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Largo, county may avoid court battle

LARGO — A dispute between the city and Pinellas County over the county's "pre-emption ordinance" may not result in a court battle after all.

On Monday, the county plans to send City Attorney Alan Zimmet a proposed interlocal agreement between the two governments, according to City Manager Mac Craig.

The agreement could resolve a debate prompted by the county's controversial decision to pass a law that usurps certain city powers.

The debate started in September, when the County Commission discussed creating an ordinance that would give the county regulatory control over its properties of "countywide significance" in any of Pinellas' 24 cities.

The ordinance was written after Pinellas officials learned the county would have to pay Largo about $205,000 more in permitting fees for its $81 million public safety complex than it would pay if the complex were built in the unincorporated county.

The County Commission adopted the ordinance in October, over the outcry of officials from some cities. The ordinance gives the county power over county-owned parks, emergency service facilities, courts and public safety facilities, among others, inside city boundaries. And in Largo, the county will not be subject to inspections of the public safety complex by city building officials — it can do its own inspections.

Zimmet told Largo commissioners in September that the county had misinterpreted its own charter and overstepped its powers in passing the ordinance. And until last week, Zimmet recommended pursuing legal action against the county to resolve the dispute.

Then the city manager got a letter from County Administrator Bob LaSala.

The letter, which offered to split the permitting work with the city in a way that kept the costs down, prompted Zimmet to speak more positively to the commission about the possibility of avoiding legal action. (Largo had previously offered to cut its permitting fees for the public safety complex in an effort to prevent the county from passing the ordinance, but that offer was rejected, according to Zimmet).

"I think this is wonderful," Mayor Pat Gerard told Zimmet last Tuesday after hearing that legal action was no longer inevitable.

"I'm thrilled to see this," echoed Commissioner Curtis Holmes.

The proposed agreement would just apply to the public safety complex. Craig had hoped for an agreement that set permitting rules going forward for any county property in the city limits.

"They're going to be doing a lot of interlocal agreements, I guess, if they want to build anything," Craig said.

Zimmet said he would update the City Commission on negotiations during one of its December meetings.

Both the City Commission and County Commission need to approve an interlocal agreement before the county can move forward with the public safety complex, which has a groundbreaking tentatively scheduled for February or March 2012.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo, county may avoid court battle 11/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 3:48pm]
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