The Pinellas County legislative delegation last year came to the rescue of Tierra Verde residents who wanted to be protected against annexations by passing a law requiring voter approval of annexations and a requirement that either all of the island be annexed or none of it at all.
Delegation members seem to be similarly sympathetic to residents of East Lake/Woodlands; an item on the agenda for the group's Monday meeting would give that area the same sort of protections from annexations.
But when it comes to Lealman, a community that has long fought against annexation, the delegation has been less than responsive. Now, a promised bill that would mirror the ones for Tierra Verde and East Lake/Woodlands has failed to materialize.
The delegation's failure to consider such a measure might not have been so bad had Pinellas County and the cities managed to reach an agreement setting the borders for annexation-free zones. But a committee that spent more than a year trying to draw up those borders decided last week that members could not reach an agreement, and they have asked the county to dissolve the panel come January. The dissolution leaves Lealman in annexation limbo and needing protection more than ever.
The delegation's reluctance to act has disappointed and perplexed activist Ray Neri, head of the Lealman Community Association. Neri said he has heard speculation that the delegation is willing to help Tierra Verde and East Lake/Woodlands because their residents are wealthier than those in Lealman, where some of Pinellas' poorest residents live.
"It does seem strange" that the delegation would help two areas and ignore one, Neri said. "You got me. I don't know why."
But state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, who promised Neri she'd help sponsor a bill to protect Lealman, said the lack of proposed legislation is not based on socioeconomic issues.
"Apparently there was some miscommunication," Long said Thursday. "I'm part of that."
Long did not elaborate but said she's working to try to come up with a solution even though the deadline for filing local bills has passed. Long said she hopes to have something for Monday's meeting.
"Stay tuned," Long said. When pressed for details, Long said, "like I said, stay tuned. I'm not trying to be cagey."
On Monday's agenda, however, is another bill Long has sponsored. This one deals with the Pinellas Park Water Management District, an entity that was formed last century to help solve flooding in the area covered by parts of Pinellas Park, Lealman, St. Petersburg, and the unincorporated area between Pinellas Park and Seminole.
During the past few years, groups from Lealman, the Bayou Club and property owners like Hardy Huntley of the Wagon Wheel Flea Market have asked that the district be dissolved, or that they be allowed to opt out of a district they say does not serve them.
Under Long's proposal, the management of the district would come under the city of Pinellas Park and would be run by a board that would also have members from the Pinellas County Commission and from St. Petersburg. Taxes would be limited to $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed taxable property value. The current cap is twice that — $3 per thousand dollars of assessed taxable property value. The tax rate for the 2009-10 fiscal year is about $1.99 per thousand of assessed taxable property value.
If the change passes the delegation at Monday's meeting, it would have to pass a vote of the entire Legislature and be signed by the governor. Then voters would have a chance to decide whether they want the change.