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Lealman could be a target come July 2

Without boundaries and its threat to levy fire taxes, it awaits the onslaught of annexation.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007


LEALMAN - For seven years, this unincorporated area has relied on artificial boundaries and the threat of high taxes to keep cities' annexation zeal at bay. But a court decision has wiped out the boundaries.

And a law that required annexing cities to pay fire taxes to the Lealman fire district will sunset July 1. The high fire taxes have kept the cities from annexing because they do not want to pay them.

Now, many Lealman residents believe St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park will declare open season on the area come July 2. The annexations, they fear, will take the tax-rich lands, leaving behind homeowners who will have to pay higher fire taxes to maintain the Lealman department. But beyond that, they fear the annexations will break up a tightly knit community.

"They want to gut this community," Ray Neri, head of the Lealman Community Association, said during a meeting of the group earlier this month. He is expected to make similar points at a meeting of the county's legislative delegation Thursday.

If the cities do cherry-pick the high-tax areas, such as the Joe's Creek Industrial Park, the Northside Hospital and businesses along 34th Street N, the effect would be devastating, Neri said.

Not only would fire taxes go up and a community be destroyed, but the county, which is the government for the area, will have no incentive to continue improving Lealman. The county, Neri said, will not want to pour money into an area that is unable to return it in the form of taxes.

For Neri and others in Lealman, the solution is easy: Make Lealman an annexation-free zone.

But that's easier said than done. First, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg resist the idea.

The other idea is to take a page from Orange County, which has a charter provision that allows an unincorporated area to become annexation-free. That's something the Pinellas County Commission would have to do. Neri said he's going to ask the delegation's support for such a provision.

If you go

Public hearing

The Pinellas County Legislative Delegation is scheduled to hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Dr. William E. Hale Senior Activity Center, 330 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. For information, call 943-4760.

[Last modified November 13, 2007, 22:51:37]

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