A worldwide pandemic. Political strife. The most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. At times, it seemed like 2020 couldn’t find enough to throw at us.

But what I hope you saw from your Pinellas County government and Board of County Commissioners during this most unforgettable year is that we never wavered in our commitment to provide you with first-class services.

Looking back, let me start with the highest of praise for our Emergency Management Department. Led by director Cathie Perkins, our Emergency Management team has stayed on hyperdrive since March. The have been running emergency operations, logistics, and COVID-19 testing sites, and they’ve led too many coordinating and planning calls to count. What’s more, the Emergency Operations Center was activated to an Enhanced Monitoring level for Tropical Storm Nester in October and full activation for Tropical Storm Eta in November.

During 2020, Pinellas County employees distributed more than two million face masks to protect residents from COVID-19, coordinated 280,000 COVID-19 tests and answered nearly 10,000 calls about COVID-19 at the County Information Center. We also kept our community informed through a dedicated COVID-19 website that included a data dashboard, as well as frequent updates to media outlets, social media posts, news conferences, Facebook Live events and public service announcements.

We supported out community financially by distributing more than $100 million in federal emergency CARES Act funding to impacted residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations. Our Economic Development Department coordinated with local companies on personal protective equipment (PPE) donations and manufacturing efforts to support front-line works. We also assisted business owner with loan applications totaling $1.7 million.

Your Board of County Commissioners began discussing COVID-19 in March and never stopped. The regular updates we received from Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Department of Health in Pinellas County, and Dr. Angus Jameson, medical director of the Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services, as well as input from our regional hospital administrators, was invaluable. Hard decisions we had to make about COVID-19 safety restrictions were always preceded by thoughtful deliberation and based on the latest data and recommendations of our best experts.

While our COVID-19 response was our top priority in 2020, we still made great progress on the goals of our strategic plan. We launched a new initiative to create more affordable housing throughout the county, and a new online permitting and inspection system. In November, the Board adopted a resolution approving a new St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Master Plan.

This year, we opened a beautiful 125-acre addition to Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor and completed three dune walkover boardwalks at Fort De Soto Park. We protected our natural resources by removing 6,700 acres of invasive vegetation from public lakes, ponds and canals, and continued to improve the quality of our water bodies through our fertilizer ordinance and other management efforts.

With hurricanes on the rise, and other climate change threats looming, we began developing a Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan that will guide future projects and policies. Also underway is a Critical Infrastructure Vulnerability Assessment that will help us plan for rising sea levels and storm surge.

In 2020, our Solid Waste department recycled 65.5 million pounds of metal, turned 91.1 million pounds of yard waste into mulch and collected 1.6 million pounds of household electronics and chemicals. We also completed a Solid Waste 30-Year Master Plan, which will put us on track for Zero Waste to Landfill by 2050. Through our ongoing effort to make our streets safer and more efficient, we invested $44.5 million in projects to expand and improve roads, bridges, intersections and trails. Most of those funds came from our Penny for Pinellas program.

No matter what 2021 throws at us – and we still have a long way to go before we are through COVID-19 – rest assured that we will remain committed to provide our residents and visitors with the best possible services. As always, you can reach me at (727) 464-3363 or cjustice@pinellascounty.org.