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    Seminole thinks mail could entice annexation

    With the county raising taxes for folks in unincorporated areas, city officials think this would be a fine time to send them a personal invitation.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 11, 2002


    SEMINOLE -- For years, the city of Seminole has been inviting people who live in unincorporated Pinellas County to join it with "grow with us" banners around town.

    City Manager Frank Edmunds now wants to extend a personal invitation to 14,000 residents who live in areas surrounding Seminole. The letter would mention the city's services and give a cost comparison between the city and the county. The one-time mass mailing would cost about $2,500.

    Since the County Commission raised taxes for unincorporated residents and Seminole maintained its existing millage rate, what better time to tell them about the financial benefits of living in the city, Edmunds says.

    Mayor Dottie Reeder agrees.

    "I think it's an opportune time, not only for the city, but also for the (unincorporated) residents out there," she said. "This is the time to talk about it."

    Neighboring Largo, too, has an aggressive annexation strategy, said Largo City Manager Steven Stanton, but it is different from Seminole's. Stanton said Largo offers incentives through city services.

    "It's a different strategy," Stanton said. "We've never felt the need to do that (sending letters to homeowners). Typically, we don't use that approach."

    Residents who live outside the county's towns and cities will pay a higher property tax rate but receive new services under a budget county commissioners passed last month.

    Unincorporated residents will pay 50 cents more per $1,000 in assessed taxable value, or $2.36 for every $1,000 instead of $1.86, on a separate tax that they pay to fund services in the unincorporated areas. But, for the first time in four years, commissioners did not increase rates on the countywide property tax, which all county homeowners must pay. Although Seminole's millage rate remained the same as last year, most property owners will pay higher taxes because of increased assessments.

    The mailing would be a change in Seminole's laid-back annexation strategy. For the past few years, the city has had a low-key annexation plan. It hung banners around town asking people to join. It put out brochures with information about the city, its services and financial status. It responded to people seeking information about joining the city.

    It's worked.

    Two years ago, the city nearly doubled in size and population when residents in three large areas voted to join Seminole. Last year, four neighborhoods voted in an annexation referendum. Two joined the city.

    Mitch Bobowski, Seminole's general services director, says a referendum is scheduled for January for three areas: Bridlewood subdivision, 23 homes north of 86th Avenue N and west of Starkey Road; Timberwoods, a 99-unit condominium complex near Bridlewood; and Parkview Woodlands, a neighborhood of 44 homes north of 82nd Avenue N and east of 98th Street.

    City leaders decided last October to beef up annexation efforts after the county's failed attempt to restrict annexations by referendum. They talked about doing a mass mailing or tucking promotional fliers in newspapers.

    But no real changes were proposed -- until now.

    That's because Seminole agreed to postpone any annexation activities until after the American Assembly in May, Edmunds said. During the three-day gathering in Clearwater in May, government, businesses, community and religious leaders discussed issues, such as annexation, facing Pinellas and ways to deal with them.

    Council member Janet Long says many people who live in unincorporated areas near Seminole already say they live in Seminole. "They want to be identified with our city," she said. So why not give them a chance to vote on it? she asked.

    The mailing sounds like a good idea to council member Bob Matthews. But he said the city needs to keep its friendly style.

    "We want people to be aware that we're here, but we want to be prudent about where we're going and not get in people's faces," he said.

    The City Council was scheduled to vote on the mailing Tuesday evening.

    Two years ago, the city plotted boundaries to which it would like Seminole to expand: 131st Street on the west, 110th Avenue on the north, Starkey Road on the east and Bay Pines on the south. It is the people who live in unincorporated Pinellas inside this area that would receive a letter of invitation.

    Edmunds says those borders would give the city easily defined boundaries. If it was accomplished, the city would cover 12.5 square miles and would contain 50,000 to 60,000 residents, compared with about 4.5 square miles and 17,000 residents now.

    -- Staff writer Michael Sandler contributed to this report.

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