Upon my arrival in Lakewood Ranch last August, one of the most frequent comments I heard was our local government is too intricate and confusing. With the Community Development Districts, the homeowners associations, the Inter-District Authority, Town Hall and the Stewardship District in the mix, I understand why our system may seem daunting. However, perception is not always reality, and with a little communication, education and patience, I believe everyone will be an expert in no time.
One of the first steps to understanding the way Lakewood Ranch operates is attending our Resident Orientation class. The classes are held monthly and are highly informative. For about two hours, staff gives an overview of community history, special districts, homeowners associations, finances, budgets, operations and maintenance activities and more. This is a lot of information to digest, so I would even suggest taking the class multiple times. Both day and evening classes will be available to accommodate varying schedules. The next class will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 29, at Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. RSVP to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chances are pretty good that if you are reading this column, you have moved to this area from somewhere else. Therefore, your exposure and experiences with local government are varied yet contextual in that you probably know the basic premise of how it operates. Regardless of whether you lived in a town, city, village, parish, district, province, etc., you know you had local elected and appointed officials you could go to with questions or to simply observe the decisions being made about your hometown.
That is exactly how government works here, too. There are nuances with regard to the jurisdiction and responsibilities of each agency but, what I hope to accomplish in my tenure as executive director is to make access to your local government seamless.
Let’s start with special districts. Special districts have a long history in Florida and were utilized when we were only a territory. The first special-purpose district was created by the The Road, Highway, and Ferry Act of 1822 to manage the territory’s transportation network.
Here in Lakewood Ranch, you have five Community Development Districts and one Stewardship District. Your fire/rescue services are also provided by a special district — the East Manatee Fire Rescue District.
Special districts are not all that unique and do not have to be confusing. They are simply units of local special-purpose government. Unlike general-purpose governments created to provide general government services, special-purpose governments are created for a specific purpose. However, management of these districts is basically carried out under the same statutes that govern cities and counties.
One of the most important activities of a local government is the budget development process. February is when the Lakewood CDDs start working on the next fiscal year budgets. Workshops will begin this month, and we want your input. If you have a special request for the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1 through Sept. 30), send me an e-mail or stop by Town Hall to pick up a Budget Request Form as soon as possible. Remember: This is your local government, and public participation is key to a successful partnership.
Eva Rey is the executive director for Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.