LEALMAN — Antiannexation activists in this unincorporated area got a glimmer of hope that they'd be protected from being made part of a city, thanks to a last-minute move by the county's legislative delegation.
The move came in the form of a piggyback amendment to a so-called all or nothing bill covering the East Lake Woodlands area. Under the original proposal, an annexing city would have to take all of East Lake Woodlands or none of it. And voters in the area would have the final say whether the annexation took place.
Under the amendment, the Lealman Fire District would also be protected under an all-or-nothing bill that would be effective for seven years. After that time, the Lealman bill would become null and the area would be open to annexations again unless other agreements had taken place.
"I'm tickled pink," said Ray Neri, head of the Lealman Community Association, which has spearheaded the antiannexation movement. It's not the permanent bill activists would like, he said, but "at this point, I'm happy with that because it's either that or don't do (anything)."
Annexation has long been a touchy issue in the Lealman area, which is bounded generally by Pinellas Park on the north, St. Petersburg on the east and south, and Seminole on the west. Activists there have long sought a way to protect the area from cherry-picking by nearby cities but they've never managed to get permanent protection. And they've still missed out on that, assuming the bill passes as proposed.
State Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, who supported the amendment proposed by state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, said the goal was to give people breathing room while other big issues that could affect Pinellas annexation are worked out. One of those is the possible consolidation of fire and EMS service in the county. A state agency is expected to report this month on the feasibility of such a move. And the county has recently convened a charter review group that could consider both consolidation and annexation.
It's unclear how the Lealman portion of the bill will affect the East Lake section. Long said she did not foresee the seven-year limitation on the law applying to East Lake Woodlands. And, she said, if attaching the Lealman issue to the bill could jeopardize the passage of the original East Lake language, then separating the two into two pieces of legislation could be done.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.