Pinellas Park annexation debate stirred up again
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times,
LEALMAN -- A Pinellas Park official conceded Tuesday that his city has not notified Lealman of its annexations -- contrary to what he said one day before at a county meeting.
The issue blew up when Linda Campbell, head of the Lealman Fire Commission, accused Pinellas Park of failing to notify her group of annexations within the unincorporated district's borders.
Bud Wortendyke, who oversees Pinellas Park annexations, denied the charge. Pinellas Park had sent notice, he said. The fault, Wortendyke said, was within Campbell's organization for failing to pass on the information.
That was Monday in front of a county committee that met to talk about annexation issues. By Tuesday, the story had changed.
Wortendyke conceded that Pinellas Park hadn't informed the Lealman Fire Commission of annexations within its service area. But that was okay, he said. Pinellas Park had agreed to notify Lealman only if the city annexed any commercial properties.
Since April, Pinellas Park has annexed homes, the St. Petersburg pumping station and the Salvation Army. Earlier this month, the city annexed several businesses along 34th Street N near 62nd Avenue N.
The pumping station and the Salvation Army do not qualify as commercial, Wortendyke said, because they bring in no tax revenue. Lealman would want to know if those properties were annexed so they know not to perform fire inspections in those buildings.
As for the businesses on 34th Street, Wortendyke said he planned to notify the Fire Commission as soon as the ordinances came back -- in other words, after the annexation had become law and it was too late for Lealman to protest.
"There's no sense in telling them we've annexed something until we've annexed it," Wortendyke said. "They don't have any right to protest it."
Wortendyke agreed Tuesday that the city's notification procedures need some work. In the future, he said, the city will notify the Lealman commission about residential and commercial annexations.
"We'll get this ironed out," Wortendyke said.
That may be, but for Lealman officials, the dispute is symbolic of a larger problem.
When it comes to annexations, they say, individuals have no voice in annexations and are left without information and defenses as cities acquire property.
Lealman Fire Commission members again felt that lack of consideration at a special meeting Monday of the Planners Advisory Committee of the Pinellas Planning Council.
First, the committee's makeup -- employees from the planning or annexation departments of cities that included Pinellas Park, Seminole and Largo -- irked the Lealman representatives.
The committee reports to the Pinellas Planning Council, whose members are appointed by city councils. (One member is appointed by the School Board and another by the County Commission.) The Planning Council reports to the County Commission.
The Lealman Fire Commission has asked to sit on the Planning Council. Fire officials say they are the only elected people in Lealman and are best suited to monitor annexations that could deplete the tax base and thus increase taxes in that area.
The Planning Council refused, saying its charter does not allow such bodies as fire commissions to appoint members. The County Commission-appointed member is supposed to represent the views of unincorporated residents.
But it doesn't happen that way, said Lealman's Campbell. Only the cities' views are heard and property owners never get a chance to express their views or even understand what's happening until it's too late.
"It opened my eyes to see exactly what kind of power this Planning Council has (in) representing municipalities," Campbell said after Monday's meeting.
At one point, Campbell reported, Planning Council members said it was wrong for a city to do a "point-to-point" annexation, where just the corners of properties touch each other.
Moments later, they said it was okay to use a right of way to complete an annexation as long as the "gap" was not too large.
"John Q. Public is at a disadvantage," Campbell said. "They change the rules as they go along."
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