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    Bush signs billboard compensation bill into law

    The law does not affect counties that have bans on erecting new billboards.

    By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 5, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush signed a controversial bill into law Thursday that makes it much more difficult and costly for local governments to remove billboards on local roads.

    Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties would be forced to pay billboard companies "just compensation" to remove billboards. That could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for each billboard.

    The law (HB 715) does not affect Pasco's and Hernando's bans on erecting new billboards. It also does not affect local governments involved in litigation with companies before January 2001, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater.

    In Orlando, county officials have estimated that the new law could cost $13-million, meaning the county may never try to remove signs. The cost alone would probably stop most communities from ever trying to remove billboards, local officials said.

    "Shame on him," Pasco County Commissioner Steve Simon said of Bush.

    The Pasco County Commission has talked about trying to remove billboards before but now will no longer be able to, Simon said.

    "I'm not going to pay the kind of money they are talking about," he said.

    Local officials say they are willing to compensate the companies, but the two sides disagree on how much billboards are worth.

    In recent years, the average billboard in Florida has been appraised at $3,000 for tax purposes in contrast to the $120,000 billboard owners claimed when governments tried to condemn them.

    Citrus Commissioner Vicki Phillips said a task force has been formed to inventory signs in the county and make some recommendations on what to do about then.

    "We were hoping it would go the other way," said Phillips, who traveled to Tallahassee a year ago to fight a similar bill. "Now it's going to cost us."

    The bill passed the House 91-17 and the Senate 29-8.

    Bush acknowledged the decision was tough. "This issue is especially difficult since I am a firm believer in both local control and property rights," he said in a statement. He said the bill "strikes an adequate balance between important principles."

    But it no longer allows governments to enter into agreements with the companies that allow local governments to avoid paying compensation by leaving the signs up for a certain number of years to give companies time to recoup investments.

    The billboard industry argued that the process was unfair and equivalent to ordering a store to close without offering any compensation, said Pete Dunbar, a billboard lobbyist.

    Under the new law, "just compensation" of the signs would be determined in a legal proceeding.

    "Gov. Bush further strengthened and protected the property rights of all citizens in Florida, which is a logical extension of the principles that have guided our great country for centuries," said Charlotte Brand, president of the Florida Outdoor Advertising Associations.

    But government officials claim that giving seven or 10 years' notice is plenty of time for billboard companies to make money on their signs before taking them down.

    -- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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