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Pinellas Park Water Management District says it has $177.8 million in repair needs

PINELLAS PARK — After being pressured by state legislators, officials who oversee a water drainage district agreed earlier this year to keep tax rates low so they could maintain their system.

Now legislative pressure has eased, and those water officials are proposing projects costing hundreds of millions that could increase the property tax rate by 73 percent over the long term for those who live in the Pinellas Park Water Management District.

"I'm very anxious to hear the rationale behind what they are doing," state Rep. Janet Long said Tuesday. "I'd be very interested in hearing how people feel about it."

Long, a Democrat from Seminole, has been a critic of the district since she first ran for the state House.

The district, which covers parts of Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, the unincorporated Lealman area and the unincorporated area between Pinellas Park and Seminole, was created decades ago as a way to combat the flooding that destroyed homes. Those who live within its boundaries are assessed a property tax that goes to build ditches and culverts and other flood-control devices to prevent flooding in the area.

Although the district was voted in by residents in the area, it has recently become unpopular among many who say they see no benefit to having their tax money go to the district.

Residents in Lealman, the Bayou Club, and Hardy Huntley, owner of the Wagon Wheel Flea Market, have all asked that either they be taken out of the district or that it be eliminated.

Earlier this year, the district and the Pinellas Legislative Delegation agreed to a local bill that would, among other things, cap the tax rate at $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed, taxable property value. That's the amount the district told legislators it would need to maintain the 22.4 miles of ditches and other drainage infrastructure it owns. But the bill did not pass.

A couple of weeks ago, water district representatives told the County Commission that the cost of needed repairs would be $177.8 million, which would require a long-term tax rate of about $2.66 per $1,000 of assessed taxable property value. That's about 73 percent higher than the $1.54 tax rate for the coming fiscal year.

Janet Rogers, the district's executive director, said the organization has no present plans to increase the tax rate. The figures, she said, are to show the County Commission and the Pinellas Park City Council what needs to be done.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Fast facts

If you're interested

The Pinellas Park City Council and the Pinellas Park Water Management District are scheduled to meet at 7 tonight in the workshop room on the second floor of City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N, Pinellas Park. For information, call (727) 541-0706. The meeting is open to the public.

Pinellas Park Water Management District says it has $177.8 million in repair needs 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 5:45pm]

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