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St. Leo pushes forward on de-annexation despite legal advice

Published Sep. 10, 2013

ST. LEO — A 37-year-old Florida Attorney General's opinion may stand in the way of efforts by Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club residents to de-annex from St. Leo.

For years, residents of 85 homes in gated Lake Jovita — which is split with 350 more units in the subdivision located in unincorporated Pasco County — have grumbled at having to pay taxes to the town in addition to the county.

Efforts to de-annex that have fizzled over the years reached a fever pitch in recent months with the election of two Lake Jovita residents, Commissioners Robert Inslee and James Wells who have made it clear their constituents want out. The town also received a petition from 70 residents of Lake Jovita calling for de-annexation.

But the town's attorney, Patricia Petruff, told the commission last month in her opinion due to the population density in Lake Jovita, the property in question meets the legal qualifications for annexation, which in turn prevents it from being de-annexed. That ruling led the commission to seek an opinion from the Florida Attorney General's Office.

The opinion backs Petruff's finding citing a 1976 precedent the AGO still leans on in dealing with de-annexation questions. It states "the statute precludes a municipal government from enacting a contraction ordinance — either on its own initiative or in response to a petition — if the area proposed to be excluded is found to meet the criteria for annexation."

Still, Inslee and Wells last month floated the idea of moving forward with an ordinance to de-annex anyway with hopes there would be no legal challenge.

On Monday, at a St. Leo Town Commission meeting the board agreed to hold a de-annexation feasibility discussion on Sept. 23 following a 7 p.m. budget meeting.