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New Tampa residents discuss annexation

Some residents of two communities think they may get better service if they were a part of Tampa.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


PEBBLE CREEK -- Michael Carricato has made a few trips down to city hall in recent months lobbying on behalf of Pebble Creek and Cross Creek. This week, he took his agenda to the County Commission.

Carricato, president of the Pebble Creek Homeowners Association, told commissioners of growing concerns he shares with a small group of residents in both unincorporated New Tampa communities.

Increasing traffic and high water bills have prompted the group to question the level of service the county provides. So this year he contacted city officials to inquire about what they could gain if they were to annex into Tampa.

On Wednesday, the County Commission was all ears.

"We recognize that there is no free lunch," said Carricato. "But we are very much concerned with what is happening in our community, and what will continue to happen with the expansive growth."

Carricato came to hear results of a cost comparison study. County analysts began comparing the difference in property and utility taxes charged by each government shortly after Carricato contacted the city.

County budget director Eric Johnson told commissioners that annexation could cost residents as much as $250 more a year in added property and utility taxes. That would not include the city's 7-percent tax on intrastate long distance calls.

"The bottom line essentially is it will be more costly for those households to be part of Tampa," said Johnson.

City officials have been studying those figures, too, and are expected to report their findings this month. One area where they say they could lower costs is with water service.

Tampa already provides water and sewer service to Cross Creek and Pebble Creek, but at a premium.

Pebble Creek residents receive their water through Pebble Creek Utility Inc., a private franchise that purchases the water in bulk from Tampa. The city sells the water at a price marked up 25 percent above the retail rate charged to city residents, and then Pebble Creek Utility charges rates set by the county.

Cross Creek residents are charged the same premium rate, but get that water directly from the city.

"There's a presumption of savings with water (bills)," said Johnson. "That savings would not offset the additional taxes they would pay."

The studies began shortly after Carricato sent Mayor Dick Greco a letter in January on behalf of five homeowner associations in the area, where approximately 6,900 people now live.

A growing number of households provide a larger tax base and more revenue for whichever entity governs them. Tampa and Hillsborough also are looking at Live Oak in unincorporated Hillsborough, another potential acquisition and source of revenue.

Live Oak sits on 1,250 acres north of Pebble Creek. The county has approved a plan for up to 1,599 homes and a golf course on the property, but the St. Lucie Development Corp. has been negotiating with Ron Rotella, the mayor's development consultant, for several months.

Pebble Creek and Cross Creek border city property on three sides and the addition of Live Oak would create an island of county property surrounded by city land. Annexed land must be contiguous with city land and cannot create enclaves, according to state requirements.

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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