This map shows the northeast corner of Largo. Properties already within city limits are green. Properties that have an annexation agreement with the city but are not yet annexed are marked in red. Yellow represents the city’s sewer indentures. The blue boundaries mark “type A” enclaves. The dotted boundary marks Largo Fire District. The orange boundary above Whitney Road is the north boundary of the Highpoint Community Area.
LARGO – To date, 342 properties along the border of Largo are benefiting from city services but have not been officially annexed into the city.
Those properties – most of them single-family homes – could represent $500 to $700 in annual net revenue for the city. The property owners have signed agreements for annexation, and staff has determined that they are eligible to be added city tax rolls.
But annexing properties takes time – about 45 days to pass an ordinance through two public hearings, and only after the paperwork is all in order. The community development department has no staff person dedicated to processing the annexations, the task falling to the economic development manager, Teresa Brydon.
Residents are signing new agreements all the time, most often so they can capitalize on garbage collection, which the city provides and the county doesn’t. When commissioners requested a comprehensive count on potential annexations in March, there were 340 properties that were eligible for annexation and already had an agreement in place. Despite bringing 25 of these properties into the city since then, that count has remained almost unchanged.
Community development staff asked the city commission for feedback and a clear policy on the annexation program Sept. 10, specifically requesting a citywide “ability to serve” report that would analyze the impact of annexations more thoroughly.
“When we talk about the net projected annual revenue that a city residence brings into the city upon annexation, this does not necessarily identify all of the costs that are associated with bringing the property under our jurisdiction,” Brydon said. “Impacts to the various city departments have not been thoroughly analyzed since the 2001 annexation impact study was conducted.”
That study, complied by a consultant, looked only at annexations east of U.S. 19. The commission did approve a staff-generated citywide report on the issue in February 2010, but due to budget cuts, community development never had the staff time to dedicate to the project.
Beyond the 342 properties eligible for annexation, the city has the same agreement with the owners of 700 other properties that don’t immediately qualify for annexation because they are not continuous with existing city boundaries. Along with garbage pickup, these property owners enjoy a 25 percent discount on sewer rate and perks as Largo residents, such as use of the city’s recreational facilities.
Of the 700 additional agreements, 44 properties are within a “type A” enclave, an unincorporated area boxed in on all sides by incorporated properties, essentially a “hole” in the city of Largo’s map. The city expects an agreement with the county to make those properties eligible for annexation by the end of the year.
Additionally, the city has 44 “sewer indentures,” encompassing a total of 280 parcels, in which the city provided access to its sewer system. Residents with those agreements pay 25 percent extra for use of the sewer system and benefit from no other city services.
Commission Curtis Holmes first asked if the city was confident it was making money off of those properties that are annexed. The city gains additional revenue from property taxes, franchise fees, utility taxes, telecommunication taxes, stormwater fees and solid waste fees associated with the property. Taking into account the city’s loss of fire district fees and the higher sewer rate, an average single-family residence would still bring in $500-$700 in net annual revenue. But that doesn’t account for the cost of providing city services to the new residents.
Holmes contended that a consultant wasn’t needed for the city to calculate the costs, department by department.
Commissioner Michael Smith asked if it wouldn’t help the community development department if they stopped taking in new annexation agreements until they caught up. But the goal is to annex a group of adjoining properties together, as they can come into the city within the same ordinance, thus streamlining the process, explained City Attorney Alan Zimmet. If the city just concentrated on the 342 eligible annexations it had and annexed 10 a month, it would still take a few years to get through the backlog, he said.
Plus, given that accepting the agreement was the easy part of the process for staff, the city did not want to discourage the accumulation of new agreements, any of which could provide a better grouping for future ordinances, Brydon said.
Mayor Pat Gerard asked for guidance from staff on what they could and prefer to do.
“Sure, we want to have those people who want to be part of the city, but we can’t tell you how quickly we want you to do that, without saying, ‘Here’s a staff person to focus on doing just that,’” she said.
Zimmet said staff could come up with a strategy and a schedule for the 342 properties, taking into account that some properties would be less cost effective to annex than others.
Several of the eligible properties are within two of the county’s Community Development Block Grant areas, such as the Ridgecrest neighborhood, or five Healthy Community areas, such as Highpoint, Brydon explained. The county has committed federal funds for programs in those areas.
“Are we ready to absorb those individuals, with the ramifications of now our housing department is responsible for assisting them in some of the goals and objectives that the county had outlined under their CDGB?” Brydon asked.
Other properties could be avoided as a way of evading a potential conflict with the county, Gerard pointed out.
The city is concentrating on properties within the Largo Planning Service Area, a boundary broader than city limits that was established in an interlocal agreement with the county from October 2000 to September 2010. Though that area is no longer valid, the city does have agreements in place with neighboring cities, establishing rules on specific, previously contended boundaries.
The city has the ability to terminate annexation agreements if it so chooses, saving money on providing services to those properties, Zimmet said. He suggested that future annexation agreements could not include the 25-percent discount on sewer rates unless the property was contiguous.
“If we stop anything, I think maybe we stop offering those services to annexation agreements that aren’t contiguous and don’t plan on being contiguous anytime soon,” Gerard said.
Commissioner Woody Brown suggested the city terminate annexation agreements for properties far outside current city boundaries, particularly those in Feather Sound.
“I don’t think it’s ever a possibility that we’re annexing those properties in Feather Sound,” he said.
Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said her staff would bring back a proposal to make changes to future annexation agreements as well as a strategy for streamlining the annexation process and bringing the 342 eligible properties into the city. She said she also would like to bring specifics on the potential cost and scope of a consultant who would prepare a citywide “ability to serve” report.
The commissioners agreed to her suggestion. The issue will be discussed again at a future commission work session.