LARGO -- Largo is still up to its hindquarters in alligators in the annexation swamp as demonstrated at Tuesday night's marathon 6 hour and 45 minutes City Commission meeting as people protested the annexation of properties west and east of 49th Street on Ulmerton Road.
There was confusion over "voting" to be annexed, which went misunderstood despite City Attorney Alan Zimmet's patient explanation that there was no voting but that people signed petitions.
Mayor Bob Jackson pointed out that majority rule prevails in a democracy and when more want to be annexed than not, then the nots are compelled to go along.
In the end, the commission voted to approve on first reading the more controversial of the two annexation ordinances, involving properties east and west of 49th Street on Ulmerton Road.
This came after Commissioner Mary Black moved that property owners who did not want to be annexed be removed from the ordinance.
Zimmet pointed out that adopting Black's motion would destroy the annexation ordinance because it would create enclaves that would make it illegal.
The city staff is going to attempt to resolve concerns before the second reading on September 6 which was extended in time so that talks could take place.
Jackson pointed out the crucial and harmful decision of many years ago that forces Largo to give services to those entities not within the city but who often sign indentures and then when those come due express alarm and ignorance of any such process.
"Clearwater, in contrast," he said, "has a clear policy: no service without being annexed into the city. If we had that, we would have none of these problems."
Anger tinged the words and demeanor of many of those protesting and there were intimations of monkey business in how city staff handled the annexation procedure.
Representatives from a business, EvaTone, pointed out that their business is in jeopardy, because if annexed into Largo their taxes go up and imperils their bottom line.
A commission heroine in the strife and war of words was Black who said she is opposed to "forced" annexation and she received words of praise from many citizens. Black said she favors annexation, but not forced inclusion. "I want people to be happy they are in Largo," she said.
Many made it clear they did not want to be annexed. One man said he was told by a city staffer that he might as well sign enabling papers because "we are going to annex you anyway."
Another man said that he was asked by a city staff member if he "wanted cash" to assent to being annexed.
This was a snapshot of tempers in the city, but the strong attacks seemed to underline that Largo needs to give its annexation policy and procedures a laser-like examination.
Jackson suggested this and Commissioner Andy Guyette backed that idea.
One speaker opposing annexation who praised Black suggested that she run for mayor. "Keep up the good work," he said to her, "you seem to care."
The mayor and commissioners got what amounts to a hidden raise at the meeting with the approval of the carousel benefit points.
The item was routinely passed in the consent agenda. It is a fringe benefit that goes to Largo employees and also to elected officials and by its terminology sort of disguises what it really is.
For example, the mayor and members of the commission received 6,885 carousel points in the current fiscal 2005 budget and will get 7,058 in the 2006 budget.
The points actually represent money; that is, one point equals one dollar. This is a compensation for elected officials that most taxpayers are not aware of.
Thus, the mayor's pay, counting the carousel points, will go to $25,260.84, while commission members' pay goes to $19,193.22.
Carousel points are used to pay for any benefits the city offers such as health insurance, life insurance, or retirement program.
The reappointment of Commissioner Pat Gerard to the Metropolitcan Planning Oranization, a term that ends in 2009, ipso facto indicates that she will be a candidate for re-election to the commission next March when her current term ends.
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