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    Cove Cay to get county pitch

    With a referendum on annexation looming this month, officials from Largo and Pinellas are doing their best to persuade residents to see it their way.

    By ABBIE VANSICKLE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 5, 2003


    LARGO -- For the last three months, Largo and Pinellas County have put on their Sunday best to woo waterfront land.

    What's the plush piece of property?

    It's the gated golf course community Cove Cay. Tucked away just off U.S. 19, the property has been the object of their affection, time and promised gifts.

    Largo, which wants to annex the land, had its chance to speak to residents at a recent meeting at a Cove Cay clubhouse. Now it's the county's turn at bat.

    County officials will speak to Cove Cay village residents at 7 p.m. Monday night to explain the benefits of remaining part of unincorporated Pinellas County. Tuesday, the county sent residents flyers touting the benefits of sticking with the county.

    "We're glad you're part of Unincorporated Pinellas," it read. A list of perks followed, including library access and a promise of new recreational programs.

    A referendum on the annexation is scheduled for Jan. 21.

    At Monday's meeting, county officials plan to answer residents' questions surrounding the proposed annexation.

    The county's purpose is to educate Cove Cay's registered voters to be sure they have all of the facts, said county budget director Mark Woodard.

    "Really, the county simply wants to give residents all the information," Woodard said. "This is the first time where we've had a situation where there's been such a focused effort on getting out information to individuals."

    Some Cove Cay residents say they want their community, worth an estimated $300,000 in annual tax revenue, to remain with the county. Others say the incentives offered by Largo, which include fire-safe windows for 40 units, a new fence and city control and maintenance of three sewer lift stations, are hard to beat. Still others haven't made up their minds.

    One thing's clear: the flood of contradictory information piling into the community has left several residents feeling confused and a little suspicious.

    It seems Largo and the county can agree on little about Cove Cay, from the number of units on the site -- Largo says 923, the county says 934 -- to the savings annexation would bring -- Largo says nearly $17 a month, the county says it's only $7.

    Guiding the information flow is Jerry Panagrossi. The manager of the Cove Cay Community Association, Panagrossi oversees three of the four Cove Cay villages and coordinates the city and county meetings with residents. He's said repeatedly he doesn't care whether Cove Cay is annexed by Largo or not.

    "It gets so political," he said. "Let the people decide. I only work for the people."

    But Panagrossi doesn't hesitate to praise Largo or to voice his frustration with the county, which he says has not gone out of its way for Cove Cay until recently.

    He said he called the county numerous times about repairing a drainage ditch near Cove Cay's property. The county started work a couple of weeks ago. But when he called Largo about fixing a section of pavement at the community's front entrance, the city fixed it that day, he said.

    "The only reason why the county showed up at all to work on that ditch is because of the annexation (vote)," he said.

    Panagrossi said he was so impressed by Largo's prompt response to his request he posted flyers in elevators and halls around Cove Cay, reminding residents of the city's efforts.

    He said he was just saying thank you to the city, but some residents say they're worried the city of Largo is getting special attention.

    Douglas Crum, former president of Village 3, and Bill Torrey, current president, say they're concerned about the annexation and want to be sure there are no surprises ahead for residents.

    "We think it's a mystery how this all came about," Crum said.

    To express his view on the annexation and to get access to the list of registered voters in Cove Cay, Crum formed a political committee, which he calls "Residents Against Annexation."

    For Crum, Largo's incentives have not had the intended effect. Instead of being pleased at the improvements, he's concerned Largo may not pay such close attention to Cove Cay's needs after the annexation is finished. He said he's not happy to see public money spent wooing his community.

    "What is the merit of using a city fund for private property?" he said.

    Largo Mayor Bob Jackson said the money used to fund annexation incentives is pulled from the surcharges paid by households in unincorporated Pinellas County that use Largo's services.

    Still, Crum isn't satisfied.

    Largo is not the right image for the community, he said. If a city has to step in and annex, let it be Clearwater.

    "Clearwater has prestige," he said. "You go to Paris and people have heard of Clearwater and its beaches. Nobody's ever heard of Largo, except in some song. And that's Key Largo, not this one."

    Torrey agreed. He said Largo has been a little too eager to win Cove Cay.

    "It's the whole idea that it has become a bidding war," he said. "It's like they're desperate to have us."

    Several residents have expressed concern that they will have to change their mailing address to Largo if the annexation goes through. Although mailing addresses will not be affected, this concern shows what residents really think about the annexation, Crum said.

    "We don't want to be associated with Largo," he said. "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is."

    -- Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or at vansickle@sptimes.com .

    What is Cove Cay?

    Four residential communities, called villages, and an 18-hole golf course.

    Each village includes a swimming pool, a clubhouse and a hot tub.

    Residents have the option of paying membership for the golf course and marina.

    Construction information:

    Village One -- 1972 to 1973

    Village Two -- 1974

    Village Three -- 1989 to 1991

    Village Four -- 1980 to 1986

    Country Club -- 1971

    Marina -- 1974

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