An annexation hot potato withers, dies
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
A bill that could have forced all unincorporated Pinellas property owners to become part of a city died last week.
The Florida League of Cities declined to support the proposed bill because it required municipalities to hold referendums before annexations could occur.
With only two weeks left in the session, annexation reform likely will have to wait until next year.
"We thought it was in their best interest and ours to walk away from it this year," said John Wayne Smith, assistant director of legislative affairs for the League. "It took us nine months to come up with this. (There's) no way we can change gears and come up with something in two weeks. (Next year, we) will try to bring back annexation reform that will be more palatable to folks."
The decision was a mixed blessing for annexation opponents and reformers, Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt said.
On the good side, he said, the provisions that opponents worried would force all property owners into cities will not become law. On the down side, Spratt said the problems that exist with annexation -- cash incentives, no consideration of the overall fiscal impact -- will continue.
"This was sort of an undesirable outcome in either event," Spratt said. "If the bill advanced with these undesirable features, then that would have been objectionable. If nothing was done, we're where we started."
Where they started is an agreement that annexation is broken not only in Pinellas but across the state.
In Pinellas, local governments have sued each other and the county; property owners have objected to annexations of historic communities and tax-rich land; and special taxing districts have felt the pinch as revenue was lost through annexations.
With such scenarios across the state, senators filed two "shell" bills -- which are put on the Legislature's agenda before the text is written -- that simply said the Legislature planned to change annexation laws. Those bills, 490 and 1042, were combined into one.
On the House side, committees created a bill that could have, if interpreted one way, forced all unincorporated property owners into cities.
Antiannexation activists were outraged at what they saw as an attempt to deprive property owners of their right to choose a government. Some unincorporated residents wrote letters. One person appeared before a House committee to protest the proposal. And a group urged a telephone campaign and had prepared to attend Monday's session to testify against the move.
The decision to drop the bill caused them to cancel their Tallahassee room reservations, but they will continue the telephone campaign.
Ray Neri, a Lealman activist, said he was still urging people to call in hopes that legislators would remember their concerns next year. Legislators, he said, should understand there will be an outcry if people's rights are taken away from them.
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