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East County Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 7 years ago


by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

For a PDF of this article, click here.

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum is bringing discussions of whether Lakewood Ranch should become its own city — and if so, how to structure it — to the public spotlight.

A public meeting for residents about incorporation and its impacts will be held at 7 p.m., Feb. 24, at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

“We want people to understand what incorporation will do,” Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum President Keith Davey said. “(Incorporation) is feasible. It’s sustainable, and it will not create any new taxes nor increase existing taxes unless the residents want new or increased services.”

Residents should visit the Civic Action Forum’s Web site, for more details and to review documents, including a complete list of frequently asked questions, prior to next week’s meeting.

“A lot of the questions they may have are already documented,” Davey said. “We’d be happy to elaborate on them, but it’s a better use of everybody’s time if they are familiar with those questions (when they come).”

The current governance structure of Lakewood Ranch includes five community development districts each with five supervisors who make financial decisions on behalf of their district. A community manager handles day-to-day operations of the CDDs.

Under the proposed city charter, the city would have a council-manager form of government, which means a popularly elected council would make policy decisions and day-to-day operations would be handled by a professional manager.

The city would be governed by a city council of five members. The city would be divided into three districts, which would be unrelated to existing CDD boundaries but would include a mix of residential, commercial and agricultural areas with roughly equal numbers of voters. Three members would have to reside in those districts — one representing each — and the remaining two could live in any district and be considered at-large members. Every council member would be elected by a citywide vote to promote a citywide view of Lakewood Ranch.

The mayor of the city would be elected by his or her peers on the board and would sit on the city counsel as a voting member to ensure the elected leader will work well with the entire council.

There are no term limits.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation?
The potential key benefits of incorporation include allowing taxing and spending decisions to be made at the local level rather than by the county government. Decisions about land use, water resources, and public services are also made by the city.

One disadvantage voiced by some people is the potential for increased costs. However, it is incorrect to automatically assume that taxes will increase. It depends on the scope of services and costs desired by the residents.

Would adding a city government and all its related expenses increase taxes?
No. Although it is not a legislative requirement, the State Legislature would prefer to not sponsor an incorporation bill that increases taxes. The feasibility study shows sufficient revenue without increasing taxes to run the city while maintaining sufficient reserves.

Would city government cost more than remaining as an unincorporated entity?
Lakewood Ranch residents currently pay more into county government via property taxes, sales taxes and special service taxes than we receive back into the community in the form of services and infrastructure. Lakewood Ranch is a “donor” community.  It is expected that the city can provide better services for the same tax dollars.

Does Lakewood Ranch have enough residents to become a city?
Yes. As of 2005, the 412 cities and towns in Florida had a median population of 5,600 people, and 60% of them have 10,000 or fewer residents. Lakewood Ranch has about 15,000 residents.

How do city and county leaders from Manatee and Sarasota feel about potential incorporation?
No stated opposition has been raised by any county leader.

Have community leaders from River Club, Braden Woods, Rosedale, Heritage Harbor and other communities been consulted?
No. The consolidation of the five CDDs and commonality of interest in the core area and the Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District has been the focus. The models of Weston and Palm Coast have been followed in “growing” the CDDs into an incorporated city. Annexation of any area at a later date is not limited by the draft charter.

If incorporated, may the city provide for public schools? 
No municipality in Florida may provide for schools. Manatee County Public Schools will continue to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over schools. 

If incorporated, may the city provide for public libraries? 
No statute limits the power of a city to provide for a library.  If incorporated, the city council could consider construction of a library or partner with the county for such a facility.

Numbers provided by the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office indicate totals of ad valorem taxes due on each parcel/account within Manatee County with no detailed analysis with respect to municipalities and independent taxing districts.

• 2009 total ad valorem due from Lakewood Ranch CDD districts: $31,254,399.68
• 2009 county total ad valorem due (includes municipalities): $481,211,798.56
• Lakewood Ranch’s percentage of entire ad valorem tax roll: 6.49%

If incorporation occurs, CDDs would become dependent districts of the city. The council would assume policy and governance of the CDDs, collect non ad valorem taxes and assume all responsibility of debts of the CDDs and tasks such as maintaining landscaping. The city and CDDs would have an interlocal agreement specifying those and other details.

A mechanism would be in place to keep residents of one CDD from paying for items specific to another CDD. For example, residents of Greenbrook would not have to pay for the upkeep of the gate to the Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club, just as it is set up today.

The proposed boundaries of incorporation include all the existing community development districts, including the Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District, which includes Country Club East and The Lake Club as well as areas of Lakewood Ranch that have been planned but are not yet developed. It also includes commercial areas such as Main Street, Market Square and the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park in Sarasota County.

There are pockets within Lakewood Ranch’s main boundaries that are privately owned, such as some properties along Lorraine Road. Those parcels also would be included in the incorporation.

Neighboring communities such as River Club, Mill Creek and Braden Woods will not be incorporated.

Under the proposed charter, Lakewood Ranch would be set up as a “contract city.” Services such as waste management and law enforcement would continue to be provided by the county through contracts. Incorporation study committee members believe costs would be equal to or less than existing rates.

Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum President Keith Davey said the forum is moving forward with discussions about incorporation now because it has completed its proposed city charter and the company it hired to conduct a feasibility study, Fishkind & Associates, has completed a preliminary financial analysis that indicates it feasible and sustainable to incorporate.

“We want to hear from all the residents,” Davey said. “What has been published is the proposed charter. The community needs to talk about what, if any, changes are needed in the proposed charter. We need residents to provide their input into the process.”

What’s next?
The Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum has reserved salons at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall for future meetings. Depending on feedback from residents on Feb. 24, the group may hold more communitywide forums or it may opt to hold meetings by village.

“It depends,” Davey said. “We’re trying to learn from each meeting.”

The final draft of Fishkind’s feasibility study will be completed no later than April, at which time numbers in the analysis will become public.

Davey said the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum, which is not pro or against incorporation, will carry the issue through the finalization of the city charter. After that, a group advocating for the city would have to step in to carry it through the legislative process.


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