If residents want to incorporate Siesta Key to create a new local government, the change would come at a cost to homeowners.
Should Siesta Key become its own municipality, homeowners can expect an average $120 increase to their annual property tax bill.
Leaders of Save Siesta Key, a grassroots effort started to incorporate the barrier island, said that if Siesta Key become its own town, a new levy of .25 mills would be required to support it.
After the group funded a financial feasibility study conducted by consultant William Underwood, it found the .25 millage rate would support a “government-lite” model, representative Tracy Jackson said.
“We looked at a lot of numbers, but this was the absolute bare bones minimum we could do this,” Jackson said.
The median assessed property value for Siesta Key is $479,000. One mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of taxable value. This means that with a .25 millage rate, the average homeowner can expect to pay $119.75 in taxes annually.
In addition to their contribution toward the new municipal government, property owners would still pay additional taxes to Sarasota County. If the prospective Siesta Key millage rate were in place, homeowners would experience a 2% tax increase.
Leaders argue the benefits outweigh the additional cost.
“People often ask, ‘What’s the return on investment?’” Jackson said. “A community that gets to decide what to prioritize. A community that has a voice on how intergovernmental services work. A community that has more control over zoning and development. … The community could control its own destiny.”
Under the government-lite model, elected leaders would work on a volunteer basis. Four to eight leaders would be elected to run the town’s government.
The barrier island would retain its emergency services and water and sewer systems by contracting with Sarasota County.
Lawyer Marsha Segal-George, who was involved with the Fort Myers Beach incorporation effort, explained at a July 22 meeting that government-lite would allow residents to have greater influence regarding issues directly affecting Siesta Key.
“With government-lite, you don’t have to have the big government; you can have actual local control,” Segal-George said. “You want to be able to have a say in land use and solar energy and all these things that are changing in our world. That local control gives you that flexibility for the future.”
Save Siesta Key’s incorporation effort is largely a response to the County Commission’s approval of several projects on and near the island despite vocal opposition from some residents.
Commissioners greenlighted the mixed-use development Siesta Promenade and a roundabout at Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road. Commissioners are also set to hear proposals for four higher-density hotels that would change county regulations, plans that have drawn protest from people on Siesta Key.
Additionally, the city of Sarasota decided to dredge Big Pass to renourish Lido Key’s shoreline, which many Siesta residents feared would be detrimental to their island’s coastal environment.
The financial feasibility study is just one of two main steps Save Siesta Key will have to complete as part of the requirements of an incorporation application. The group also will have to create a town charter by Sept. 1.
The group also had to receive signed petitions from 10% of the Key's population. The effort will go to state Legislature in the form of a bill in September. If passed by both houses and approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, affected residents could vote on the measure as early as March 2022.
If approved by residents, the town would organize a government that would take effect Jan. 1, 2023. Siesta Key is the largest barrier island in Florida that is not incorporated.
Underwood will discuss the totality of the feasibility study, which also covers population, the area’s tax base, a fiscal structure, how services are delivered and the boundaries of the proposed municipality, at Save Siesta Key’s next public meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 at Siesta Key Chapel.
Editor's note: If the island were to become its own municipality, residents would experience a 2% tax increase. A previous version of this article stated otherwise.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.