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East County Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2011 6 years ago

MY VIEW: Incorporation would keep taxes in LWR

by: R.N. Williams

The incorporation of Florida cities was proliferate in the mid 1990s.

In the Spring 1997 publication of Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, the authors of an article entitled “The Politics of Incorporation in South Florida” stated:

“Who could refuse the promise of decreased taxes and increased services? Many unincorporated areas of Florida are realizing that by incorporating they can reduce their taxes, localize, and increase the responsiveness and services of their local governments. Incorporation conjures images of Mayberry — local folks taking care of local problems. It is government on a first-name basis — close, personal, and responsive. However, like all good things, incorporation comes at a price…Most of the incorporating municipalities are wealthier areas that have long subsidized poorer regions of their respective counties.

Logically, with affluent unincorporated communities increasingly exercising the tempting option of self-governance, counties will be forced to find new sources of funding to maintain services at existing levels for the poorer unincorporated regions.”

The failure to incorporate will continue the progressive concept of economic redistribution that some espouse. Those who agree with this philosophy should oppose incorporation. They should be pleased that Lakewood Ranch citizens’ tax dollars are underwriting other cities in Florida by not incorporating since incorporated cities can claim municipal revenue sharing. Such revenue is from statutory funds derived from many state taxes and reserved only for “cities” in Florida. 

They should be proud that the $11 million share of the fuel taxes reserved for a city of Lakewood Ranch’s size for the next 10 years will be paid to Manatee County rather than an incorporated Lakewood Ranch. The county will decide upon the priorities and needs of said funds on a countywide basis. The highway infrastructure in other parts of the county is more deteriorated than Lakewood Ranch and funds will be allocated on a need basis by the County Commission (all of whom live west of I-75), not on a fair apportionment formula.

Those progressives here in Lakewood Ranch should be gratified to hear that Lakewood Ranch generated $31,735,471 in taxes to Manatee County in 2009 and received only $22,421,143 in services, a 30% redistribution. On the Sarasota County side, the redistribution of Lakewood Ranch generated revenue to the rest of that county was 55%. The breakdown of revenues and services is found on pages 21 to 25 of the Lakewood Ranch Incorporation Feasibility Study.

Affluent cites such as Weston, Wellington, Bonita Springs and Marco Island successfully incorporated in the 1990s in order to take advantage of revenue sharing and tax revenues already in place but distributed to the state and the counties. By incorporating, the funds are spent locally raising the quality of life of the citizens who pay the taxes.

As a bonus, the dire predictions of loss of revenue to the counties will not substantially interrupt present services since the draft Lakewood Ranch Charter calls for continuation of county services such as sheriff, library, water and sewer and solid waste as well as the fire district.

R.N. Williams is pro bono counsel for the Lakewood Ranch Incorporation Study Group. He was a city attorney in Illinois and Ohio for 40 years and adjunct professor at Northwestern University and the University of Florida for 30 of those years. He has lived in Lakewood Ranch since 1998.

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