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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, May 20, 2021 1 year ago

Siesta city: Is it worth cost?

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The appeal for incorporating Siesta Key is its residents controlling the island’s land-use destiny. A vote inevitably will come down to cost. Is the benefit worth the cost? On Longboat, it is.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

We all know that saying: Third time is a charm.

Perhaps that will be the case for John Davidson, arguably deserving of the title of Mr. Siesta Key.

Davidson — the founder of Davidson Drugs and the Pelican Press (now Siesta Key Observer) and a longtime commercial property owner in the Village — is trying for the third time to persuade his fellow Siesta Key residents to incorporate the barrier island. As Observer staff writer Brynn Mechem reported last week, Davidson and seven other Save Siesta Key board members are leading the efforts.

Attempts in the 1960s and 1990s failed.

Each time, the drive to make Siesta Key its own city came as a result of the Sarasota County Commission making land-use decisions that many Siesta Key residents opposed. So it is this time, too.

Davidson and his colleagues want the island’s taxpayers to be able to control their own land-use destiny.

It’s a hard sell. A group tried in Lakewood Ranch in the past decade, in part because residents there felt the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department was not providing adequate protection. Future development also was on the minds of the organizers. But that effort failed, too.

The big obstacle is the cost of an additional property tax.

As Mechem reported last week, property owners in the city of Sarasota pay an additional 3.497 mills for all of the city’s services on top of all the other county, schools and state property taxes (total: 12.3976 mills). Longboat Key property owners pay an additional 2.6685 mills.

For a homeowner or condo owner whose property has a taxable value of $800,000, that would mean an additional $2,797 in annual property taxes in Sarasota and $2,134 on Longboat Key. For a condo with a taxable value of $1.5 million, that would be an extra $5,245 in Sarasota and an extra $4,000 on Longboat Key.

What do the taxpayers of Longboat Key get for those additional property taxes?

That extra tax includes the cost of the town’s own police, fire and emergency services departments and its own public works department, as well as all of the town’s administrative services. Public safety on Longboat typically consumes about 26% of the town’s $39.3 million annual general fund. The planning and zoning department consumes 4.5%.

If you took a poll on Longboat Key on whether the additional tax provides commensurate, or better, benefits, you can bet the vast majority of property owners would say they gladly pay the extra tax for the town’s services. Longboaters cherish local control.

As Davidson and his fellow Save Siesta Key board members go through the state-required steps toward incorporation, they will address the likely costs for Siesta property owners. And when the process is completed and comes to a vote, timing will be everything.

Will Siesta residents continue to be so fed up with the county that they’ll take on the extra tax? Or will inflation be so persistent that rising costs for everything will squelch what most Longboat residents would say is a cost well worth bearing?

There is much good to be said about local control. For 60 years, even though the cost of their government has grown, the citizens of Longboat Key have managed to keep it in check. And that’s with an all-volunteer, non-paid Town Commission.

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