ZEPHYRHILLS — City Manager Jim Drumm invited his new neighbors to City Hall on Monday night to float the idea of annexation.
While nearly two dozen residents from Fountain Road, Founders Street and Neighbor's Path turned out for the meeting, nobody brought homemade cookies or claimed to be the welcoming committee. In fact, it was not a borrow-some-sugar moment when Drumm tried to explain his proposal.
Immediately, the neighbors were suspicious.
"Don't you have to live in the city?" one man yelled out, interrupting Drumm. "Is that your motivation?"
Yes, Drumm said, he must live in the city. But he doesn't need them to annex his property, he explained.
Drumm closed on his home on Fountain Road, off Eiland Boulevard and adjacent to the Silver Oaks subdivision, two weeks ago. Since taking the job as city manager about six months ago, he had been searching for a home within city limits but couldn't find one suitable for his family. Since his home borders city limits, it's eligible for annexation into the city. Just weeks into being at the helm of the city, Drumm had identified annexation as a goal for his tenure.
"The city is shaped like Swiss cheese," he has said repeatedly over the months.
Throughout the city there are enclaves, even islands — parcels completely surrounded by the city — of unincorporated property.
Since he now lives in a target area, he thought he would aim for that first.
"I'm trying to clean up the borders," Drumm told his neighbors.
He says these pockets create problems on which entity is responsible to provide services to those properties. Some houses on the same street are in the city and others are not.
"We tell the guy in the garbage truck, 'The first three houses on the right are in the city and then don't pick up the next two. They're not in the city. Then pick up the next six,' " Drumm used as an example Monday night.
Even law enforcement officers and the fire departments are easily confused because the boundaries are so unclear. One resident said the county's firehouse eight minutes away was close enough. Others said they've never had a problem with confused emergency services dispatchers. But Fountain Road resident Christine Wilder said she experienced that confusion firsthand when she called 911.
"It took them 45 minutes to figure out who had to come to my house," she said. "Thank God, it wasn't a real emergency."
Drumm also told residents the city would pave the three roads, which are mostly dirt. Some residents didn't like that idea, saying they'd have a bigger speeding problem than they already have. Others worried the city would take their land to widen the road. Not so, said Drumm. Nancy Perkins feared for several species of woodpeckers that inhabit the area.
"First of all, we don't have a crew that goes out and collects woodpeckers," Drumm said jokingly, but got little response. "I never said I was going to take down trees."
Throughout the nearly 90-minute meeting, some residents yelled out against the proposal.
"This doesn't have to be argumentative," Drumm told them. "I just wanted to talk to you tonight. … Please be respectful."
"You moved into a house and now you're messing with people's lives," retorted Don Jenkins, who has lived in the area more than 30 years.
When Drumm started talking about property tax increases for moving into the city, he had the audience's attention. He pulled the tax bills of each property owner in the area and said the lowest increase people would see, depending on the property, was $149 and the highest would be about $800. But, he said, there would be financial perks that would help level off the increase. Those residents who are on city water would see a 40 percent decrease in their water bill as a resident. They would no longer pay a $40 or $50 a year county fire assessment fee, as well as an approximately $60 stormwater assessment.
"From the city's point-of-view, we're providing a higher level of service," Drumm said.
If city staff decides to move forward with the annexation proposal, the City Council would have to approve a referendum to be held in the spring. Then only those property owners in the proposed area who are registered voters would decide if the area would become part of the city.
Drumm has vowed to meet with all homeowners who couldn't attend Monday's meeting in either another informational meeting or one-on-one before the proposal moves forward.
"He can talk to me until he's blue in the face," Jenkins told the Times after the meeting. "He's not going to change my mind."