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East Lake Woodlands mail-in ballots give clear answer: No annexation

EAST LAKE — In Pinellas County's first all-mail election, a whopping 63.4 percent of the 5,712 voters in East Lake Woodlands weighed in on the question of whether to become part of the city of Oldsmar.

The result was 297 for annexation, 3,292 against.

That's nearly 92 percent against.

Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker, a Little League coach, was thrilled with the huge voter turnout but not with the final score.

"I'm pretty competitive," he said Wednesday. "This is … Wow! Whew!"

The vote was no surprise, though, Ronecker said. Crowds at public information meetings recently wouldn't let him get past offering refreshments, he said, before they went on the attack. "The more we talked to people, the more they were against it," he said.

Their biggest fear seemed to be that the gates on some entrances would be removed, Ronecker said, allowing public access to the subdivision.

"They are public roads already," he said.

The public can already enter from at least one road that has no gate.

East Lake Fire Rescue's public relations campaign also hurt, Ronecker said. "They went with the advertising that we were going to close a fire station and lay off firefighters," he said, when state law actually guarantees the status quo in funding for at least four years.

The city also gave the fire district a proposed document that could have extended that time period, he said.

"They never chose to negotiate with us," Ronecker said. "Rather, they put out that information with the taxpayers' money."

"His statements are only half-truths," said Bill Cannon, East Lake Fire Commission chairman. Cannon said the closing of fire stations and other dire consequences would come if no interlocal agreement was in place after four years.

He also said the fire commission sent a counteroffer on an agreement back to Oldsmar within the past two weeks.

"If the people had requested the annexation, it probably would have happened," Cannon said. "But the people didn't. It was all Oldsmar."

Many East Lake Woodlands residents were vehemently opposed to annexation.

"That's great," said Anne Rossi, 84, of East Lake Woodlands, when told the annexation had failed on Tuesday night. "That's the best news I've had tonight. I'm going to celebrate."

She said all of East Lake wants to get together now and establish some boundaries. "Because Oldsmar will do it again," she said.

Rossi is talking about an initiative that the Council of North County Neighborhoods is pursuing. The coalition of north county residents has primarily dealt with East Lake issues in the past, but is expanding to cover issues throughout all of Palm Harbor.

The group's president, Don Ewing, said the organization is working with state Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, to draft a bill for the 2010 session that will make East Lake less vulnerable to annexation incursions.

The group's goal is to restrict annexation of the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District by requiring that any city wishing to annex must take the entire district, not just parts of it.

"If Oldsmar tries this again in seven years," Ewing said, "they will have to annex not just East Lake Woodlands but the entire East Lake corridor."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

East Lake Woodlands mail-in ballots give clear answer: No annexation 03/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:06am]

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