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Critics of annexation talk tactics

Published Sep. 1, 2005

(ran Seminole, West editions)

Ray Neri had plenty of advice for the 17 people who met to develop a strategy against the city's latest round of proposed annexations.

But his most important suggestion was: Organize.

"If you're dealing in the political arena and you're not organized, you're going to lose," Neri told them Thursday at Pinellas County's connection center on 54th Avenue N.

Neri, president of the Lealman Community Association, told those who attended the meeting they needed to join forces, stand behind one plan and give themselves a name, such as the Greater Seminole Area.

"You've got to have an association that you can attract people to," said Neri, who also is the president of the United Community Association of Pinellas, which represents neighborhood and homeowners associations in unincorporated Pinellas. "You've got to have a vision."

They have that: Defeat the city's five annexation referendums on Aug. 26.

But organization isn't nailed down. After a 90-minute meeting, there was still no cohesive group, no committee leaders and no clear plan on how to stop the annexations.

Dorothy Book, who for years has been fighting Seminole's annexations, said she doesn't think the annexation foes need to form an association. "We just need to get down to business," she said.

For Mrs. Book, that means campaigning in neighborhoods, putting up signs and mailing fliers.

Neri agreed that all those steps are important. But without a coordinated plan, they could end up duplicating their efforts and confusing people.

Besides, he said, attempts to stop annexations so far haven't been that successful. Since 2000, nine of 12 referendums have passed.

"This is not a shotgun approach," Neri said. "If you're going to win this war, you've got to be focused."

If the August referendums pass in all five proposed areas, the annexation would be the largest in the city's history. Seminole would switch places with Tarpon Springs as the sixth-most-populous city in the county.

If all five referendums are approved, the annexation would add about 7,565 residents, approximately 1,445 acres and about $335-million of taxable value to the city.

Only registered voters who live in the proposed annexation areas can vote. Votes in each area will be counted separately.

City officials say the referendums are in response to people interested in joining Seminole. But those who attended Thursday's session said the city is interested only in increasing its tax base.

Al Redman lives in one of the five areas that will vote in August. An annexation referendum failed in his subdivision, Seminole Grove Estates, two years ago. Some say he was responsible for its failure.

Redman called the meeting Thursday and asked Neri to talk to the group. He criticized the press for not writing more about their cause.

Redman also said the St. Petersburg Times should write more about county programs, such as the one that reimburses unincorporated residents for joining a city's recreation program. He said Seminole entices people to annex with its free membership to its recreation center.

Yet Neri said the county program had only so much funding and the annexation foes shouldn't rely on the reimbursement to persuade people to vote against joining the city. He said the best plan is to provide them with an "apple to apple" comparison of living in Seminole and living in unincorporated Pinellas.

"There are a lot of people on the fence," said Betty Bootier, who attended the meeting and lives in one of the areas proposed for annexation. "If we get this information to them, they can make an informed decision."

Redman said those interested in helping him can call 391-9098.

Seminole's proposed annexations

Here are the five areas that may vote to become part of Seminole:

1. Western

Area: 680 acres

Residents: About 3,780

Taxable value: $181,364,600

2. Twin Oaks East Ridge Estates

Area: 34 acres

Residents: About 470

Taxable value: $8,040,700

3. Seminole Lake Village Golden Groves

Area: 50 acres

Residents: About 345

Taxable value: $10,204,400

4. Seminole Pines Clearwood

Area: 165 acres

Residents: About 1,020

Taxable value: $31,199,400

5. Canterbury Chase Rosetree Place Heather Acres

Area: 516 acres

Residents: About 1,950

Taxable value: $104,516,700

Source: City of Seminole, Pinellas Property Appraiser's Office