For incorporation team, reaching the first finish line required effort and good fortune

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There was the green light that was given for the traffic-increasing Siesta Promenade project at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road — the gateway to Siesta Key.

There was the dredging of neighboring Big Pass that supplied sand to Lido Beach. Its negative impacts are believed to include intensified wave action and subsequent beach erosion for some residents on the north end of Siesta Key.

And now, the Sarasota County Planning Commission has cast votes of support for two 100-plus-room hotels proposed for Siesta Key, with two more waiting in the wings.

Not wanting to watch more of what it is fighting come to fruition, the Save Siesta Key group went for it hardcore and pulled off in just five months the lofty goal of reaching a Sept. 1 application deadline set by the state for consideration for incorporation.

Had it not, it would have had to wait another full year for the Florida Legislature, which meets in January, to consider its case.

“Given all that’s going on here on the Key, we couldn’t afford to wait,” said board member Tracy Jackson, who called the speed of the group’s work “unprecedented” when speaking to members of the Siesta Key Association on Sept. 9.

Currently, Siesta Key is governed by Sarasota County. It is the largest barrier island in Florida that is not its own municipality.

If both houses in the Legislature support the incorporation team’s application, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off on it, a local springtime referendum vote would be held. A majority vote would result in Siesta Key becoming a town on Dec. 31, 2022.

 During that small five-month window of time, Save Siesta Key raised more than $90,000; collected about 2,000 petitions of support; held three public meetings and hosted several private ones with civic groups, the chamber of commerce, and condo associations; plus met with five elected officials.

Also, it hired a consultant to assemble a required feasibility study, another to write a town charter, and a third to lobby on Save Siesta Key’s behalf in Tallahassee.

On Sept. 30, a presentation of Save Siesta Key’s feasibility study was scheduled to be shared with state officials at the Sarasota County Administration Building. If the local delegation of state Sen. Joe Gruters and state Reps. Fiona McFarland, James Buchanan, Tommy Gregory, and William Robinson Jr. approved the plan, the Legislature (which convenes in January) would see it next.

A summary of the feasibility study can be found on its website, savesiestakey.org.

The group will also share it at a public meeting in the near future.

A slight change has been made regarding the study’s original findings: Previously determined at $479,000, the median assessed value of a Siesta Key home is actually $440, 602. Based upon the projected .25 mill ad valorem tax for a property owner in the proposed town, the average annual tax bill would be $97.65. That’s a 2% tax hike in order for Siesta Key to become its own town, the incorporation team says.

The study also shows that Siesta Key’s projected taxable property value is a robust $5.9 billion for fiscal year 2023. With property values here continuing to increase, tax rates would likely not need to greatly increase unless town leaders sought an increase in services, employees, or capital projects.

For now, the study indicates that employees would likely be limited to a town manager ($180,000), finance director ($130,000), town planner ($130,000), clerk ($80,000), and miscellaneous hourly employee ($50,000).

Legal and planning services would be outsourced, as would police protection. Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman has already pledged his willingness to provide the same services the Key currently receives.

‘The stars seemed to align’

So, what were the keys to success thus far for Save Siesta Key?

Jackson credits both determination and plenty of good fortune.

“There has been a lot of hard work. It certainly wasn’t effortless. But I will say the stars seemed to align for us at every turn,” Jackson said.

“For starters, our three most prominent local organizations — the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Condominium Council, and the Siesta Key Coalition — all gave us a platform to get our message out.

“Then there were the consultants. Each one we wanted to hire just happened to be available and interested in helping us. One said, ‘You need a charter? Let’s get it done.’ Another has lobbied up in Tallahassee for this type of thing before, and he also has the time in his schedule.

“Things truly feel like this was meant to be. It’s uncanny.”

Here on the Key, the response from the residents was equally encouraging, Jackson said. Online surveys showed plenty were fed up, and many backed it up by participating.

“We owe a lot to our neighborhood ambassadors. They really made a push for petitions and spread the word,” Jackson said. “A lot of this was very organic.”

And the hurdles?

“The biggest hurdle was the time crunch,” Jackson said. “Also, we weren’t sure what to expect from the elected officials. But as it turned out, they were all open-minded and made themselves available. We were elated. I think they recognized the situation.

“Really, the challenges we anticipated didn’t happen.”

The biggest hurdle, the group figured, would be push-back regarding the notion that becoming a town would mean a huge spike in taxes.

Once details of the feasibility study were made public, even that noise mostly dissipated.

“Seeing our study come back with just a quarter of a mill needed to do this was such a relief,” Jackson said. “People realized it hardly anything for a voice on land use, traffic, beautification — the things the community is concerned about. It’s a small price for being represented.

“In all, we were hit with more messages of hopefulness than people saying ‘This will never happen.’ And we wanted to make sure those on the fence to be in the know, and I think we’ve done that.”

Now, if the political delegation agrees that it’s a worthwhile pursuit, the waiting game begins.

A similar incorporation effort in the late ‘90s was spearheaded by John Davidson, who is also serving as chairman of this team. when the county made some promises to address his concerns, he stopped the pursuit. But not this time.

“All we’ve wanted from the beginning was to get this on the local ballot,” Jackson said. “That’s all we can ask for. It’s a community decision.”

Munroe steps down from team

In other news related to the incorporation effort, Rick Munroe on Sept. 9 informed his fellow board members that he’d be stepping down from the eight-person Save Siesta Key Board of Directors.

Munroe


His comment regarding his decision, which he described as “strictly personal,” is this:
”I am a working stiff and need to focus on my businesses right now as I am swamped. The board will be expanded soon with more local professionals stepping up and lending their expertise to the initiative.
”My role was always to launch the effort and navigate the political process. With the (state-mandated feasibility) study submitted, I can ease back — which was the plan from day one.”
Munroe owns both a consulting firm and a restaurant on Siesta Key and is the son-in-law of Save Siesta Key chairman John Davidson.
The remaining board members, for now, are Davidson, Tracy Jackson, the Hon. Harry Anand, Chuck Byrne, Lisa Choate, Stephen Lexow, and Tim Hensey.
Said Jackson of Munroe’s involvement with Save Siesta Key, “We are so grateful for his contribution. We wouldn’t be where we are without his help.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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