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Clash on Kenneth City lines nears end

An offer by County Administrator Steve Spratt would let Kenneth City annex property in the Lealman Fire District.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

KENNETH CITY -- The face off over annexation lines between this small town and Pinellas County appears to be over: The county blinked.

Under a settlement proposed by County Administrator Steve Spratt, Kenneth City again can annex property within a designated area inside the Lealman Fire District. The Kenneth City Town Council unanimously endorsed Spratt's offer Wednesday.

The County Commission, which still must vote on the proposal, in June reduced the annexation planning areas encroaching on Lealman to protect the unincorporated area from land grabs.

Under that action, Kenneth City, St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park would have been unable to annex land within the fire district for one year.

Kenneth City then said it would sue the county because the commission's decision deprived the town of any place to expand.

Spratt said that's why he offered to restore the town's annexation area.

"The rationale is that all cities that have planning areas surrounding them have some opportunity for annexation," Spratt said. "Kenneth City stands out as the only municipality that has no opportunity to annex anything. I felt that, given its unique position, it would be appropriate to consider (boundary restoration)."

Spratt said Kenneth City's planning area also includes no major annexations that could adversely affect Lealman's tax base.

Kenneth City Mayor Bill Smith said, "We've got to stop our legal expenses," and referred, without explaining, to issues still remaining between the county, Pinellas Park and Largo. The two larger cities had intervened to support Kenneth City in the dispute.

Ray Neri, the head of the Lealman Community Association, which has spearheaded the drive to limit annexation, had hard words for the county.

"We don't really care if they restore the lines to Kenneth City because no one's going to go into Kenneth City," Neri said. "We don't have a problem with Kenneth City; we never did."

Lealman's real problem was with Pinellas Park, he said, which was gobbling up parts of the area one property at a time.

Neri said the county had backed off on most of its annexation decision to safeguard Lealman. First, it returned a small area of the fire district to Seminole's planning area. Now, it's planning on moving the lines to satisfy Kenneth City.

"We can almost hear Pinellas Park screaming, "You did it for them . . . we have plans. You're damaging us (and) our economic development,' " Neri said. "We'll start hearing that and will the county roll over on that? That's what's worrying us."

Neri also complained that Lealman had been left out of the loop. His understanding was that an area representative would be "in on the discussion."

Spratt, he said, visited once with Lealman activists and that was at a meeting of east Lealman's revitalization team; he never came to a community association meeting, which has more people.

Neri said he had not been informed of any negotiating sessions with Kenneth City and had not been told of the settlement offer. He found out from a Lealman activist who attended the Kenneth City Council meeting.

That treatment, he said, is what Lealman residents have come to expect from the county. The pattern is the same whether the issue is garbage collection, signs identifying the community or annexation: Residents ask for a local fix; the county decides it has wider implications, so a study is done; time goes by (1 1/2 years in the case of garbage); then the county decides it's a local issue.

In the meantime, Neri said, nothing is done, and most people are so tired of waiting for county officials to do something that they walk away without anything.

"On the one hand, the county wrings its hands about losing property," Neri said. "On the other hand, they set it up so they lose property."

That scenario is one reason Lealman residents want to form their own city, he said.

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