State bills that could lead to townhood for people who live in the Palm Harbor area have stirred some controversy in the community.
Identical bills, introduced in the state Senate and House of Representatives, would let Palm Harbor voters decide if they want their unincorporated community to become Pinellas County's 25th city.
One group, the Palm Harbor Coalition, supports incorporation. Another, the Crystal Beach Community Association, opposes it. The area defined in the bill encompasses the Palm Harbor Fire District and includes about 60,000 people.
Both Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who represents the Palm Harbor area, said they're sponsoring the legislation to give voters a say.
"In an important decision such as this, the people that live in that area should be able to decide," Nehr said.
Fasano said numerous residents signed a petition supporting the legislation, but he added he's not a fan of incorporation.
"People need to understand there's a good chance taxes are going to go up, costs are going to go up," Fasano said.
Nehr said he would drop his support of the bill if a feasibility study shows taxes will increase. He sponsored a similar bill last spring that died in committee because of the state's financial uncertainties. He's not sure if this bill will make it to a vote, either, because of current budget woes.
Jim Kleyman, spokesman for Palm Harbor Coalition, said research by his group has shown taxes won't go up. He also said a town government would be "more responsive" to the concerns of local residents.
Last year, more than 3,000 people signed a petition supporting the legislation, Kleyman said.
Ray Cannon, a Crystal Beach Community Association board member, said most members of his neighborhood, which includes people in Ozona and Palm Harbor, appreciate the freedom of being unincorporated. He also said the current county budget crunch makes incorporation impractical.
Both groups have Web sites and have initiated efforts to educate voters and voice their opinions to legislators.
In light of resistance from Crystal Beach, Kleyman said he's asking if there's a way to exclude their area from the legislation.
If passed by the Legislature, the measure would put the question of townhood on the 2010 general election ballot. The Legislature must first conduct a feasibility study to make sure townhood makes fiscal sense.