By John Morton
Save Siesta Key, the group that is pushing for the incorporation of the island, isn’t messing around with its deadline.
“We’re getting the application to Tallahassee a couple days early, just to be safe,” board member Tracy Jackson said of the Sept. 1 deadline set by the Florida Legislature. It convenes in January, and if it approves of the request through a special act a local referendum would likely be held in the spring. A majority vote in favor at that point would result in Siesta Key becoming its own town on Dec. 31, 2022. Throughout its existence, the Key has been governed by Sarasota County.
Forming in late March, the incorporation team has fast-tracked its efforts to reach its lofty goal. Few applications have reached the state level in just five months, but that’s what is happening. A required feasibility study and charter creation is wrapping up, while 1,474 petitions of support have been solicited from residents, business owners, and property owners. Also, $87,919 has been raised (as of Aug. 25).
So eager to reach its deadline and avoid another year of waiting, Save Siesta Key even postponed its Aug. 18 public meeting in which consultant Bill Underwood was scheduled to reveal the findings of the feasibility study, instead allowing him to focus on his task. He will do so in the near future, when more residents are on the Key, Jackson said.
The final piece of the puzzle was the hiring of Tallahassee-based attorney Jon Moyle to serve as a lobbyist during the state proceedings.
“As a long-time Tallahassee resident who has represented many clients before the Legislature over the years, I can be the ‘boots on the ground’ to advocate and closely monitor the incorporation issue as it moves through the legislative process during the 2022 regular legislative session,” Moyle said.
Previously, he assisted the community of Panacea to successfully pass legislation to enable that coastal community to conduct a vote on municipal incorporation. He also assisted the northwest Florida communities of Seaside, Grayton Beach, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach as they collectively explored whether to pursue incorporation of the combined area.
All the elected state officials representing Siesta Key in the House and Senate have been contacted in person by the incorporation team. They are Fiona McFarland, Tommy Gregory, James Buchanan, Will Robinson Jr., and Joe Gruters. Save Siesta Key has reported that McFarland has agreed to sponsor its effort.
“I will work with the board in my role as Siesta Key’s state representative as they follow the process established by Florida law to become a city,” McFarland said.
Meanwhile, in keeping with its “government lite” approach in which a municipality handles its own land-use and code-enforcement issues but outsources many services, such as police protection, Save Siesta Key leaders at their July 22 public meeting announced that the feasibility study indicated that only a .25 millage levy will be required. They called it a “bare-bones” number and will support between six to eight employees, including a town manager and town clerk.
For a Siesta Key property valued at $479,000, which is the median assessed value for the Key, the local tax bill would be $119.75 per year. The owner of a $1 million home would pay $250 annually.
Residents would still pay taxes to Sarasota County, as well.
Millage, or mill rate, is a term some states and localities use to calculate property tax liability.
A mill is one one-thousandth of a dollar, and in property tax terms is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.
With property values continuing to rise on Siesta Key, incorporation group leaders said they are optimistic that mill rates won’t be needed to be raised, unless by local choice for the desire to fund projects and/or increase services.