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Bayou Club wants out of water district

Residents, some with million-dollar homes, say they don't benefit from the district's management of area drainage systems.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Representatives of the upscale Bayou Club have asked local legislators to let them secede from the district that helps prevent flooding in part of mid-Pinellas County.

The Bayou Club has its own plant that cleans stormwater before it pours into the Cross Bayou Canal and a drainage ditch, both of which are under the jurisdiction of the Pinellas Park Water Management District.

The Bayou Club neither contributes to the drainage burden nor benefits from the improvements that PPWMD makes and should not have to pay the taxes charged by the district, said attorney Bruce Crawford, who lives in the subdivision and represents residents who want to opt out of the water management district.

About 200 acres of the subdivision lie east of the Cross Bayou Canal and within the water management district's borders.

Crawford appeared Tuesday before a meeting of the Pinellas County Legislative delegation to ask that members sponsor a state bill allowing the Bayou Club to withdraw from the district.

Members of both the Pinellas Park city government and the water management district disagreed.

"It appears that the Bayou Club Estates property would not even have been developed in the absence of taxpayer-supported drainage improvements controlled by the district," Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler wrote in a letter to the delegation.

"Facilities maintained by the district provide the drainage for Belcher Road necessary to allow the residents of the Bayou Club Estate to have ingress and egress to and from their homes during periods of heavy rain," Mischler wrote.

That makes it clear, Mischler wrote, that residents in the Bayou Club benefit from the water management district. It would be unfair, he said, to excuse residents there from paying the taxes when all other property owners, including some Pinellas Park residents, must pay them.

Delegation members tabled the item until their January meeting in hopes that a compromise could be reached.

According to a compromise envisioned by state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, the Bayou Club would be charged less than PPWMD's current rate of 3 mills because residents there do not use all of the district's services. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Richard Kusmierczyk, PPWMD executive director, said the solution proposed by Crow could be likened to charging people less taxes if they did not regularly use fire or emergency services. However, Kusmierczyk said it's up to the PPWMD board to decide if a compromise can be reached. The board is scheduled to meet Thursday.

Also doubtful about the wisdom of such a compromise was Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd.

"I think our position is that we disagree with what was said in there," Mudd said.

He said any decision to compromise would be up to the Pinellas Park council, which likely will discuss the issue at a December workshop, Mudd said.

The state Legislature created PPWMD in 1976 as a special taxing district to manage the primary drainage system for a portion of mid-Pinellas. The district, which covers about 15 square miles, includes portions of Pinellas Park and unincorporated Pinellas County.

The district charges about 3 mills a year in taxes to build and maintain drainage canals. The taxes for a $75,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption would be about $150 a year.

But for a house in the Bayou Club, some of which are valued at $1-million or more, the taxes paid to the water management district might reach $3,000 a year.

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