The impact of incorporation on Lakewood Ranch residents is complex and difficult to forecast. However, it’s not helpful for residents to be continuously misled about two key aspects — the future financial impact and better local control.
One week ago in this space, R.N. Williams wrote an article that stated Lakewood Ranch residents would be fools not to incorporate as they would (1) be making a gift to the rest of Manatee County of millions of dollars that was rightfully theirs and (2) benefit from increased responsiveness from local government. For his millions-of-dollars conclusion, he relied on a Feasibility Study by Fishkind and Associates. Unfortunately, the study has three strikes against it.
Strike One: State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said of a Fishkind Study for Casey Key that, “I thought his report was a template that could have fit anywhere. It was beyond optimistic; it was unrealistic.” That conclusion applies to the Ranch study, which is almost identical in language, methodology and approach to data.
Strike Two: The Florida Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations analyzed the same study and made an even harsher judgment. It concluded “the information contained in the study is insufficient and precludes a comprehensive review to determine whether the proposed incorporation would meet state standards for municipal incorporation.” Williams’ article also leaves out any discussion of the expenses the proposed city would have to cover.
This is not surprising because the Ranch study suffers from another flaw the LCIR found: It does not provide any justification for the service cost figures — or even if there are any willing providers.
Strike Three: An expert, with more than three decades of experience in the methodology critical to developing the Fishkind conclusion, echoed the LCIR judgment and said “no valid conclusions about the feasibility of incorporation of Lakewood Ranch can be based on the Fishkind study.”
Residents will still pay 96% of their county taxes after incorporation while letting the county off the hook for infrastructure repairs with the new city collecting the other 4% … thus no tax savings for anyone. None of the “extra” revenue described by Williams is guaranteed, and with the current state government cutting expenses, it is far more likely that past shared tax revenue to cities will be reduced and other previously state-subsidized program costs and unfunded mandates will be pushed down.
If there is any additional revenue generated by the proposed city, none of it will go to improving our schools, fire service, libraries or emergency medical system because those are all county expenses. We will reap no benefits because Lakewood Ranch, as we know it, is almost fully built. Any surplus will be used for infrastructure in undeveloped areas.
Williams said one benefit is that instead of being governed by a remote county government, a smaller city will have “local folks taking care of local problems.” Unfortunately, the incorporators’ efforts will achieve exactly the opposite! We already have CDDs that provide services on a “first name basis — close, personal, and responsive.” The incorporators are going to terminate those CDDs because they need our existing revenues to form a city as well as to obtain a Legislative waiver to qualify for those “shared tax revenues.”
There’s no “pot of gold” by incorporating.
Bob Hendel, a member of the Friends of Lakewood Ranch, has lived in the Ranch for more than three years.
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