SEMINOLE — For a second year, Pinellas County lawmakers have blessed a bill limiting annexation in East Lake — setting off another spat with a city.
Despite outcries from neighboring Oldsmar officials, lawmakers approved the bill in a 10-0 vote at a legislative delegation hearing Friday. Even after softening the bill with a 2021 sunset clause, city officials and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, left steamed.
"We don't know what the delegation is trying to solve," Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said.
The bill is modeled after the "all or nothing" legislation passed in 2009 for Tierra Verde, where St. Petersburg annexed 18 acres that are still being disputed.
The bill would require a city to annex all of the East Lake area, which has about 33,000 residents. Voters would have a final say before the annexation takes place, unless a property owner asks to join the city.
Neighborhood leaders in East Lake, organized by the Council of North County Neighborhoods, sought the bill after Oldsmar attempted to annex the pricey East Lake Woodlands community in order to keep the community as one, CNCN president Don Ewing said.
In 2009, 92 percent of voters rejected a proposal to annex East Lake Woodlands into Oldsmar. The loss means the city will have to wait seven years to try again.
Ronecker and other city officials complained he didn't learn about the latest version of the bill until a 4:30 p.m. e-mail Thursday. Then he and City Council members couldn't read the computer file because it was "gobbledygook," council member Jerry Beverland said.
But other lawmakers said they thought the city was already onboard with the bill because it would allow voluntary annexation.
"I've got to say, I'm a little bit taken aback," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Nehr, sponsoring the bill with Sen. Mike Fasano, said he made it clear that he supported allowing property owners who want to join the city to do so without the all or nothing requirement.
A bill last year was amended in the Senate to allow it, but died in the House over a rash of complications.
Though officials denied it, Oldsmar's complaint had more to do with their designs on certain properties, such as the Lockheed Martin defense company's multimillion dollar lands, Nehr said.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the target was tax dollars. Oldsmar officials "view it as a revenue stream," he said.
The spat was bad enough that Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, vice chair of a committee that will hear the bill in the Legislature, threatened initially to bottle up the bill from being heard this spring.
"These issues will be solved before the bill comes to committee, or they won't be heard," he said.
The full Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have to approve the legislation, but the delegation's full support is almost always a necessary step. The vote came with Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Darryl Rouson absent.
After the meeting, Hooper said that he likely won't try to stop the bill from being heard because the exemption for voluntary annexations seemed to subdue Oldsmar.
Ronecker didn't rule out continuing to fight, but said the allowance for requests to join the city likely resolves some of their complaint.
"I think it's ironed out," Hooper said. "There may be some tweaking along the way, but I think the consensus was that allowing voluntary annexation took care of it."
David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.