LAKEWOOD RANCH — After months of sorting through financial figures and other data, members of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum Incorporation Study Committee have concluded it is feasible for Lakewood Ranch to become its own city.
The organization had hired economist Henry “Hank” Fishkind, of Naples-based Fishkind and Associations, more than a year ago to determine whether incorporation of Lakewood Ranch would be realistic. With Fishkind’s original report in hand, committee members have spent the last several months reviewing the information to determine whether they agreed with Fishkind’s analysis and, then, to decide to present their findings, if favorable, to residents.
“We wanted to understand all the numbers and the assumptions,” Civic Action Forum Vice President Jo Anne Dain said. “We’re finally at a point we know it’s feasible and sustainable to incorporate.”
Fishkind’s findings indicate Lakewood Ranch can incorporate without increasing taxes for residents beyond what currently exists. Existing state-funded programs, as well as better bargaining power in contract negotiations will help keep costs to residents low, Forum President Keith Davey said.
Committee members plan to meet with Community Development District supervisors, homeowners association boards, neighborhood committee chairmen and voting members to present their findings and a proposed city charter and get feedback later this month.
They also will be deciding whether to recommend incorporating Lakewood Ranch as it exists today, which would allow for the annexation of parcels developed in the future, or whether it will incorporate all of Lakewood Ranch, including land that will be developed at a later date, Davey said.
The discussion will take a more public note with a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, for residents who wish to learn more about incorporation.
“We’re looking for the community to work together to come up with a proposal that benefits the majority of residents,” Davey said. “A lot of the discussion is going to be around the charter. We thought now would be a good time to start having these meetings with residents.”
Residents are being encouraged to visit the Civic Action Forum’s Web site on Digital Village, www.lwrdv.com, before the meeting so they can come in more educated about the process and ready for discussion. Information, including frequently asked questions, a draft of the proposed charter and other documents are available by typing “Incorp” into the site’s search box. No log-in is required to view the materials.
The charter being proposed to residents includes a council-manager style government that includes the election of five council members — three representing specific geographic areas and two at-large seats.
One of those five council members would be selected by fellow council members to serve as mayor.
CDDs would become dependent districts of the city, which would allow them to retain their budgets and ability to fund special projects. For example, the Country Club gates would continue to be paid for by Country Club residents, rather than by Lakewood Ranch residents as a whole.
Although discussions of incorporation are starting, incorporation of Lakewood Ranch is not definite. A poll of residents would determine whether the concept of incorporation should move toward reality, Davey said.
If residents support the idea, a special act — the combination of the feasibility study and proposed charter — would be submitted to the Legislature for review. If approved by the state, incorporation of Lakewood Ranch would then have to be approved by Lakewood Ranch residents through a public vote.
Residents can view incorporation-related documents by visiting www.lwrdv.com and typing “Incorp” into the search box. To comment, e-mail [email protected]. A member of the Incorporation Study Committee will compile comments and answer questions.
A meeting about incorporation for residents will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].