Seminole rejected but not dejected
By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times,
SEMINOLE -- Although disappointed with the outcome of Tuesday's referendum, city officials say they will continue their efforts to annex unincorporated areas.
A mere 40 votes stopped Seminole Grove Estates, a neighborhood just west of the Pinellas Trail between 86th and 102nd avenues, from becoming the latest subdivision to join the city. The vote was 161-121.
"I respect that the democratic process is alive and well here, but just because one neighborhood decides not to annex doesn't mean there aren't five or six in the wings waiting to join the city," said Mitch Bobowski, Seminole's general services director.
For those areas interested in annexing into the city, it's business as usual, Bobowski said. The city will continue to provide information to homeowners, host meetings, collect petitions and hold referendums, he said.
And anti-annexation activists say they will continue their efforts to prevent unincorporated areas in Pinellas County from joining the city.
"We are happy about the victory," said Betty Bootier, who lives in an unincorporated area near Seminole Grove Estates. "It's been a long time coming. We are going to continue to be vigilant against annexation and hope to have more victories in the future."
Once an unincorporated area shows interest in joining Seminole, the city holds a meeting to answer questions. Then homeowners who favor annexation circulate a petition throughout their neighborhood to see if others want to join the city.
There is no law requiring a petition or a certain number of signatures, said Mark Ely, a program planner for the Pinellas Planning Council. "What the petitions do for a city is give it an indication of the level of interest. It doesn't guarantee success, obviously, but it gives the city an indication of what is going on."
The city then must conduct a report on its ability to serve the area and forward it to the county. Unless the county sees a problem, the next step is to schedule a referendum.
None are scheduled right now, Bobowski said. State law prohibits the city from holding another referendum for Seminole Grove Estates for at least two years.
For Charles Hedrick, never would suit him just fine.
Hedrick has lived in Seminole Grove Estates since 1980. He says he loves the Seminole area and supports the businesses there, but has no desire to join the city.
"I wish the businesses well," he said. "However, the majority in this area voted against annexation, so it would seem that they also do not care to give thousands of dollars to City Hall."
Yet Seminole Grove Estates resident David Hughes looks forward to another chance to annex into the city. With Seminole's property tax rate decreasing and the county's property tax rate increasing, Hughes says its a matter of economics.
"We haven't given up at all," he said.
Hughes believes leaflets and door-to-door visits by people who oppose annexing into the city helped defeat the referendum. "I feel there was a great deal of misinformation out there," he said.
One of the leaflets, which bears no names or phone numbers, says Seminole is considering having its own police department. The flier also says joining Seminole would mean paying franchise fees and taxes on water, sewer and garbage service.
Not true, says City Manager Frank Edmunds.
The city has no plans to operate its own police department and on Tuesday renewed its contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Edmunds said.
Seminole residents pay the county for water and sewer and are not charged any franchise fees, Edmunds said. Residents pay the city for garbage removal and do not pay a franchise fee.
Bobowski fears that some voters base their decision on scare tactics, such as the anti-annexation leaflets. "They don't have to answer to anyone," he said of those who pass out the fliers. "They put out misleading information."
Larry Mattei, a resident of Seminole Grove Estates, stands behind the leaflet he wrote and distributed. When asked about his statements on Seminole's starting its own police department and residents' paying franchise fees on water, sewer and garbage, Mattei said a police department and the fees may not exist now but could in the future.
"We try to make everything that we put out to be fair," Mattei said of the anti-annexation literature. "I'll admit we make mistakes, but we don't do anything to mislead anybody."
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