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Judge puts Largo-Evatone tiff on hold

The family business is fighting Largo's bid to annex its property against its will because it says it can't afford the potential tax load.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published September 19, 2006


LARGO - Evatone Inc. is no longer part of Largo - at least for now.

This week, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge David A. Demers delayed the city's annexation of the company's property until he rules on Evatone's lawsuit against Largo.

In January, the company asked a judge to quash the annexation of 90 acres near Ulmerton Road and 49th Street, marking the first time a Largo annexation has been legally challenged by a private property owner.

Three weeks ago, the 81-year-old manufacturing, media and marketing company told the court it would endure "extreme financial burden" if it were assessed Largo utility fees while the case was reviewed.

The company would have to pay more than $100,000 per year in additional utility franchise fees and utility taxes if it joined Largo, said Evatone president and chief executive officer Carl Evans.

Annexations of nonresidential areas are allowed if more than 50 percent of property owners consent. At some point, owners of 13 of 25 parcels in the area agreed to be annexed. Evatone is one of a handful of businesses that contested the annexation from the beginning.

"It's taxation without representation," Evans said.

Current law also allows cities to include state land in its calculation as willing property owners, and that's what Largo did. Two state agencies are located in the disputed area.

In response, Evatone executives backed a couple of proposed bills that would have removed state land from the annexation tally. The bills died in committee, but Evans vowed to keep fighting. He even said he would still consider moving his company if Evatone is forced to join Largo.

"We don't like being bullied by a community," Evans said.

Evatone's suit claims that some property owners were bribed to be annexed by Largo and that the majority of owners did not consent to annexation.

Largo disputes those claims.

The judge's recent order has no bearing on other annexed parcels, and Evatone would still be responsible for accrued utility fees if its appeal is denied.

Last year, the annexation was postponed by the City Commission three times. And in December, city staff recommended postponing a vote again. But commissioners voted to annex the properties anyway after they learned Evatone had appealed to the Pinellas County legislative delegation, which passed a resolution asking that Largo delay the annexation.

City Manager Steve Stanton said Evatone is just putting off the inevitable.

"The question is how much are they going to spend to prevent something that will happen in the future anyway," Stanton said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 18, 2006, 23:11:59]


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