PINELLAS PARK — Back in the mid to late 1990s, this city could have been likened to the Pac-Man video game — gobbling properties like Pac dots in an aggressive annexation push.
Controversies and lawsuits took their toll, and the Pinellas Park council stopped the city's headlong rush to expand.
Times have changed again, and council members have reversed themselves. Annexations are back on the front burner as a way to bring in more tax money in a declining economy.
They've even brought back Bud Wortendyke, the annexation guru responsible for much of the property gained at the height of the city's annexation push. Wortendyke has been working out of the Police Department since 2005, heading up code enforcement.
Now, he's in the Fire Department, concentrating the city's annexation efforts in the area north of Pinellas Park and south of Ulmerton Road. It's a mostly industrial area that's already in Pinellas Park's fire district.
The advantages to the city of annexing those properties is clear: Commercial properties tend to bring in larger amounts of tax money and need less intensive services than residential properties. That's especially true of that area. Because it's already in the fire district, the city won't have to hire any new firefighters to cover annexed properties.
The advantages to the annexed lands also are clear, Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said.
"We can provide better services," Mischler said. That, he said, will entice landowners to annex into the city.
City Council members ordered the renewed annexation efforts to increase the city's tax base, Mischler said.
It was City Manager Mike Gustafson's idea to have Wortendyke work out of the Fire Department. The department's headquarters, Fire Station 35, at 11350 43rd St. N, is in the area that Wortendyke has been told to concentrate on. And, he said, fire Chief Doug Lewis has said he wants to become more involved in other areas of city government.
"I thought it would be a perfect marriage," Gustafson said.
Gustafson won't be moving Shannon Coughlin, who has been in charge of annexations for the past few years, to the Fire Department. Coughlin, he said, has other duties in the planning department and handles residential annexations.
Although Wortendyke has been told to concentrate on annexing areas to the north of the city, Pinellas Park is somewhat limited as to where it can annex. South of the city is the Lealman Fire District. The city agreed as part of a lawsuit settlement to not annex there for the next few years. St. Petersburg is to the east, leaving little available property. That leaves the north and the west.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.