LAKEWOOD RANCH — A group of Lakewood Ranch residents opposing incorporation brought their concerns to the public spotlight last week, challenging a report that incorporation is both feasible and sustainable.
The Friends of Lakewood Ranch presented its opposition at a public meeting June 9. At the meeting, the group argued the feat is too risky at the present time and that the feasibility study used to determine Lakewood Ranch is feasible and sustainable is incomplete, flawed and lacks transparency, among other concerns. About 200 people piled into Lakewood Ranch Town Hall for the event.
“All of us believe that incorporation is not right for Lakewood Ranch now,” said member Gary Berns, who led the 45-minute presentation.
During the presentation, Berns asked attendees to consider who really would benefit from the incorporation of Lakewood Ranch, especially considering trash pickup and recycling would not change under incorporation and that Lakewood Ranch already has a low crime rate and prompt, satisfactory emergency and fire services.
“This just does not seem like the time we should go into a new financially risky time,” he said. “Now is just not right.”
Group members said they are ready to prove numbers that said if revenues are reduced by 5% or 10% and expenditures are increased by the same, according to Fishkind’s assessment, it would have a net fiscal impact of -$7.8 million and -$30.7 million, respectively.
Berns also said the feasibility study conducted by economist Hank Fishkind is not transparent, lacks critical information such as historic data and offers unrealistic projections such as fines and forfeitures accounting for one-third of the city’s net revenue within about 10 years.
Friends of Lakewood Ranch members also feel the proposed city charter’s governance structure would result in a loss of local control, possibly resulting in residents paying for services they don’t want or in other communities not receiving their desired services.
Berns also noted the new city would not have the benefit of funds collected previously from Lakewood Ranch residents for the repaving of roads and other maintenance issues, among other items.
“I think they started an honest debate,” said Jo Anne Dain, leader of the Community Coalition and one of people who oversaw work on the feasibility study and development of the proposed city charter. “I think our organizations share the same goal, and I hope we can work together for the long-term benefit of Lakewood Ranch.”
Country Club member Linda Smith, who attended a presentation on the feasibility study by Fishkind, said she came with an open mind.
“This was very useful,” Smith said. “It has made me swing that way. I’m not saying that’s a final decision.
“One of the questions to myself is should it be now?” she asked. “I’m recognizing the problems we have.”
Summerfield resident David Horrocks said he’s tried to stay neutral on the idea of incorporation, but last week’s presentation may have pushed him out of his balancing act as well.
“Now I’m convinced,” he said. “I’m leaning (against it).”
Horrocks said he believes incorporation will happen eventually. But for now, he’s concerned with taxes and funding for roads, which have begun to deteriorate in sections of Lakewood Ranch, as well as some provisions in the charter.
Greenbrook resident Will Wenger said he had already decided against incorporation before coming to the meeting but said the presentation cemented his feelings.
“It was a pretty thorough presentation,” he said. “It just enforced what I had already thought. I see no reason to change what we already have. It works well for us, and I think it should stay that way.”
After the presentation, members of the Community Coalition, the group advocating for incorporation, said Friends members had misinterpreted some of the information in the feasibility study and some information presented was inaccurate. The group plans to respond to questions and concerns raised at the meeting.
“It’s extremely important residents get a complete picture and an accurate picture of what’s involved in incorporation,” Incorporation Study Committee Chairman Tom Thomaides said.
Dain also noted the city charter is just a draft and the Community Coalition is looking for feedback from residents so it can make any changes the community feels necessary.
“The next step is to get community input,” she said. “If there are flaws, we can fix them.
“Everyone who bought a home in Lakewood Ranch bought into Fishkind’s economic projections,” she said. “He worked with the developer from the beginning to create this highly successful development. Incorporation doest happen overnight. It often takes a community two or three years before they are ready for a referendum — plenty of time for a reality check. None of us wants to incorporate if it would not be to our financial benefit and in the best interests of Lakewood Ranch.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
To view the presentation from the June 9 meeting or other information, visit www.lwrdv.com/friends.