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Lealman fire district submits amendments to annexation bill

LEALMAN — Lobbyists for the fire district were working this week to amend a proposal that would require annexing cities to take all of this unincorporated area if they wanted to take any part of it.

The proposal, which would also require a vote of Lealman residents in order for the area to be annexed, is before the Legislature in the form of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and state Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs.

The bill is modeled after one the Legislature passed last year to protect Tierra Verde. It is also similar to another that Nehr has introduced this year to protect the East Lake area from annexation.

The idea behind the Lealman bill is to protect the tax base from erosion caused by city annexation of tax-rich properties while leaving the Lealman Fire Department to provide services. The annexations take tax money out of the district, putting a larger burden on the property owners left behind. Many of those are some of the poorest people in Pinellas County.

The Lealman bill contains a description of the area that would be protected, but an article Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times pointed out that a map of that area shows several flaws that would prevent adjacent cities from being able to meet requirements of state annexation laws should they annex the entire area.

Among those issues are enclaves in Pinellas Park and Kenneth City that would prevent any city from meeting the requirement that annexed lands be contiguous to the annexing city. An enclave is a small unincorporated area completely surrounded by one city.

Also at issue was the expiration date of the proposed bill. The bill said it would stay in effect for seven years, but the Lealman Fire District has an agreement with Pinellas Park that it will not annex into the area for six more years.

Although Chris Lyon, an attorney and lobbyist for the fire district, disputed the validity of some of the issues, he submitted three changes Monday to the Legislature to clear up the confusion.

In two e-mails to the Times, Lyons said the amendments are "intended to correct the potential technical deficiencies brought to our attention by your recent articles."

The amendments included changing the expiration date from seven to six years to mirror the agreement with Pinellas Park. They also included wording that would remove the enclaves from the protected area and would specify that the limitations were only on unincorporated properties in the Lealman community.

Lyon was particularly irked by the enclave issue, saying in a separate e-mail that enclaves were created by the cities when they " 'cherry picked' higher tax value properties and created the enclaves in direct violation of Florida's annexation law."

Lyon added, "However, we are providing an amendment to the sponsors of the bill and House staff that will except all enclaves from the provisions of the legislation so that these cities may annex the enclaves they should have annexed in the first place without having to annex the entire community."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8450.

Lealman fire district submits amendments to annexation bill 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 5:42pm]
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