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East County Wednesday, May. 12, 2010 7 years ago

THE GREAT DEBATE: Fishkind says Lakewood incorporation feasible

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — A study released to the public May 7 indicates the incorporation of Lakewood Ranch is possible without any new taxes for Manatee County residents.

Furthermore, the city of Lakewood Ranch would generate a net revenue of more than $1.5 million in its first year alone.

“The bottom line is incorporation is feasible now, and it is sustainable moving forward,” said Tom Thomaides, chairman of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum Incorporation Study Committee.

Economist Hank Fishkind, who conducted the report, will discuss the assumptions and calculations that demonstrate incorporation is feasible, as suggested, during a forum hosted by the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum at 7 p.m., May 25, at The Polo Grill and Bar.

Committee members hope residents will read the study and come to the presentation. Having studied the report, members said they are confident the calculations used in Fishkind’s report are reliable.

For example, revenue projections are based on existing taxes, which currently are being levied, but would come directly to Lakewood Ranch if it were a city and assume a 3% annual rate of inflation. For expenses, items such as landscaping, debt service, operations and security are based on current CDD assessments with annual increases based on population growth.

“Using an intentionally conservative approach for estimating revenues and expenses — assume low estimates for revenues and high estimates for expenses — a significant net surplus of 15-19% of total revenue is projected each year,” Thomaides said. “This surplus, which is projected to total approximately $37 million over 10 years, could be used to build reserves, improve services, reduce taxes or support increased economic development.”

With an estimated 15,000 residents, Lakewood today is larger than many cities in Florida and is second only to Bradenton when compared to the six municipalities within Manatee.

“Future growth and development of Lakewood Ranch is inevitable,” Thomaides said. “It’s going to happen. Becoming a city provides residents with the opportunity to have a much more active voice in how that growth and development occurs. That’s really a key point.”

Committee members noted several other key points of the study. Fishkind’s report indicates it is possible to incorporate without adding new taxes for Manatee residents and without increasing existing taxes any more than they would increase in the current environment.

Sarasota residents and businesses within the city’s borders, however, potentially could see a tax increase of .6109 mills — the equivalent of the Manatee unincorporated MTSU, a tax not currently levied in Sarasota County. Committee members said that tax could be offset with a reduction of other taxes or fees.

The existing CDDs also provide a baseline of revenue for the city, including a non ad valorem assessment of about $9.6 million per year, which includes a $7.9 million operations budget and $1.7 million for debt service.

The city also would qualify for state revenue sharing through options such as the local government half-cent sales tax, the municipal revenue sharing program and the local option fuel tax. Together, those three taxes would generate an estimated $2.2 million if Lakewood Ranch were to incorporate in 2011.

And because the CDD structure would remain at least until bonds are paid off, individual CDDs will be able to adopt higher levels of service than the city without passing off the added expense to other areas.

After two years of researching and working with Fishkind on the study, incorporation study committee members are so convinced of their findings they will disband as the incorporation study committee to become an advocacy group for incorporation, called the Community Coalition, after the public presentation May 25.

From that point on, the coalition will lead efforts to educate the public about the impacts of incorporation.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

Incorporation Forum
WHEN: 7 p.m., May 25
WHERE: The Polo Grill and Bar, 10670 Boardwalk Loop

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