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Legislative session was good to county

Pinellas County commissioners found their best plays were on defense when it came to winning anything during this year's legislative session. Commissioners were briefed on the outcome of the state legislative session Tuesday by Assistant County Administrator Theresa Lintz, and most observers agreed it was what didn't happen _ not what happened _ that will affect county residents the most.

"We dodged some major bullets," Lintz told commissioners. "Some things would have been extremely costly, had they passed."

Although there was little money to go around this year, Pinellas did manage to find enough money to pay for some important projects, Lintz said.

The Legislature passed a $1.8-million appropriation that will enable the county to complete the long-awaited restoration of the Indian Shores beach. Other beach restoration projects will have to wait until next year to receive financing.

Lawmakers also approved a $1.5-million appropriation for landscaping projects throughout the state, Lintz wrote. Of that amount, the city of Clearwater is hoping to receive $91,000 to beautify the portion of the Courtney Campbell Parkway that lies in Pinellas.

For St. Petersburg, money to build the long-sought Marine Research Center at the University of South Florida finally won approval this session. USF's portion of the construction money, almost $7.6-million, will come from the state fund that is used for school construction. DNR's $6-million share of the construction costs will come from the state's general revenue fund.

One of the biggest disappointments, however, was the Legislature's failure to provide $1.2-million to pay for a management plan for the Weedon Island State Preserve, officials said. The island contains 1,000 acres of pristine Florida wilderness, and several rare archaeological sites.

Pinellas officials were pleased, however, that other bills didn't pass. Among them:

A bill that would have greatly curtailed the ability of county governments to tailor impact fee ordinances to their own local needs.

"This would have severely limited local governments' ability to deal with growth management," Lintz said.

County Commission Chairman Barbara Sheen Todd, who is a vice president of the National Association of Counties (NACo), had lobbied against the measure.

"The bottom line," Todd said, "is that it would have introduced the state into the administration of impact fees, and the position of the cities and counties was that such fees are best determined at the local level."

A bill that would have required local governments to pay "just compensation" when they order private companies to remove or decrease the size of billboards. The county's mayors council is expected to endorse a countywide sign ordinance this summer that most likely will ban billboards.

A bill to abolish all local laws that establish personnel systems. The bill, which was opposed almost unanimously by local governments, never was released by any legislative committee, Lintz wrote.

Because the employment practices of the county administrator and elected constitutional officers are spelled out in the county's home rule charter, the measure would have conflicted with the charter.

"I'd say funding was a pretty mixed bag _ and a little bag at that," quipped Todd.

Said County Commissioner Bruce Tyndall: "The county survived pretty well, considering how unusual the session was."

The session began a month earlier than previous years, on March 5, and ended a day early, on May 2. In between, state lawmakers introduced and passed significantly fewer bills than expected, Lintz said. In all, legislators introduced 972 fewer bills than last year and passed 96 fewer.