LEALMAN — This unincorporated area will once again take its fight for protection against annexation to Tallahassee in the coming legislative session.
State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is sponsoring a so-called all or nothing bill that would require an annexing city to take all of the Lealman fire district at one time. Lealman voters would have the final say before the annexation could take place. The protection would end in 2016 unless the Legislature extended it.
The bill, which is patterned after one the Legislature passed in 2009 to protect Tierra Verde, is being sponsored in the state House by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole.
The bill also seeks to lower the cap on the fire tax rate for Lealman property owners. Currently, the fire district can charge up to $10 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The bill would limit that to $5.50.
Latvala said the bill is necessary to protect the tax base of the Lealman Fire District, which stretches roughly between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park from Interstate 275 to Park Street. The district is divided in two by Kenneth City.
"Every parcel of land they lose to a city potentially forces up the cost of the fire district to each resident," Latvala said.
Annexed properties no longer pay the fire tax but get their fire service as part of the taxes they pay to the cities they become a part of. That's hurt in the past when Seminole, St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park annexed tax-rich lands from the district, but it's been less of a problem in recent years.
Seminole has agreed not to annex east of Park Street, and Pinellas Park has an agreement to refrain from annexing into Lealman until about 2016. It is unclear where St. Petersburg stands on annexation. Mayor Bill Foster did not return a message asking for comment. But in the past, the city has said it is interested in annexing the tax-rich Joe's Creek Industrial Park area along 34th Street N.
Kenneth City annexed 16 parcels of land this year. The Lealman Fire District has sued to overturn those.
Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis said the town opposes Latvala's bill.
"While I understand some of Lealman's concerns, I think it's unfair to not consider Kenneth City's position in the scheme of things," Zemaitis said. "Once we can't annex into Lealman, we can't annex at all. You're limiting our source of income. You're forgetting there are some people in Lealman who want to annex into Kenneth City and you're taking away that right as a property owner."
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.