ST. LEO — The long debate over whether a portion of the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club subdivision will remain a part of St. Leo will soon be in the hands of state legislators.
Last week, town commissioners voted 4-0 — Mayor John Gardner was not in attendance — to present a bill drawn up by town attorney Patricia Petruff to Pasco's legislative delegation convening Jan. 26. The delegation will then decide whether to take the bill to Tallahassee for a vote. If passed by the Legislature, 175 acres and 85 Lake Jovita homes in the town would become Pasco County's jurisdiction.
For years, town residents in gated Lake Jovita, which has 350 more units in unincorporated Pasco County, have grumbled at having to pay taxes to the town in addition to the county.
Efforts to de-annex that previously fizzled have gained more traction in recent months with the election of two Lake Jovita residents — Commissioners Robert Inslee and James Wells — who have made it clear their constituents want out.
In addition to approving the bill, St. Leo commissioners passed a resolution in support of it, which Petruff said was requested by House Speaker Will Weatherford's office. Petruff added the delegation also wanted to see a study on the economic impact of the de-annexation proposal along with the bill.
The idea to seek state legislation for Lake Jovita residents to de-annex came from Inslee after commissioners learned that state law prohibited it due to the population density in the large subdivision.
No one spoke in opposition to the town submitting the bill to the delegation, but Commissioner James Hallett requested that the economic study submitted to legislators focus on what the remaining residents of St. Leo can expect. He called it a "before and after" report. Hallet and Commissioner Donna Dewitt are the only members of the board who don't live in Lake Jovita.
After the meeting, Hallett said he voted for submitting the bill and resolution because he feels Lake Jovita residents cannot be convinced of the perks of being part of the town.
"It's just an uphill argument to say to them let's wait two years and see if we can work something out," Hallett said.