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Neighborhood rejects Seminole

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 8, 2001


SEMINOLE -- For only the second time in little more than a year, a subdivision has chosen not to join Seminole.

Residents of Seminole Grove Estates, a subdivision of 222 homes just west of the Pinellas Trail, cast ballots Tuesday to decide whether to annex into Seminole, and 57 percent of those who voted rejected the idea.

Out of Seminole Grove Estates' 455 registered voters, 161 voted against annexation, while 121 supported the referendum. By that 40-vote difference, the subdivision will remain part of unincorporated Pinellas County. Under state law, there cannot be another annexation referendum until at least two years.

"We're disappointed," City Manager Frank Edmunds said after hearing the results Tuesday night. "But I feel the city has an obligation to provide the referendum because the residents showed an interest to join the city."

Tuesday's vote marks Seminole's ninth annexation referendum since June 2000. Seven were approved and two, including Tuesday's referendum, failed.

In January, voters in Carriage Bay voted against annexing into the city. However, two other unincorporated areas voted to join the city in that referendum.

Since last year the city's population and size have nearly doubled. Today Seminole is home to about 17,000 residents who live within a 4-square-mile area.

Resident Mary Matthews, who returned Monday from a vacation in England, was surprised with the look of her neighborhood. Signs were everywhere.

Half encouraged Mrs. Matthews and other registered voters who live in Seminole Grove Estates to "Vote Yes" for the city of Seminole's annexation referendum.

The remaining urged the opposite: "Vote Against Annexation."

The battle came to a head Tuesday as 284 voters cast their ballots at Seminole Community Library. (There were two "undervotes," punch card ballots that were cast but did not register as a vote.)

Seminole Grove Estates is bordered by 97th Avenue N to the north, the Pinellas Trail to the east, 92nd Avenue N to the south and 121st Street to the west. Had voters approved, the annexation would have brought 81 acres and 550 residents into the city.

Larry Mattei, a retired pipe fitter and teacher who has lived in Seminole Grove Estates for 24 years, voted against annexation.

"They just want our revenue," Mattei, 58, said Tuesday while sitting outside the library next to a table of anti-annexation literature. "The city is not offering us anything we don't have."

Neighbor Mary Ann Tutone agreed. She said joining the city would mean higher taxes and more fees. Leaving the county means two new taxes: a 12 percent tax on electricity bills and an 8 percent tax on phone bills.

Mrs. Tutone, who has lived in her home in Seminole Grove Estates since 1978, also said she doesn't approve of the 6 percent raise the City Council voted Tuesday to give Edmunds. His salary is $93,258.

"We have nothing against the city," said Mrs. Tutone, who is 44. "We love it here. We just want to remain in the county."

Not so with Mrs. Matthews.

She said she already feels like she is part of the city. Why not make it official?

"We live in the Seminole area and we should have a say in it," she said Tuesday after casting her ballot. "We should have a vote."

It also was the public services Seminole provides that swayed Mrs. Matthews to vote in favor of annexation. "The card for the rec center will be a lot cheaper as well," she said.

For residents, it's free. Non-residents pay $70 per person for an annual pass and $40 for a seasonal pass.

Mayor Dottie Reeder said she was disappointed with the results of the referendum, but accepts them.

"We really don't want to bring in people who want to stay in the county," she said. "I think we're always surprised though because they're so enthusiastic at first."

Referendum results

Against annexation 161 (57%)

For annexation 121 (43%)

Registered voters 455

Ballots cast 284

Undervotes 2

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