CLEARWATER - The clear winners in the ongoing struggle between the county and 21 Pinellas municipalities are the lawyers who represent both and all sides.
The litigation arose from the proposed charter amendments that were on the November ballot.
As an example of how the costs mount, take Largo. At the outset the talk was that the money to be laid out for its city lawyer (Alan Zimmet) to participate was nominal.
Then came back the report that oops.... looks like $30,000 is going to be needed for Zimmet. Since that news arrived several months ago, the suit has stayed alive and there is no telling what the Zimmet bill to Largo on this one case has mounted to.
The bad news for Pinellas taxpayers is that they are paying for both sides in the lawsuit. All expenses come out of taxpayer funds, and this resource is unlimited.
Even the taxpayers in the three cities not participating - Indian Rocks Beach, Dunedin and Redington Beach - are being hit. They are helping to pay the county side of the litigation.
At first, the cities tried to keep off the ballot the proposed seven changes to the county charter. The Circuit Court let the referendum go forth and the cities could count victory when four of the amendments were rejected by voters.
One of these concerned the dual referendum which those who wanted to modify the charter (county government adherents, obviously) sought to eliminate. This is a rule where a change must be accepted by an individual city as well as the whole county to be effective in the particular city.
The county has filed a counterclaim on the dual referendum issue, claiming that it violates state law.
But two of the amendments, dealing with the power of cities to annex unincorporated land, were approved by the voters November 7. The cities want that reversed and have filed an amended law suit.
There are those on each side who want to drop the whole business.
With some settlement possibly in view, the two sides are at loggerheads with the county saying it can't drop it lawsuit until the cities quit and the cities saying much the same thing.
The two cities most avidly pursuing the suit are Largo and St. Petersburg because of annexation considerations.
Meanwhile, total costs for the litigation have mounted into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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