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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019 2 years ago

Town lobbyist protects Longboat Key interests at state level

David Ramba focuses on issues like beach re-nourishment and short-term vacation rentals.
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

If the town of Longboat Key needs its interests protected at a state government level, it leans on David Ramba.

Ramba is Longboat’s lobbyist, which means he tracks bills in Tallahassee that the town finds either invaluable or unfavorable. If invaluable, he’ll try and push it forward; if unfavorable, he’ll try and slow its progress.

“My role is really the voice of the town up in Tallahassee during the legislative session,” Ramba said. “I meet with Maggie [Mooney], the town attorney. I call her up and say, ‘How’s this working? Do we have anything on this in the town?’ And if she does, then we start tracking it and making sure it doesn’t impact us. And if it doesn’t, I put it on the list, make a note to myself in my tracking system, saying ‘Longboat’s fine with this.’”

The town is one of Ramba’s multiple clients. He's been with the town close to 10 years. He’s been through three city managers. And even though Longboat is not a “profit center” for him, as he put it, he said he loves representing the town and that it’s a great place.

Longboat Key Finance Director Sue Smith said the town pays Ramba $225 an hour. He was paid $7,267 in 2018, and for 2019 to date he's been paid $8,142. 

Last quarter, Ramba Consulting Group made $570,000, according to legislative and executive compensation reports.

Longboat isn’t as active as other municipalities in dealing with statewide issues, in part because it doesn’t have to be. Ramba recognizes the financial stability of Longboat means the town does not ask for money from the state as often as its counterparts.

He compared his effort to attain $3-plus million in appropriations for Bradenton Beach to his work for Longboat.

“Longboat Key usually doesn't need a lot of appropriations other than beach re-nourishment-type money,” Ramba said. “They're a decently wealthy community, and so they're not really asking for a handout for parks or things like that from the state. They want to do something, they can usually just buy it.”

David Ramba

Insofar as Longboat's financial stability, Ramba’s right: It typically ranks near the top of the state's most affluent in terms of its residents, according to U.S. Census data and other sources.

But the town’s wealth isn’t the only factor guiding its state legislative priorities. Ramba said the town is “reasonable” in its goals, and it doesn’t get mixed up in “fringe issues,” such as banning plastic straws. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, being Senate President doesn’t hinder the town’s objectives. His district is the 21st, which encompasses Manatee County.

“He’s very responsive to our concerns on some issues,” Ramba said.

A central issue for the town is the one-county question, which Longboat has been turning over for some time. Putting Longboat into one county instead of being split between Manatee and Sarasota is, Ramba thinks, what Galvano wants as his legacy. He even offered some solutions to assuage Manatee’s concerns – “There’s some land out in Lakewood Ranch you could trade to lessen the financial impact on Manatee County,” he said. There’s also “a phase-in on the tax impacts.”

Avoiding double taxation

Ramba’s more tangible work for Longboat is rooted in beach re-nourishment, short-term vacation rentals and, more recently, underground utilities. While beach re-nourishment and short-term rentals are yearly issues for Ramba to stay abreast of, underground utilities cropped up when a statewide law that could bring an increased amount of underground power lines was signed into law in July.

The problem was, Longboat residents had already written or will one day write checks to pay for the town’s project, yet the state effort was going to show up on their utility bills. Luckily, Vickie Brill’s father, Jack Brill, lives on Longboat Key. Vickie is an aide to Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Jack is the acting chairman for the Republican Party of Sarasota.

“She’s like, ‘Hey, my dad already wrote a check for this,’” Ramba said. ‘“We just paid to do all this, and you’re going to assess us?’ So she called me in one day and said, ‘What happens to everybody on Longboat Key? It’s going on your utility bill, but you already paid for it.’”

So Ramba set up a meeting with Town Manager Tom Harmer, Mooney, Gruters and Florida Power and Light with the intent of avoiding a double tax on Longboaters. It was extra unfair, Ramba said, since the town had taken a leading effort in burying its utilities underground.

“They worked out something that they agreed with the town on,” Ramba said. “Having an aide whose dad complained about it out loud was a unique story on how things came together.”

Ramba stopped by Longboat’s Sept. 9 Town Commission meeting and discussed the undergrounding story at length. He travels a lot for his job, flying four or five times a week. And while Longboat isn’t necessarily a pot of gold for Ramba, the two entities have a solid and steady working relationship.

“Our job is to inform delegation members and work them over on issues that impact Longboat and have them vote the way we need them to vote when they impact their hometown folks,” Ramba said.

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Sten Spinella is a Town Hall Reporter for the Longboat Observer. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and his master's degree from the University of Missouri. 

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