Longboat and Sarasota County officials to meet.
When the Longboat Key Town Commissioners sit down with Sarasota County Commissioner on Oct. 24, the challenge of the town sitting in two counties will likely dominate much of the discussion.
“The purpose of the meeting is for elected officials from both jurisdictions to meet and discuss common points of interest,” said Town Manager Tom Harmer, who was the top administrator in Sarasota County.
The idea of moving Longboat completely into Sarasota County or Manatee County has been brought up numerous times since 2017 when former Town Manager Dave Bullock raised the possibility. The majority of Longboat residents – about 65% - live in Sarasota County.
The town is expected to hold a non-binding straw poll for residents sometime after the March election. If most Longboat voters approve of the idea, then the town would further pursue the matter. The state Legislature is ultimately responsible for moving a county’s borders.
The proposal grew from an understanding that, generally speaking, Longboat residents pay lower tax rates on the Sarasota side of the border than the Manatee side. In an analysis done in the summer of 2017, Longboat's Sarasota property owners would pay about $6,123 on a taxable property value of $500,000; Manatee residents would pay about $6,930 on the same property. There is no real difference in services, officials have said.
Beyond the taxes, the two-county arrangement complicates elections, disaster assessments and other matters.
Besides the Longboat and Sarasota County commissions and their attorneys, the meeting will include both municipal managers, the County Clerk and the City Clerk, as well as any staff who will be assisting in any presentations, Harmer said.
Longboat officials will also update Sarasota commissioners on the planned Longboat Key Arts, Culture and Education Center, which will be constructed adjacent to Town Hall on property that includes the former Amore Restaurant site. The project, a joint venture with the Ringling College of Art and Design, will include a theater, classroom space, mechanical and technology rooms.
Ringling is in the process of raising $18 million to construct the project, which is schooled to be under construction by the second quarter of 2022, with occupancy slated for 2023.
In the meantime, town officials plan to construct an open space to serve as a venue for gatherings, concerts and other public events on the site of the future arts center. Longboat Key earlier this year was the recipient of $400,000 from the county, which it will use to demolish the Amore building and prepare the site for its interim use.
Other meeting agenda items include:
- The Florida Department of Transportation’s Barrier Island Traffic Study Recommendations. The study, slated for completion in Spring 2019, looks at traffic – both motorized and non-motorized - issues on the barrier islands and possible solutions.
- Legacy Trail update. Voters will decide in November whether to pay up to $65 million to extend the Legacy Trail into the north county area.
- Sarasota County Area Transit. As part of budget cuts, the county proposed eliminating Longboat Key's only fixed-route bus service. In July, Sarasota commissioners voted unanimously to solicit bids from companies that could perhaps resume the route, which is popular with island workers. It is possible the bus service could be operated by a private company by year end.
- Red tide and beach nourishment. Both Sarasota County and Longboat have spent thousands of dollars cleaning beaches of dead sea life. It is still not known when the algae bloom will disperse.
Harmer said town commissioners will have their annual meeting with Manatee County commissioners to discuss mutual topics of interest in late February.