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Delegates ponder fate of Palm Harbor

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County legislators voted Thursday to support a bill allowing voters in Palm Harbor to decide if they want their unincorporated community to become the county's 25th city.

The measure passed on a 10-1 vote, with Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, dissenting. Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin, was absent.

It also passed over the objections of Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who said she was appearing in both her official capacity and as a Palm Harbor resident.

"There is no groundswell of support for this initiative," Latvala said. "What I'm hearing from people is, 'We don't want to be bothered with this.' "

The majority of residents in Palm Harbor are not the only ones who object to the passage, she said. The County Commission is concerned over the costs of setting up a city and running one.

"We can't fathom in these economic times how it would be feasible to create a new city," Latvala said.

In the past, Latvala said, Palm Harbor activists who have urged cityhood have indicated they want to contract to have the county provide services to them. However, the county is having its own financial difficulties and will likely be cutting people and programs, Latvala said. The county will not guarantee it will provide services even if a city of Palm Harbor offered to pay for them.

"If a new city is formed, they are on their own," Latvala said.

Palm Harbor Coalition spokesman Jim Kleyman disputed Latvala's claim, saying he had given legislators 1,500 letters of support and a petition with more than 3,000 signatures asking that the bill be passed. The Palm Harbor area has about 60,000 residents.

Kleyman explained that Palm Harbor needs to become a city because it is a "donor community," meaning it gives the county more in taxes than it gets back in services. The excess money is spent elsewhere in Pinellas, he said.

Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, sponsored a similar bill in Tallahassee last spring, but it died in committee because of the state's financial uncertainties.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who represents the Palm Harbor area, said this year's bill does not automatically make Palm Harbor a city if it is passed. It only requires that voters be allowed their say.

"In no way is this a mandate," Fasano said. "Let the people decide."

If passed by the full Legislature, the measure would put question of cityhood on the 2010 general election ballot. The Legislature must first conduct a feasibility study to make sure cityhood makes fiscal sense.

The vote came during the second of two meetings of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation. Members of the delegation held the first in St. Petersburg before the holidays. The delegation — state senators and representatives elected from the county — hears local bills, which need state action but pertain only to Pinellas.

Delegates ponder fate of Palm Harbor 01/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:32pm]
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