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Largo whittling away at big backlog of annexation requests

LARGO — This city never stops growing, even though there's a waiting list of more than 1,000 property owners wanting to get in.

Largo's boundaries have jagged edges and contain Swiss cheeselike holes of unincorporated land. Through annexations, the 18-square-mile city steadily expands by dozens of acres per year. It grows to the north and the south, but at this point it's mainly growing east of U.S. 19.

Over the past year, Largo's elected leaders have repeatedly discussed the subject of annexation, grappling with a couple of tenacious issues. Now they're making some changes and taking steps to find out whether it would be financially wise to eventually annex all of the remaining territory that Largo is allowed to annex under a countywide boundary agreement.

There's a more immediate problem, though: a significant backlog of voluntary annexation requests.

Currently, there are 340 property owners who have agreed — and are eligible — to be annexed into Largo now because their land borders the city. They're mostly single-family homeowners who want Largo's trash pickup or sewer service and are willing to pay city taxes. Each home would add $500 to $700 a year to Largo's tax rolls.

But they have to wait. Why the backlog? Because of budget cuts, Largo no longer has an employee whose sole job is to handle annexation and all the bureaucratic red tape that comes with it.

"It's labor-intensive," said Teresa Brydon, the city's economic development manager. Her two-person department deals with annexations in addition to other duties. New requests are coming in — three to five a week — especially because some residents of unincorporated Pinellas are unhappy with a new county stormwater fee.

"We used to send out letters urging people to come into the city. We don't send those letters out any longer. We don't do any kind of advertising," Brydon recently told the City Commission. "We don't do anything."

"We pick up their neighbor's trash," Vice Mayor Woody Brown said.

Commissioners suggested that Brydon be allowed to get help from an intern, a temporary hire or other staffers to tackle the backlog.

"Don't let us be the holdup," Brown said. "We'll do whatever needs to be done, I think."

"Get 'er done," Commissioner Curtis Holmes added.

Keep growing?

Elected officials are wondering another thing: Should Largo keep expanding its borders?

"Has anybody ever figured out if we make money or lose money on annexations?" Holmes asked at one commission meeting.

Commissioners have agreed to hire a consultant next year for $50,000 to $75,000 to gauge the fiscal impact of annexing more land. Largo has another 700 annexation agreements on properties that can't be annexed now because they aren't yet contiguous to the city boundary.

The study will estimate the cost of providing government services to potential annexation areas.

"Would we need additional police officers to serve that area? What would the cost be, relative to the tax revenues that might be realized?" said Carol Stricklin, Largo's community development director.

Largo is making changes on some other fronts:

• The city is close to approving an agreement with Pinellas County that will allow Largo to annex another 44 properties in enclaves, those islands of unincorporated land surrounded by the city. These property owners have agreed to join the city, but legally cannot right now because their land doesn't touch the city boundary.

• Largo will eliminate some financial incentives that it has previously offered to property owners to sign annexation agreements if their land doesn't yet border the city.

• The city will schedule extra City Commission hearings just to authorize the annexations of all these properties.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151.

Largo whittling away at big backlog of annexation requests 01/31/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 4:16pm]
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