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City backs off its stance in water standoff

The residents of Harbor Isle Court appear to have won a standoff with the city over annexation and will receive a grant for new water lines.

The Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority agreed this week to provide funding for the project, about $26,000, regardless of city support.

Last week, the City Council withdrew the grant application, suggesting that the neighborhood first join the city.

The action angered some county officials, who raised the possibility of scrapping an interlocal agreement that allows the city to provide utility service to _ and receive revenue from _ county residents.

"I was shocked," said County Commissioner Gary Bartell, who also serves on the water board.

He said the decision violated the interlocal agreement, which places Harbor Isle within the city's service area and prohibits annexation as a requirement of water or sewer service.

"We have environmentally sensitive areas on the west of U.S. 19. . . . We're going to have many of these (neighborhoods) that need to be serviced," Bartell said.

Six of seven water samples taken by the county Health Department indicated the presence of coliform bacteria in wells at Harbor Isle.

Residents there, who have agreed to pick up about $12,500 in costs not covered by the grant, say they do not want to become part of the city, in part because they would pay additional taxes.

Crystal River will have one more chance to retain the rights to serve the neighborhood. The council will decide Monday whether to accept the grant.

Two members have already changed their minds, meaning there now appears to be enough support for the grant.

If not, the county will take over, and Ozello Water Association will run the lines. The city would lose ownership of new infrastructure, as well as additional utility customers.

Joe Chrietzberg, a council member who voted against the grant application, said he will probably switch course.

"'Something for the city is better than nothing," he said.

Chairman Mike Gudis also voted against the grant. But he said he changed his mind after learning the full ramifications of losing the additional service area, especially businesses along U.S. 19, such as Home Depot.

"'The city could wind up in a real disastrous financial situation if the county voided the agreement," Gudis said.

He said he still has concerns about the no-annexation clause, but he said that unless the interlocal agreement is renegotiated, the city must honor it.

"In any agreement, each side gets pluses and each gets minuses."

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