Pinellas County already has 24 municipalities, and surely there are few who believe it needs another one. Nevertheless, the Pinellas County legislative delegation did the right thing by deciding to cooperate at this stage with Palm Harbor's effort to get an incorporation question on the ballot.
At last week's legislative delegation meeting, all but one legislator voted to support a bill in the Legislature that would allow Palm Harbor residents to vote on whether they want to incorporate. The lone dissenter was Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Incorporation activists still have a long road to travel. The incorporation bill still will have to make it to the full Legislature in the session that begins in March, and it will have to be approved. Those are a couple of big hurdles. Last year, a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, never even made it onto legislative committee calendars.
And no doubt, Pinellas County officials will be lobbying heavily against the bill this year. County Commissioner Susan Latvala tried hard to persuade the local legislators not to support introduction of the bill, saying "There is no groundswell of support for this issue." Latvala also claimed that if Palm Harbor incorporates, it should not count on being able to contract with Pinellas County government to deliver services to the community.
"We can't fathom in these economic times how it would be feasible to create a new city," Latvala said.
Indeed, the supporters of cityhood could not have picked a more difficult time — a seemingly more illogical time — to push for incorporation. Are they aware of the financial struggles of city governments all over the nation?
The supporters take the position that the proposed city of Palm Harbor, with a projected population of more than 90,000, would be big enough and have a sufficient tax base to survive. They also argue that Palm Harbor is a "donor community," paying more in taxes now than it receives in services. County officials disagree with that assessment.
However, hundreds of Palm Harbor residents have signed petitions or written letters asking that the Legislature give them the opportunity to vote on incorporation. With the local delegation's action, one small step has been taken in that direction.