Gulfport looks to add 193 acres, 600 homes
South Pasadena has a concern about taxes and responsibility as the annexation of prime land is considered.
By ANNE LINDBERG
Published August 13, 2006
GULFPORT - Officials here are preparing to annex a chunk of property that could increase Gulfport's population and size by almost 10 percent.
But the prospect worries leaders in South Pasadena, which provides fire service to the area. They fear that they will still have to provide first-response fire service to the area without receiving any tax money to pay for it.
"We're proposing to annex all of the area lying south and west of Gulfport Boulevard," Gulfport City Manager Tom Brobeil said last week. "That's the water side."
The goal is to place the item on the November ballot so voters who live in the affected area can decide if they want to become part of the city, Brobeil said. Gulfport must have the final information to the county supervisor of elections by Sept. 6.
The Gulfport City Council will consider a resolution Tuesday. If it passes, the council is tentatively scheduled to hold a first public hearing on the proposal Aug. 29 and a final public hearing Sept. 5. Tuesday's meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S.
Gulfport's community development director, Fred Metcalf, said the annexation would involve about 600 homes. Most lie in Pasadena Golf Club Estates; 211 are the condos and townhomes that make up Pelican Creek Village, Golfview and Sun Ketch.
The area comprises about 193 acres, 49 of which are underwater, and is home to about 1,100 residents. It's valued at about $100-million for tax purposes, Metcalf said.
Gulfport currently has about 2,100 acres and 12,000 residents, so adding the area would increase the city's size by a little more than 9 percent.
All the property is within Gulfport's annexation planning area and gets its water and sewer service from Gulfport. But its police and fire protection come from South Pasadena.
South Pasadena contracts with the Pinellas County sheriff for police protection, said city attorney Linda Hallas. The sheriff gives South Pasadena a break on the cost of the deputies because the city allows him to use officers to patrol that part of the unincorporated area in addition to their city patrol. If the area is annexed, that price break will disappear and South Pasadena will either have to cut back on the number of deputies or come up with about $170,000 to keep all the city has.
But it's the fire issue that really has South Pasadena concerned, Hallas said.
Because the area is unincorporated, the county collects taxes from it and gives those to South Pasadena for providing fire service. If the area is annexed into Gulfport, homeowners will pay taxes to that city. Those municipal taxes include fire service.
South Pasadena would lose the estimated $242,000 it is receiving from the county for fire service, Hallas said.
The difference could be made up by reducing the size of the city's 18-person department, but that option may not be possible. South Pasadena still may be the first responder to the area in case of fire, because the station is larger and closer than Gulfport's, Hallas said. In essence, South Pasadena would have to maintain the personnel and equipment to provide the service without getting any payment for it - a hit to the city's $3-million budget that could first be felt in the 2007-08 fiscal year.
"We're going to end up doing the work and not receiving the money," Hallas said.
Metcalf, the Gulfport development director, said his city is aware of the issue.
"Yeah, it's going to hit their budget," he said.
One of the issues that really rankles South Pasadena, Hallas said, is that people in the area want the annexation because they need new water and sewer lines.
Gulfport, she said, has been charging those residents 125 percent of what the city charges its residents for providing water and sewer service to the area. But Gulfport has not used that money to provide fire hydrants or upgrade sewer and water pipes. To get them without paying more, the residents feel they must annex into Gulfport.
"The way we see it, is they already owe those people the water lines, the hydrants, the sanitary sewer lines," Hallas said. "Those people have already paid for those facilities."
If annexed, she said, some of those residents will end up paying more in the long run because of the taxes and franchise fees on utilities, such as cable TV and electricity.
Hallas said South Pasadena is monitoring the situation.
"It isn't what we want."
Annexation has been a hot issue in Pinellas County for the past few years. Here are some of the biggest:
* Almost all of the county's 24 cities have decided to join a lawsuit to fight proposed changes to the county's charter. One of the most contentious relates to annexation. The county wants to make referendum annexations more difficult, requiring that such annexations receive the consent of 67 percent of the property owners, not the current 51 percent.
* Seminole wants permission to extend its annexation planning area.
* The Lealman Fire District has faced South Pasadena's problems for several years. Lealman is an unincorporated area that stretches roughly from Interstate 275 to Park Street between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. Activists there have long complained that annexations by Seminole, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg have cut into the tax base while forcing Lealman to maintain first-response fire service to annexed areas without being paid for it.
* Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and Lealman are locked in a lawsuit over tax money the fire district says the cities owe it for improper annexations.
* Pinellas Park continues its active annexation program into areas other than Lealman. It is the rare council meeting that does not have at least one annexation on the agenda.