The fate of Lake Jovita and St. Leo is now on its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
The Florida Senate today passed H.B. 1401 by a 40-0 vote, after it was withdrawn from the Rules Committee there. That votes comes just days after the Florida House approved it 118-1, with only state Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, voting against it.
H.B. 1401 was filed by state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, on March 1, which would separate a portion of the Lake Jovita subdivision from the Town of St. Leo. The community and the town have been at odds for years, with Lake Jovita homeowners affected by the town complaining about high taxes and low level of services.
Those homeowners have worked to get their way onto the town board, the latest being Ray Davis who beat longtime commissioner Donna DeWitt in April to help maintain the Lake Jovita majority. Davis is expected to take his seat in May, unless Gov. Scott signs H.B. 1401, which would move the affected part of Lake Jovita into unincorporated Pasco County like the rest of the subdivision.
The St. Leo commission is set to meet May 5, according to town attorney Patricia Petruff, to discuss what happens next based on how H.B. 1401 moves forward. It’s not clear when Scott will sign the bill, but it would take immediate effect upon his signature, or within 15 days of his receiving the bill if he chooses not to sign or veto.
H.B. 1401 becoming law would create three immediate openings on the St. Leo commission, and new members of the commission would have to be appointed. That could mean DeWitt could remain on the commission, despite losing her election, if she is appointed to return.
The new St. Leo without Lake Jovita will see its population drop from 1,369 to 1,173, according to a House committee report. The town itself would lose $50,000 each year, or 15 percent of its total revenue, and would reduce the number of rooftops by 85.
Lake Jovita is a planned 871-home development that broke ground in the late 1990s. By chance, a small portion of the subdivision landed inside St. Leo. The town itself could not de-annex the Lake Jovita homes, because state law prohibits a municipality from de-annexing areas that, if it wasn’t part of the town already, it could have legally annexed. That meant only state lawmakers could allow the divorce.