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The week in review

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001

ROMEO DISCLOSES TUMOR: In the first week of the legislative session, Democratic freshman Rep. Sara Romeo of Lutz experienced headaches and went to the hospital. As the session ended Friday, Romeo faced surgery to remove a tumor in her brain stem. She said it is unclear whether the tumor is malignant.

Romeo, a 51-year-old mother of three, was determined to make it through the session. "As bad as the Legislature is, it's been a pleasant distraction," Romeo said. "My resolve was very strong to complete this."

So Thursday afternoon, Romeo stood on the House floor to explain a consumer protection bill that was approved unanimously, then she announced her upcoming surgery at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. She has no plans to resign from the House. "I have every reason to believe it will be successful and I will be fit as a fiddle to return to the Legislature," she said to applause from House members.

In November, Romeo became the rare Democrat who captured a previously Republican seat, succeeding Victor Crist in House District 60, which runs north and east of Tampa. Romeo is executive director of Artists Unlimited, a non-profit studio that promotes the arts for needy children. Previously she was a leader among merchants and preservationists in Ybor City, where she and her husband operated a furniture store.

HERITAGE ISLES ANNOUNCES MEETING AFTER IT'S OVER: The Heritage Isles Community Development District published an announcement Wednesday of a public meeting that had already happened. Mike Lawson, a developer with US Home and chairman of the taxing district, said the board called an emergency meeting on April 25 to approve an extension on an $8-million bond that was due on May 1. The board had planned to pay off one bond with a larger, permanent bond issue. But the second bond, needed to cover $33-million of infrastructure costs, did not close before the deadline. "No one forgot," Lawson said. "The permanent issue had taken longer than we hoped. We had hoped to close by March or April."

The bank called, and the next scheduled meeting was set for May 16. So, after consulting its attorney, the board held a conference call meeting and voted on April 25 to seek an extension until Aug. 1. The retroactive announcement ran Wednesday in the Tampa Tribune.

Heritage Isles has filled about 140 of its 887 home sites, Lawson said. Because US Home owns most of the land, all board members are US Home employees. Last July the board, which had announced a meeting at a downtown Tampa law office, wound up holding a conference call instead. Lawson said the practice was legal and the board repeated its actions at the next noticed meeting.

This time, too, Lawson says the actions taken on April 25 will be repeated May 16.

Jon Kaney, a Daytona Beach lawyer who has sued taxing districts over secret meetings, said state law allows emergency meetings in extreme circumstances. "This is not just a Mickey Mouse technical rule," Kaney said. "This goes to whether actions were taken and are legally binding." The board might have forced a default in the bond, Kaney said.

Mark Straley, the attorney for the community development district, said the board complied with state law and that there was some confusion about whether a full board vote would be required before May 1.

ANNEXATION'S PRICE TAG: Residents of Cross Creek and Pebble Creek are naming their price for voluntary annexation into the city of Tampa -- as much as $1-million a year for local projects, an amount they estimate the city would gain in additional tax revenue.

The neighborhoods are looking for "something really attractive from the city to put in front of our residents," Mike Carricato, president of the Pebble Creek Homeowners Association, wrote in a letter to the city. "A "WOW' factor, if you will."

The letter said the small group exploring annexation still has questions and is "ready for a face-to-face" to discuss its concerns. These include the city's commitment to spending the additional tax revenue it would get on the area and details about road improvements.

"As things sit right now, if the city doesn't do something to entice the residents, I can't imagine the annexation ever getting to a vote," said John Hoffman of Cross Creek, a member of the group. In addition to Carricato and Hoffman, the letter was signed by Roger Kaiser of Pebble Creek, Ralph Presta of Cross Creek and James Cox of Misty Creek.

County officials have estimated that annexing into the city would cost each homeowner as much as $250 more a year in taxes. It could reduce water and sewer bills for residents of Pebble Creek, who get services from a private franchise that buys water from Tampa.

Hoffman said the city floated the possibility of spending the estimated $1-million in increased tax revenue on local projects for the next five years if residents agreed to annex. The annexation would require approval by at least 50 percent of residents. Mayoral consultant Ron Rotella said, "There's been no discussion of any incentives or "wow' factors."

Annexation might be necessary if the city is to absorb Live Oak, a proposed 1,599-home subdivision along the Pasco County border.

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