'We have to have an answer for this, and we better have a very good answer,' Knight said.


As City Hall DemolitioBegins, Operations Relocated

Most services move to the old police station. Council meetings move to the library June 13.

BY ROBERT NAPPER, Times Correspondent

ZEPHYRHILLS - City operations are about to change in a big way as Zephyrhills readies to tear down City Hall and temporarily move to new headquarters while a new building is constructed.

City Council members described it as 'bittersweet' after holding the board's final meeting on May 22 at City Hall on 8th Street, reminiscing as Zephyrhills prepares to move city government into its former police station at 5344 9th St. The city will pay the property's owner, RTD Construction, $4,000 a month in rent.

The majority of city services will be moved to the old police station, though the planning department will operate out of the historic Jeffries House at 38533 5th Ave., where the city's Community Redevelopment Agency already resides. Council members will also see a change of venue. Starting June 13, council meetings will be in the meeting room at the city library at 5347 8th St. Should that room prove to be too small, the city has made arrangements to hold council meetings in the Alice Hall Community Center, at 38116 5th Ave.

The temporary move will have little effect on providing public services, other than plans to close for one day, Friday, with the goal of being fully operational again on Monday at the former police station and at Jeffries House, City Manager Steve Spina said.

There will be no changes to city telephone numbers, and mail sent to the current City Hall address will be redirected. The only thing not open for business by Monday will be the city's drive-through utility window for people to pay bills. Bill paying will take place inside for the time being.

The current 13,497-square-foot City Hall, which dates back to the 1950s, is slated to be demolished in July, and a new city hall will be built on the same location, with construction projected to take a year.

In January, the City Council voted to construct the new twostory, 19,615-square-foot building at a projected cost of nearly $6.2 million.

Though the current building will sit vacant for a few weeks, it will, the city will hold an auction there to sell furniture and other unneeded items on June 20. 'Our police and fire departments will also be using the building for training once we are out of there,' Spina said.

There's no more "Dirt" to dish out, so that's all for now............"Dirt Meister", Jim

Sometimes  we have to smile  at our memories, be thankful that we had our friends as long as we did, and look for the words that express how we feel about them. Verna Thornton was probably the first friend that I made after I moved to Florida and discovered the Creative Writers Club at Betmar Acres. One of the original founders, she was an enthusiastic member that almost always showed up on Monday morning. As our facilitator she guided us in our writing, suggesting many subjects that she felt we would be interested in. As a poet, she excelled, and she and I felt a kinship from the very first time that I went. I was so impressed by the way her words could always make me see a picture in my mind. She just had a way with descriptive words that could make you laugh or cry or remember something in your own life.

Verna has gone on beyond us this week. She hadn't been well after a bad fall a month ago, and we had missed her at our group meetings. I talked to her a few days ago and she was very determined to get better so that she could attend again in November. She lived alone, after having taken care of an ailing husband for many years. When I got the phone call I was shocked because I hadn't expected it.

I found this poem written by Verna in our annual book put out by our group this spring, and am printing it to show you how she felt about moving on from us.


I was just a little child

And watched the pansies die.

Grandma tried to comfort me

As I began to cry.

Then she sat me on her lap.

She hugged me close and said,

"Pansies droop and petals fall,

But they're not really dead.

Notice how the butterflies

Have colors bright and gay.

They are wilted pansies, dear,

The ones that got away."

Now, my pansy bed is filled

With deep exotic hues,

Yellow, purple, rust and bronze,

Mahogany and blues.

Vibrant colors, trimmed with black,

Their scent is everywhere,

Sunshine yellow on them all,

Their fragrance fills the air.

Rippled by the summer breeze,

They're nodding in the sun,

A dark and somber little face

Peers out from every one.

Wistfully, they try to speak,

And each one seems to say,

"How much longer will it be

Before I fly away?

I'm bound to earth by stem and roots

My days are passing by.

How much longer must I wait

To be a butterfly?"

Today our Verna is a beautiful, shining butterfly, so watch for her wherever you go.


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An Article Submitted by Verlie Rider:  OUR FRIEND VERNA THORNTON