OLDSMAR — For the first time, Pinellas County will hold an election without polling places. Voters in East Lake Woodlands will decide via U.S. mail whether to be annexed into Oldsmar.
"This is the first one we've done," said Nancy Whitlock, communications director for the county's supervisor of elections.
East Lake Woodlands residents can register to vote through Feb. 9. Starting Feb. 18, they will get a ballot through the mail automatically. Those who need a ballot earlier can pick one up at supervisor of elections offices.
Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on March 10. And unless voters drop the ballots off at one of the three supervisor of elections offices in the county, they'll have to pony up 42 cents for a stamp.
"We just thought it was a more convenient way to vote and to have all the voices heard," said Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker,
Voters will decide whether East Lake Woodlands, the Shoppes of Boot Ranch, the East Lake Woodlands Shopping Center and the Lockheed Martin property will become part of the city of Oldsmar or remain an unincorporated area..
A vote to join Oldsmar would increase the city's permanent population by about 46 percent, from about 14,000 residents to more than 20,500. And it would reduce East Lake's permanent population by about 20 percent, from about 33,000 residents to about 26,500.
According to Oldsmar figures, the 2007 taxable value of East Lake Woodlands was $741.2 million. Oldsmar staffers estimate that that value will decrease by 5 to 20 percent for 2008 because of falling home values.
Oldsmar is proposing to transfer money to East Lake Fire Rescue so that the department could continue to provide EMS and fire services to the annexed land. Oldsmar has sent a proposal to East Lake Fire Rescue that has not yet been accepted.
Oldsmar officials say annexation would offer East Lake Woodlands homeowners and residents potential savings and services in the areas of flood insurance, garbage collection, recycling, road maintenance, stormwater management and recreation programs.
Opponents say annexation would result in higher taxes and another layer of government.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.