By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- To hear the city's annexation experts tell it, all it took to entice property owners into Pinellas Park was friendly, efficient government service. Now it appears something more is necessary: cash.
That worries Mayor Bill Mischler.
"We're giving away too much," Mischler said. "We're going too far."
Mischler was specifically concerned about several annexations that were on the agenda for last Thursday's City Council meeting. Among those:
About 16 acres owned by the Salvation Army at 5885, 5975, 6015, 6125 66th St. N and at 6475 58th Ave. N. To get the Salvation Army to agree to annexation, the city agreed to waive about $12,600 in land development fees.
About 5.5 acres of commercial land at 12812 and 12690 60th St. N. The city will waive about $18,700 in land development fees.
A little more than an acre of commercial land at 6060 126th Ave. N. The city will waive 55 percent of a sewer lien and waive occupational license fees for five years.
Commercial land at 10470 68th St. N. The city agreed to install a line for potable, or drinkable, water at a cost to taxpayers of $850.
Such giveaways are becoming more common as Pinellas Park seeks to expand its borders.
But the perks are not as costly as they seem on the surface, said Bud Wortendyke, head of the city's annexation team. He said they are also necessary to keep annexations rolling in.
The issue of cost is really one of "hard" money versus "soft" money, according to Wortendyke.
Hard money is things like the water line. That's actual, out-of-pocket money the city must spend.
Soft money, on the other hand, consists of things like the land development fees. That's money the city would not have received anyway, Wortendyke said. That money would have gone to the county, had the property not been annexed into the city. That means it's no real loss to Pinellas Park to waive the fees.
"The bottom line we see here is they would not be coming into the city" without the waivers, Wortendyke said. "I think we need to point out these people are not dying to come into Pinellas Park. Cash talks."
The real return, Wortendyke said, comes when property taxes and other fees from the annexed businesses start rolling into Pinellas Park's coffers.
Wortendyke's explanation eased council member Chuck Williams' concerns. Earlier in the week, Wiliams also had questioned the costs of annexation.
The properties are many times a "steppingstone" to other land that can be annexed, Williams said. That enables the city to bring in even more land to get even more tax money in the future.
"If we don't do this, they're going to stay where they are," Williams said.