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Pinellas Park officials decry plan that may end water district

PINELLAS PARK — Council members ripped into state representatives over their 9-2 vote to introduce a bill that would let residents decide to eliminate Pinellas Park Water Management District.

Council member Rick Butler took the first jab at the end of Thursday's City Council meeting, complaining about not getting a chance to speak at a meeting of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation that morning.

"I was kind of taken aback as a representative of the city … (I) was not recognized and able to speak on the bill, and neither was anybody else," Butler said.

The water district was created in the mid 1970s to solve flooding issues in the area surrounding Pinellas Park. It's still completing at least one project on its original work plan, but has assumed other projects over the years. It collects about $6-million in property taxes from residents in areas of Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Kenneth City, unincorporated Lealman, and the unincorporated area that includes the Wagon Wheel Flea Market and the Bayou Club.

During the past few years, residents in those unincorporated areas have become increasingly vocal about the property taxes they pay to the district. They say they have paid for 35 years but have received no benefit. In some cases, they say they have actually been harmed by district projects. They have asked to be released from the district.

State Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, took up their cause when she was elected to the state House two years ago. A state study concluded that the district was about to finish its original mandate and should be dissolved. Long has since filed the bill that would force a referendum of taxpayers, asking them whether the water district should terminate in 2012.

The district itself and Pinellas Park, spearheaded by Butler, have been vocal about their opposition to the bill. They say eliminating the district will leave the city with the cost of upkeep.

And, Butler maintained that not having been able to speak at Thursday's meeting meant that legislators had not heard his concerns. However, the water management district has a lobbyist representing it, and Butler has contacted legislators to discuss the issue. And, as Mayor Bill Mischler said, "We're going to see the governor in two weeks."

Butler said that council members would be heading up to Tallahassee to lobby for getting rid of the bill.

"We're all working folks here and we have to take the time out and go up there and bang our heads against the wall of government just like you," Butler said Thursday.

Pinellas Park officials decry plan that may end water district 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 3:30am]
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