Save Siesta Key now eyes 2025 legislative session for another attempt
By John Morton
Concluding that the political climate in Tallahassee is far from conducive for its effort for incorporation, Save Siesta Key announced on July 15 that it would be putting its mission on hold. That means it will be bypassing the Sept. 1 deadline for an incorporation application that would have been its third.
After the next round of state elections are complete next year, the group feel its chances are better in the 2025 legislative sessions – where the House, Senate and governor must vote to approve incorporation. Again, the application deadline would be Sept. 1 — this time in 2024.
The decision comes on the heels of two failures – the first in January of 2022 when the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation voted against an incorporation bill advancing to the Florida Legislature, and the second coming this year in May when, despite being approved by the local delegation, a required committee in Tallahassee literally killed the bill (House Bill 923) by ignoring it.
The incorporation group, which is calling its decision “a strategic pause,” reports that its lobbyists have subsequently continued to have conversations with House leadership and “have been informed of ongoing concerns over the creation of new taxing authorities and additional layers of government.”
Said Tim Hensey, chairman of Save Siesta Key, “Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” adding that 42% of the registered voters on Siesta Key participated in a 2022 straw ballot and 87% of those responding favored incorporation “yet the current House leadership does not give us a path to pass a bill in 2024.
“House Bill 923 never asked the Legislature to create the town of Siesta Key or increase taxes for the island’s residents. Rather, House Bill 923 would have allowed the residents of Siesta Key to vote and decide for themselves.
“Given the straw poll, it is logical to conclude the vast majority of Siesta Key residents think an additional one-half mil is a reasonable additional tax to have more of a voice in the governance of our island.”
According to Hensey, members of the House noted their primary concern is that the initial proposed millage of .5 could increase over time.
“That is a fair concern for many municipalities in Florida but we think Siesta Key, with its projected total taxable property value of roughly $8.78 billion in 2024, is different,” Hensey said.
According to Save Siesta Key, the required feasibility study it submitted to the legislature concluded the revenue derived from ad valorem taxes and other sources would cover all anticipated operating costs, discretionary additional law enforcement, and public works, with a reserve of $1.2 million growing to more than $2.8 million in five years.
Save Siesta Key also reports that it will continue to work with state Rep. Danny Perez, the House speaker designate for 2024-2026, and his leadership team in an effort to secure approval during the 2025 session – assuming Perez is re-elected next year.
State Rep. Michael Grant, a member of the local delegation, cast a decisive vote this year in favor of the incorporation bill going to Tallahassee provided a final local referendum would be held during a presidential election – which would have been in November of 2024.
When Hensey was asked if he fears his group may now have to wait until November of 2028 for such a possible vote, he said “Not really. Grant has said previously that he will not seek re-election in 2024. So, even more to the point, we don’t really know what individuals will comprise the Sarasota County local delegation in late 2024/early 2025. We certainly hope our bill sponsor (state Rep. Fiona McFarland) keeps her seat.”
Save Siesta Key was created as a non-profit entity in March of 2021 and has raised roughly $265,000 since its inception, with all of it spent. Its board of directors consists of island residents Hensey, Tracy Jackson, John Davidson, Steve Lexow, Jodie Tierney, and Gary Rodkin.