CLEARWATER — The city is annexing nearly 50 homes in the Morningside area, but most of the homeowners aren't going willingly.
"I'm not fond of the city of Clearwater," Patricia McGee of Marilyn Drive told the City Council.
"This is all being shoved down our throats," added Ron Ferrera of Commerce Drive.
"You're going to force us into this, like we have been forced into a lot of things by big government," said Thomas Shipman of Carlton Drive.
However, Clearwater officials responded that a contract is a contract. In this case, the owners of all these properties hooked up to city sewer lines sometime between 1985 and 2005, typically when their septic tanks failed. In exchange, they agreed to be annexed into Clearwater once the city's boundaries reached their land.
In some cases, it was a previous owner who signed the contract. But the agreement remains valid when the property changes hands, officials said.
The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to annex 49 properties, including 11 on Morningside Drive and eight on Winwood Drive as well as parcels on Carlton, Diane, El Trinidad, Evans, Grove, Lucas, Marilyn, Skyland, Terrace and Thomas drives.
Of those, 30 homeowners signed a petition opposing the annexation, and several of them spoke up at a city meeting two weeks ago. They aren't pleased because their taxes will go up.
"They will be paying a little bit more in property taxes," said city auditor Robin Gomez.
He said the property owners are now paying for fire and rescue service as well as the municipal services taxing unit or MSTU — what the county charges for services in unincorporated areas.
That's about 4.4 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value, Gomez said. In comparison, Clearwater taxes homeowners 5.16 cents per $1,000.
But they'll pay slightly less for water and sewer service once they're part of Clearwater, he added.
City Council members defended the annexation. They said the city isn't doing this for the tax money. It might even cost Clearwater more money to provide services for these properties than it will collect in taxes.
Why do it? Clearwater's comprehensive plan calls for consolidating and eliminating unincorporated pockets of land surrounded by the city.
"You have a contract to be annexed into the city," council member Paul Gibson told the protesting homeowners. "You don't like the deal that either you cut or someone else cut. But you do have a contract."
"Despite your reluctance, we would welcome you to the city of Clearwater," added council member John Doran. "And I think that after you see what the benefits are, you may change your mind."
"I think that we understand your frustration," said council member George Cretekos. "But it will mean that we are going to have to work hard to gain your confidence. And to gain your trust."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.