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Cities, county renew annexation quarrel

Pinellas Park officials thought they had settled their most recent quarrel with Largo about its annexation practices.

But last week the Largo City Commission voted to begin conflict resolution proceedings, required by state law as the final step before a city can sue another governmental entity.

Now the peace brokered more than a year ago appears in trouble.

Largo accuses Pinellas Park and Pinellas County of violating the agreement and wants out. Returning fire, Pinellas Park and the county say Largo is delaying the delivery of sewer service in an attempt to coerce property owners to join the city.

Largo City Manager Steve Stanton did not return phone messages asking for comments.

The argument, as before, hinges on Largo's use of sewer indentures.

Largo previously agreed it would provide sewer service to all properties within its sewer district, even if those property owners wanted to remain in the county or annex their property into Pinellas Park. For their part, Pinellas Park and the county said they would not issue any building permits until Largo had approved the sewer hookups.

But soon after the agreement was signed in June or July 2000, according to Pinellas Park documents, Largo accused Pinellas Park and the county of reneging on their promise.

Pinellas interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster said Largo's sewer permitting process is biased.

Largo issues permits within days to property owners who sign annexation agreements, Lancaster said. The process takes weeks if the property is in Pinellas Park or if the property owner has no wish to be annexed into Largo.

"We feel it's a little bit unreasonable," Lancaster said.

Pinellas Park Assistant City Manager Mike Gustafson said Largo's tactics were holding up construction.

Gustafson said he worked out another deal with Largo, or so he thought. Pinellas Park would issue the building permit but would not give out a certificate of occupancy until Largo got its fee and sent its documents.

"I was pretty surprised when they decided to do a resolution dispute," Gustafson said.

Lancaster said she was disappointed that Largo had decided to go ahead with legal action rather than waiting to settle the dispute through the upcoming "American Assembly" process.

As planned, the American Assembly will be a group of city and county officials, as well as residents of unincorporated areas, that will work to resolve annexation issues.

The Largo sewer issue, Lancaster said, could be handled by that group.