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East County Wednesday, May. 12, 2010 5 years ago

THE GREAT DEBATE: New group questions incorporation

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — A group of Lakewood Ranch residents now are taking their fight against incorporation to the public arena.

After more than two months of preparation, the newly sanctioned Friends of Lakewood Ranch club has come forward as a formal voice opposing the idea.

The group does not consider itself an anti-incorporation organization because its overall focus is on raising awareness on governance issues, however it is honing in on incorporation to start.

Members argue that the financial feasibility study by Fishkind & Associates released last week is built on “a number of unsubstantiated and unsupportable assumptions,” and should be viewed as a reason not to incorporate. Furthermore, there may be a plethora of unintended and costly consequences should Lakewood Ranch incorporate prematurely, members say.

“Each of us is against incorporation and not all for the same reasons,” said Summerfield resident Gary Berns, the group’s elected spokesperson. “Some are against incorporation, period. Some are against incorporation, now.

“The group sees the report as actually worthless, in that it does not in any way address what would happen if any single one of (Fishkind’s) assumptions are not correct,” he said.

For example, the group cites a state law requiring Florida cities to have an average density of at least 1.5 people per acre or “have extraordinary conditions requiring the establishment of a municipal corporation with less density.” However, the Fishkind study itself recognizes that Lakewood Ranch will not meet the required density until the Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District is built out — a feat that is still decades away from fruition. Group members want to know on what basis the Legislature should allow Lakewood Ranch to become a city prematurely — a question not addressed in the report, they say.

The group also questions the credibility of Hank Fishkind of Fishkind & Associates, the economist tasked with conducting the study, as well as some portions of the city charter as proposed by the Incorporation Study Committee.

“We think they are proceeding with a very basic false assumption — that the governing system is broken,” Berns said. “We don’t think the system is broken. We now have local control. If you live in CDD 1, (your issue) is going to go in front of five (elected) people who care about your area. This will not necessarily be true as a city.”

As proposed, the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum’s Incorporation Study Committee has recommended the city council would comprise five members — two at-large and three area-specific members. However, all council positions would be determined by a citywide vote to create a stronger sense of community.

The Friends of Lakewood Ranch group believes such a system will be detrimental to residents for several reasons. First, the setup would take government further from the people by making it less localized. Second, it would not adequately account for the varying socio-economic levels within Lakewood Ranch and the associated expectations and costs for levels of service, Berns said.

Although Incorporation Study Committee members have said such nuances will be taken care of through the existing CDD budgeting process, members of Friends of Lakewood Ranch still have concerns that lower socio-economic areas of the Ranch will end up paying for more services than they need or desire.

Berns said the group has many other concerns and is continuing to research other potential issues. The group will hold a public forum to educate Lakewood Ranch residents about potential consequences of incorporation at a meeting at 7 p.m., June 9 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

Friends of Lakewood Ranch Forum
WHEN: 7 p.m., June 9
WHERE: Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
INFO: [email protected]

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