Monday, November 20, 2017
News Roundup

Uncertain way forward for Lake Jovita de-annexation in St. Leo

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ST. LEO — When voters put Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club resident Robert Inslee on the Town Commission, he had compromise on his mind.

Inslee lives in one of 85 Lake Jovita homes that lie within the town — while the other 350 units in the gated community are in unincorporated Pasco County. He ran last spring because he felt his split community was underserved by Pasco's oldest municipality while he said his neighbors pay the bulk of the property, communication and cable taxes that keep the town afloat.

He came into office optimistic that a compromise could be struck to keep Lake Jovita residents in the town, which is home to Saint Leo University and the Benedictine Abbey.

But those hopes have faded, he said, and residents are fed up with paying both town and county taxes and getting little for the extra they pay.

"Most of the work of the commission is related to other things such as the university or religious order," Inslee told the Times. "It just seems to me the activities of the commission are of very little interest to the residents of Lake Jovita, while we are paying most of the taxes."

So last week Inslee called for the town to move forward with de-annexing the Lake Jovita properties in response to a petition from more than 70 residents.

Commissioner James Wells, another Lake Jovita resident elected in April, agreed, along with Commissioner James Hallett, who has opposed de-annexation in the past.

Hallett said he has come to see that Lake Jovita residents are so discontented with their situation that they are willing to use their numbers to seek a referendum to dissolve the town entirely.

"It appears to be a good idea to cooperate with them and find a way to allow them to de-annex," Hallett said.

It was Hallett who made a motion, which was unanimously approved, directing town attorney Patricia Petruff to "aggressively" seek an avenue for de-annexation.

Petruff, however, warned the commission that she thinks de-annexation would violate Florida law due to the population density in Lake Jovita.

The commission approved sending a letter to the Florida Attorney General's Office asking for a ruling on the town's case.

But it's possible the commission may not even wait for that. Inslee and Wells both said due to the groundswell of support for de-annexation, they wanted Petruff to draw up an ordinance.

It would be within the commission's right to move against the advice of the town attorney if they choose, according to Pasco land-use attorney Steve Booth. But it could trigger legal challenge, and such a move would need some legal research.

"You don't see a lot of de-annex cases. They are not that common," Booth said.

If indeed the end game is secession for Lake Jovita residents, it's going to mean some tough decisions for the rest of the town, Hallett said.

"It's my opinion that the town has sufficient funds to make the transition to life without Lake Jovita, but it will take sacrifice," he said.

And if de-annexation does occur, Inslee and Wells will have worked their way out of the jobs on the commission they vied for in April.

"That doesn't scare me. That doesn't scare me at all," Wells said during Monday's meeting.

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