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County communities want input from Tampa

Pebble Creek and Cross Creek want to know whether they will get better services if they opt to be annexed into the city.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


Residents of unincorporated neighborhoods in New Tampa stand to pay a few hundred dollars a year more in property taxes if they become part of the city of Tampa, county officials estimate.

But would they get more parks, sidewalks and street lights? Would they pay less for water and sewer service?

Those are some of the questions city and county officials want answered in response to the communities' recent inquiry about annexing into Tampa.

Representatives of Pebble Creek and Cross Creek wrote City Hall last month asking about the benefits of joining the city. They want to know if it would improve government services and at what cost.

Annexing into the city would cost the communities $260,000 more a year, based on a taxable value of $185-million, county Budget Director Eric Johnson said Friday. That amounts to about $176 a year for the owner of a $150,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption.

The figures don't reflect the city's utility tax, which averages about $100 a year more per household, he said. They also don't include assessments for things like lighting and stormwater, which vary depending on the jurisdiction.

Losing the tax base from Pebble Creek and Cross Creek wouldn't necessarily be a blow to the county, Johnson said. As a general rule, residential neighborhoods need more services than their taxes actually cover. Commercial and industrial areas pay the most.

"You have to look specifically at what Tampa proposes to do," he said. "Are they going to add police service or are they simply going to water down the services they already have out there?"

Sheriff's deputies handle calls in the unincorporated areas of New Tampa. Police patrol areas in the city limits.

Representatives of the neighborhood associations have said joining the city could put them in better position to demand more money for badly needed parks and roads. Many claim the county has been reluctant to invest in the area because most of it is in the city.

Some residents took a wait-and-see attitude on whether annexing would reap the benefits desired.

"Let's explore it. We have nothing to lose," said Don Nevins of Pebble Creek. "It doesn't cost us anything to review and determine if it would be advantageous."

Nevins, who heads the New Tampa Transportation Task Force, discussed the annexation with members of the associations before the letter went out. He suspected the idea stemmed from people's frustration about the area's lack of roads and rampant growth.

Ed Andrews, who works with the management company that runs one of the Cross Creek homeowners groups, said annexing established communities would be unusual. Annexations typically involve large chunks of vacant land owned by a developer looking for incentives to help build a project.

He looked into annexing several years ago when Cross Creek first developed, but never pursued it because it was tough getting the necessary support from homeowners. Most people didn't want to pay more for what they perceived as equal services.

"I'm not taking a position for or against, but based on the knowledge I have, I think it would be difficult for Cross Creek to annex into the city," he said.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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