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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. 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....

  2. 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....

  3. 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....

  4. 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....

  5. 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 IMAX Dome Theatre, now closed, is seen from the inside of the renovated Museum of Science and Industry. The museum turned a profit for the first time in five years.
  6. 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
  7. 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, left, played high school basketball and practiced with the team at St. John’s University.
  8. 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]
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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. ...

  13. What could have been: Rays ballpark considered for these eight Tampa locations


    When St. Petersburg gave the Tampa Bay Rays permission to search for a new home in January 2016, Hillsborough County officials surveyed their available options. Within a few months, their list included eight sites from the familiar (the Florida State Fairgrounds) to the new (a previously undiscussed office and retail plaza near Dale Mabry Highway and Interstate 275). By April, the county had mapped the eight proposals and placed images of a stadium on each property to demonstrate to the Rays how a ballpark might fit, according to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. (The Rays declined to comment on the alternative sites.) In October, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan unveiled a proposal for a ballpark on a 14-acre site near Ybor City....

    An image depicting what Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, would look like at the current location of Jefferson High School in Tampa. It is one of eight mockups of potential Tampa Bay Rays ballpark locations created last year by Hillsborough County.
  14. First-in-nation dog training ordinance ready for vote in Hillsborough County


    TAMPA — Dog trainers would have to obtain a license and agree to training plans with owners under an ordinance Hillsborough County commissioners will consider Wednesday.

    County officials have called the proposed regulations for dog trainers, dubbed Truth in Training, the first of their kind in the country. Trainers would have to provide their credentials to the county for publication and have liability insurance of at least $100,000....

    Sarge, a Shih Tzu-Pekingese mix, died two years ago after a training session, says owner Lorie Childers. It’s the catalyst for a proposal to regulate trainers.
  15. Meet the middlemen helping to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City


    TAMPA — From his corner office on the 29th floor of a downtown Tampa skyscraper, Ron Christaldi can see the warehouses in Ybor City that may one day become the Tampa Bay Rays' ballpark.

    Christaldi now largely controls those warehouses. If everything goes as planned, he won't for long.

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan recently unveiled his pitch to turn 14 acres near Ybor City into a new home for the Rays. The announcement came with another revelation: a newly formed nonprofit had acquired the rights to most of the land there and would hold it for the county until the Rays were ready to make a deal....

    Ron Christaldi, a lawyer with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, poses for a portrait in his downtown Tampa office Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Christaldi, along with businessman Charles Sykes, created the nonprofit that has obtained rights to the land in Ybor City (seen behind him) where a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark could one day be located. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times