1. Archive

Legislators to seek repayment in land deal

Pinellas County's legislative delegation agreed Tuesday to seek partial repayment for Pinellas County and the city of Clearwater for the 1987 purchase of Cooper's Point. The money would come from a fine and repayments of profits that are being sought from a former Clearwater city official. The official, Michael W. Kenton, joined a partnership that bought the tract on Tampa Bay north of the Courtney Campbell Parkway, then resold it to Clearwater and the county. Unless the Legislature intervenes, the entire $214,985 being sought from Kenton would go to the state.

"Without a claims bill, the state could not give the county or the city their money," said Sen. Mary Grizzle, R-Belleair Shore, chairwoman of the delegation.

The state Ethics Commission has ruled that Kenton, a former Clearwater environmental director, improperly used his city position to help private investors buy the land. Kenton also joined the partnership that sold the property to Clearwater and the county for $1.95-million. Prompted by the ethics ruling, the city ordered Kenton to pay a $15,000 fine and to repay $199,985 he made on the transaction.

The bill endorsed by the delegation would allow two-thirds of the money to go to Pinellas County and one-third to Clearwater, based on their portions of the land purchase. An amendment added Tuesday would subtract the amount the state Ethics Commission paid to investigate Kenton.

In other action Tuesday, the delegation agreed to support a vote in Feather Sound as soon as May 22 on whether that area will form a special taxing district.

The taxing district, supporters said, would accomplish two things: pay for street lights and parks, and fend off annexation by adjoining cities St. Petersburg and Largo.

The matter could be settled sooner than May 22. Theresa Lintz, a lobbyist for Pinellas County, said county commissioners will vote next week on setting a referendum. The taxing district can be formed either through the County Commission or a state law that applies to Pinellas County.

The property tax rate for the taxing district authorized through the County Commission would be $1 per $1,000 assessed taxable value, or $75 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home with $25,000 homestead exemption. Either form requires approval of the voters.

Staff writer Bill Adair contributed to this story.