TALLAHASSEE – The Florida House and Senate recently passed a bill that should prevent any municipal annexation of the East Lake Tarpon Community without voter approval.
The bill passed unanimously in the House on Feb. 29. The Senate gave it unanimous approval on March 5.
The Council of North County Neighborhoods, a not for profit organization, asked Rep. Peter Nehr and Sen. Mike Fasano to continue their support of a bill due to concerns by community leaders about attempts by the cities of Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs to annex some of the East Lake area.
“Our area consisting of mainly the East Lake and Palm Harbor Fire Districts, representing 96,000 residents, is in jeopardy of being shrunk by significant size if the Oldsmar annexation and the inevitable upcoming surge by Tarpon Springs to annex some of the northern neighborhoods occurs,” CNCN says on its website, cncnpc.org. “This represents a concern over our area’s significant donor status to the tax rolls of Pinellas County and quality of life issues that will be affected by a reduction in our unincorporated population by annexation.”
The 2012 legislative session is the third time East Lake has tried to get a bill passed protecting it from annexation without a vote by residents.
“The bill strives to prevent surrounding cities from piece meal annexation by providing an ‘all or none’ approach to annexation,” the CNCN says. “If a surrounding city wants a portion of East Lake, as Oldsmar did with East Lake Woodlands in 2009, they will have to bring compelling enough reasons for the entire East Lake area to be annexed. The bill also provides for a referendum be voted on by all residents of the East Lake area for approval.”
East Lake with 33,000 residents is one of the largest unincorporated areas in Pinellas County. County commissioners approved a community overlay for the area on Jan. 24 and it has been sent to the Pinellas Planning Council for its approval.
House Bill 699 describes the community as being surrounded on three sides by a lake and the county lines of Pasco and Hillsborough counties in the northeastern area of Pinellas County.
“East Lake Tarpon was developed as a predominantly residential community, with most residents residing within the deed-restricted communities,” the bill language continues.
It goes on to describe the community’s vision of being a “family-oriented, residential scenic community where small businesses and commercial uses serve to complement and support area residents.”
The bill also points out the residents currently pay ad valorem taxes to support the East Lake Tarpon Fire Control District.
CNCN says 96.7 percent of its member communities indicated in a poll that they were in favor of keeping East Lake whole and are against annexation.
“We understand these times of tighter budget concerns by cities increase the desire for increasing their tax base, and East Lake demographics are attractive as a tax base,” CNCN says. “State statutes provide some degree of protection from annexation but the resident’s desire an additional safeguard to prevent future attempts of ‘land grab’ annexation by surrounding cities.”