KENNETH CITY — While antiannexation activists in the unincorporated Lealman area are trying to find a way to protect their turf, the mayor here is thinking about her town's future.
The two could be on a collision course.
At stake is how much, if any, of the unincorporated Lealman area should be open to random annexations.
Annexation opponents want the Legislature to pass an "all-or-nothing" bill in the upcoming session that would require any city that wants to take part of the area to take the whole thing, subject to a vote of approval by area residents.
Kenneth City Mayor Pro Tem Teresa Zemaitis wants to carve out a bit of Lealman as an area within which her town could annex without having to take all of Lealman. Absorbing all of Lealman at one time, with its 40,000 to 45,000 residents, would be impossible for Kenneth City with its population of 4,500. That's assuming Lealman residents would vote to become a part of the town.
Without the ability to annex, the town will be hard-pressed to expand its tax base.
"An all-or-nothing bill pretty much squashes Kenneth City's future. … We don't have the means to take in a whole area at once," Zemaitis said. "I need to protect Kenneth City."
Zemaitis and town attorney John Elias met this week with state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, to discuss the situation. Long has said she intends to introduce an all-or-nothing bill for Lealman in the upcoming Legislative session. But, at a Lealman Community Association meeting last week, Long hedged over the contents of the bill, saying she had not spoken to representatives of the cities that border Lealman: Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and Seminole. Kenneth City sits in the middle of the Lealman area.
Zemaitis said Tuesday that she does not think Long would be wise to introduce a bill that does not serve the majority of her constituents.
"An all-or-nothing bill does not benefit the majority of her constituents," Zemaitis said. "It's protecting the Lealman area, but not everyone in the Lealman area wants to be protected."
Zemaitis said she's unsure what Long might come up with, but she hopes it will include some protections for Kenneth City. A planning area that includes some commercial property that the town could annex with the consent of property owners would be the best thing, she said.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.