By Tamas Mondovics

In an answer to a countywide invitation, Hillsborough County and surrounding area residents, local government officials, representatives of county departments as well as dozens of vendors filled the lobby and much of the ground floor at the Sheraton East Hotel in Tampa during the 12th Annual Neighborhoods Conference.

Table by table, nearly 100 vendors lined the hallways as hundreds of registered guests took advantage of the chance to speak directly with representatives of local law enforcement, fire rescue, emergency operations, code enforcement, transportation, healthcare as well as a number of infrastructure experts such as building, roads, power and water.

According to event organizers, the goal of the conference each year is to provide tools and training for all that are seeking help to make their neighborhoods safer, friendlier, more attractive and sustainable.

“Conference guest and visitors have an efficient way to get their questions answered through a large variety of exhibits not to mention the more than 18 free workshops hosted by county officials and department representatives,” said event organizer Wanda Sloan. 

Workshops answered questions on code enforcement, water safety, traffic calming, crime and violence prevention, disaster preparedness as well as how to write and be eligible for neighborhood grants, just to name a few. 

“I look forward to attending this event every year,” said bay area resident, Norma Robinson. “The best thing about it is the people you meet and the chance to talk about your concerns face to face.”

Robinson was specifically interested in learning more about water and swimming pool safety, and said that after getting some direction from a number of sources on the topic, such as the Children’s Board and the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the problem or concern within the community turned out to be a lot less worrisome.

One of the most visited tables of the day was the County’s Code Enforcement division, led by department director Ron Spiller, who mentioned that, while the upswing of the housing market has helped, the department still has a lot of work when it comes to dealing with the consequences and affects of foreclosed homes.

“We are currently dealing with close to 35,000 foreclosed homes within Hillsborough County,”

Spiller said.

Interestingly, one of the biggest code violations affecting local neighborhoods are the snipe signs littering the sidewalks and street corners.

“These signs are a visual bight in the neighborhood as well as dangerous during storms,” Spiller  said, adding that during the 2013 the department collected more than 88,000 signs and so far this year the number of signs littering communities countywide has reached 40,000.

While getting answers to questions about their local communities and neighborhoods guests also enjoyed a continental breakfast, a networking luncheon and the Neighborhood Recognition Awards presentation.

Event organizers said that the success of this year’s conference only ensures its return next year. For more information on the Annual Neighborhood Relations Conference, visit

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