LARGO - Annexations by Largo have become occasions for citizen discontent and legal actions, but the City Commission decided after long discussion at its work session Tuesday evening to continue the administration's policies in growing the city.
One big reason for annexation is not expanding city boundaries but bringing into the city enclaves within the borders that are now unincorporated parts of Pinellas County.
These enclaves make a city map look like the oft-used term, "Swiss cheese."
While the commission is interested in having people who receive city benefits like sewer serve within the city, it also would like to have everything within the city's borders actually in city jurisdiction.
Mike Staffopoulos, Largo's Community Development Director, as usual, gave an excellent presentation of the situation.
Staffopoulos explained that the city is following the provisions of Pinellas County Ordinance 00-63 and Chapter 171 of Florida Statutes.
In the almost six years since Ordinance 00-63 was adopted there has been continuing and consistent contention between Largo and the county over annexation questions.
Ordinance 00-63 really was a compact among cities (Largo, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, etc.) to avoid contention. It was supposed to be a problem solver. It has not been.
Under its terms, generally speaking, Largo gave up any plans it had to annex the Gateway area places like Feather Sound and Carillon. In giving them up, the understanding was, that Largo's other annexation plans would not be interfered with by the county.
In actuality, the county has done nothing but interfere.
Another aspect is that Largo provides sewer service, for example, to those in its "service area." The entities may not be in Largo, but Largo provides the service.
Contrast that to Clearwater where, if a resident or business wants to have sewer service, it must - repeat must - annex into the city of Clearwater.
Within Largo's "planning area" (officially, "municipal annexation boundary") is the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport. The county has girded its loins for a massive battle if Largo so much as hints it would attempt to annex that territory.
The county wants to take the airport out of the Largo boundary area.
City Manager Steve Stanton said explicitly Tuesday night that discussion for annexing the airport is not on the table now.
"It's not important today - arguing over a silly little airport," Stanton said. "It will be annexed into Largo eventually and inevitably. But not in the foreseeable future."
Stanton said there should be more concentration in annexing areas to the west - that is, the Harbor Bluffs and Harbor Hills area.
It is an area, Stanton said, that gets Largo city services and would make sense for the neighborhoods to be in the city. "It's more important to focus on that," Stanton said, "than arguing about the airport."
Some views on the county's plans expressed in the proceedings of the Charter Review Committee came in for discussion.
There is no doubt in the minds of most observers that the long-range county goal is to impose a county government - a la Miami - on Pinellas County.
"That's why (Steve) Spratt (county administrator) was brought here," one expert said.
On another topic, Henry Schubert ran through an update of use for the old library building. This is a planning football that has been kicked around for well more than a year with some beautiful opportunities missed.
There was a committee put together to recommend use of the building. Many of the members of that committee came from outside Largo and, to rub salt in that wound, meetings were held in Dunedin.
In short, non-Largo residents participated in a decision that bears on Largo and its citizens. Seems strange, but evidently not so to Largo officials.
Only Commissioner Gay Gentry hinted at how the process should have been handled. But she was corrected by Mayor Pat Gerard who wound up with the old library building being used for exactly what she has been pushing for - commissioner and mayor - for well more than a year.
Included in that push was her own outrageous demonstration of a conflict of interest that she got away with. Not surprising in a city where one can also count instances of nepotism and cronyism.
Gerard asserted that the plan was to have an arts center there. Problem is, the commission actually never fully agreed on that at all.
But the commission went through the charade of weighing the facts it was hearing while all the cognoscenti know that the building's future is a done deal and that was decided long ago.
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