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East County Wednesday, Jun. 2, 2010 7 years ago

Fishkind presentation earns mixed reviews

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Economist Dr. Hank Fishkind is standing behind his assessment that the incorporation of Lakewood Ranch would be both feasible and sustainable without raising existing taxes to Manatee County residents.

Fishkind formally presented his analysis during a forum hosted by the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum’s Incorporation Study Committee May 25 at The Polo Grill and Bar Fête Ballroom.

About 300 Lakewood Ranch residents attended, including several members of the newly formed Friends of Lakewood Ranch — a group currently opposing incorporation.

About 20 residents stepped forward to ask pointed questions about Fishkind’s analysis and challenged his study-related assumptions, calculations and even his character.

“This is an irrevocable act that we are contemplating,” Greenbrook resident Michael Spring said. “We need to evaluate the risk involved.”

At the request of residents, Fishkind agreed to release the calculations he used for his assessment, which will be posted on the Incorporation Study Committee’s website once they are received.

Several resident concerns seemed to hinge upon Fishkind’s construction and population projections.

 “The results aren’t very sensitive to the trajectory of growth,” Fishkind said. “Will there be 174 houses built in 2011. Probably not. My forecasts have never been that good in 35 years.

“The volume and composition of future growth does not alter the conclusion that the incorporation plan is economically feasible,” he said in a follow-up interview. “Essentially, all of the projected uses more than pay their own way given the values expected and that historically occurred in Lakewood Ranch.”

Fishkind said his fiscal impact analysis model, called FIAM, has been proven effective in numerous situations, including when it was subject to long-term modeling in Lee County and predicted correctly in every situation.

Fishkind also said residents could be “reasonably assured” — based on history — that the Legislature would approve a requested waiver, which would be necessary for the future city to qualify in state revenue-sharing programs.

Fishkind also divulged to residents he has conducted six other feasibility studies — of which he has recommended incorporation for four and against incorporation for two. 

Residents offered mixed reviews of the presentation.

“His projections appear to be overly optimistic,” resident Steve Edwards said. “And Dr. Fishkind has had a business relationship with (Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch) for many years, so this calls into question his impartiality.

“Since SMR and Neal Communities paid two-thirds of the cost of the incorporation study, some people doubt their claimed ‘neutrality’ on this issue,” he said.”

Orchid Island resident John Brown shared similar sentiments.

“This man would make a very good car salesman,” Brown said. “Everything’s positive. Everything’s rosy.”

However, Miramar resident Tony Olender, who used to do forecast modeling as part of his work, said he believed Fishkind’s assessment was appropriate.

“It confirmed my view that it could be good for all of Lakewood Ranch to get more control and share money from the county and the state,” he said.

Bobbie Bohmer, another supporter of incorporation, agreed.

“I think some of the questions were legitimate and some of them were raised by people who fail to see the big picture,” Bohmer said. “I think (incorporation) will benefit the community and the people living here and make it a more desirable place to live short and long term.”

Helen Sosso, CEO of Lakewood Ranch Realty and Palm Real Estate Solutions, said Lakewood Ranch is “off the chart” with home sales and she believed Fishkind’s projections to be conservative.

“I think everyone has to keep focused on how are we going to be able to spend the monies we have in tax revenue and does it increase taxes in Lakewood Ranch?” she said. “I think the projections are right on.”

Because the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum does not take advocacy positions, five members of the Incorporation Study Committee now have formed the LWR Community Coalition for that purpose. Members are Jo Anne Dain, Keith Davey, Gordon Norquay, Tom Thomaides and Richard Williams.

The group now will begin an educational campaign, meeting with smaller groups of people who wish to understand the methodologies used by Fishkind in his assessment. It also will publish more information on the website and begin serious public discussions of the proposed charter, among other activities.

Residents interested in participating or joining the Community Coalition’s e-mail list for updates can contact Gordon Norquay at [email protected] or call 751-1227.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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