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Local mayors seek autonomy to annex
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TREASURE ISLAND – Some Pinellas County mayors want their legislative delegation to intervene in annexation disputes they are having with county government.

Both Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler and Largo Mayor Robert Jackson expressed concern at the annual Pinellas County Mayor’s Council luncheon Tuesday that the county could limit the cities’ annexation powers.

“I’m a firm believer that if anybody wants to annex into the city, they should have the right,” said Mischler. “The county is fighting us.”

Although it’s too late to take up the issue during this year’s upcoming session, state Sen. Dennis Jones, said he will discuss it with other delegation members and determine if any action is needed next year.

Jones, who said that the issue had not been brought to his attention at meetings until now, questioned how the county could prevent cities from annexing contiguous property. Mischler said that the county could prevent annexations if requests for such are outside a city’s designated planning areas.

The problem is, Mischler said, the actual planning area is subject to interpretation because of continuous changes in the makeup of the County Commission and its staff. County officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

In other matters at the meeting,

Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti and other mayors sought the Legislature’s help in efforts to establish underground utility lines. Beyrouti said that the above-ground poles and lines hinder emergency evacuations and rescue operations in the wake of hurricanes.

A recent consultant’s report issued to the Indian Shores Town Council said that placing utilities underground is beneficial for other reasons, such as improved aesthetics and a reduction in power interruptions.

South Pasadena Mayor Dick Holmes suggested that a fee of five to 10 cents be tacked on to utility bills to finance the project. Contacted Wednesday, Holmes said he just “threw that out,” but Pinellas cities plan to ask legislators this year to establish some type of funding formula to establish underground utilities. The Mayors Council, he said, has passed a resolution calling for all area utility lines to be placed underground.

• Beyrouti said that efforts need to be coordinated to protect pedestrians who use crosswalks along Gulf Boulevard.

“It (the crosswalk) is false security,” Beyrouti said.

The mayors discussed adding more signage to prevent accidents and discussing the matter with planning agencies.

• Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Robert DiNicola asked that the state look into establishing breakwaters along the beaches, saying that they would help save the state money in replacing sand.

The state cannot obtain permits for such structures, Jones said.

“The old breakwater is not going to happen with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Jones said.

• Among the big topics facing legislators this year, Jones said, are the proposed revamping of Medicaid, issues pertaining to hurricanes and the voluntary pre-kindergarten program that takes effect this summer.

Jones warned that the pre-kindergarten program, which is designed to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten, would cost $350 million statewide in its first year.

“Coming right out of the box, we will be the largest program in the United States,” Jones said.

The luncheon was held at the Treasure Island Tennis and Yacht Club.
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