Time runs out for bill to protect East Lake fire district from annexation

EAST LAKE — An all-or-nothing bill that would have protected the East Lake Special Fire Control District from involuntary, piecemeal annexation will not become law this year.

"With so many important issues facing Florida today such as job creation and revising our economy," Rep. Peter Nehr said Wednesday, "it appears this particular issue was not critical enough to be heard this session."

Nehr, a Tarpon Springs Republican who represents East Lake and sponsored the bill in the House, had worked with the Council of North County Neighborhoods to craft a bill that would make it difficult for any municipality to annex part of the fire district unless it planned to take it all — a move that would have required voter approval.

The collaboration grew out of a measure on last year's ballot that asked voters if the East Lake Woodlands subdivision, the Shoppes of Boot Ranch, the East Lake Woodlands Shopping Center and Lockheed Martin should be annexed into Oldsmar. Of the 3,589 people in East Lake who cast a ballot, 3,292 people opposed the idea.

In March, Nehr filed the bill, which was referred to the House's Military and Local Affairs Policy committee for consideration. That committee never heard it. So last week, the state Senate went ahead and passed the measure in the hopes that the House would add it to its local bill calendar. Sen. Mike Fasano, the New Port Richey Republican who sponsored that branch's version of the bill, encouraged members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation to bring the bill to the House floor, said Greg Giordano, Fasano's chief legislative assistant. It has yet to appear on the calendar, and the session ends today.

Community leaders who worked on the bill with Nehr and Fasano were not pleased.

"We're disappointed that the bill wasn't heard for its merits and that it was just part of the clutter of the local bill scenario there," said Don Ewing, the president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods. "It's a very important bill."

"I think that the bill would've had a better chance if all the stakeholders had been involved," said Tom McKone, the chair of the fire district's commission and the man who hopes to unseat Nehr in November. "We were not involved in the bill's formulation whatsoever."

Nehr said he will file the bill again next year, if he is re-elected. "I've promised all of my constituents that."

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Downs is moving forward with plans to voluntarily pull out of East Lake and annex into Oldsmar. That city's council will take up the issue at its May 18 meeting.

"It'll be done in July looks like," Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Time runs out for bill to protect East Lake fire district from annexation 04/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:51pm]

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