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Longboat begins looking at one-county possibilities

Town examines what's involved in erasing county border across the island.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. May 31, 2017
About a third of Longboat Key'                    s population lives in Manatee County.
About a third of Longboat Key' s population lives in Manatee County.
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Town Manager Dave Bullock recalls a meeting in December, when the mayors of Longboat Key, Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach delivered a presentation to Manatee County commissioners.

Commissioners were shown that, while residents of the barrier islands make up less than 3% of Manatee County’s population, they pay 14-15% of the county’s property taxes.

Bullock said the four mayors requested Manatee County help address the effects of tourism on the infrastructure of their barrier-island towns. The mayors’ point: Investing in this infrastructure would benefit the entire county financially in the long run.

After the presentation, Bullock said some county commissioners made this suggestion to the mayors: The barrier island communities should raise municipal property taxes on their residents and come back to the commission when they had “specific projects” in mind.

“Following that meeting, we didn’t feel much encouragement that we’re highly valued and worth investing in,” Bullock said.

Longboat Key is one of four Florida towns situated in two counties, and the largest by more than 2,000 residents. The town staff deals with a variety of issues related to the unusual geographic situation, including relations with two county commissions, elections offices and more. The residents deal with two county taxation plans and millage rates.

So, last month, Bullock told town commissioners he’s begun “looking into the two-county issue,” and commissioners gave him approval to keep going. The process would be long, he said, and ultimately require approval of both counties and the state Legislature. With his early 2018 retirement, it’s likely something his successor will have to continue.

“Our residents pay different tax rates in one county than the residents in another county pay,” Bullock told the commission. “I’ve begun to look at the implications of all of this.”

Bullock said the town staff has analyzed aspects of the two counties, including property values and tax rates, and sent the study to both Manatee County and Sarasota County for review. As of May 26, Sarasota County officials had reviewed the study while Manatee County has not responded.

“This is not a sprint,” Bullock said. “This discussion will go on for awhile.”

Return on investment

360 North resident Bob Bunting has been a vocal advocate for addressing erosion on Greer Island, also known as Beer Can Island, a popular recreational area among Longboat residents and visitors. Greer Island is in Manatee, and he said the county’s resistance to funding improvements to the area, as well as other infrastructure, speaks volumes.

“A lot of taxes get paid by residents of Longboat Key. They deserve some return on that investment,” Bunting said. “You don’t ask a lot, but you don’t get anything.”

Bullock noted that the island of Longboat Key was divided before becoming a town in 1955.

“The county lines were clearly established for decades before Longboat Key was incorporated,” Bullock said.

Out of the nearly 7,000 permanent residents of the Key, 35% reside in Manatee County. About one-third of Key property values are located in Manatee County, Bullock said.

The town manager said some aspects of being within two counties have worked out smoothly, like the cooperation between the two public transportation systems, but Bullock mentioned a number of challenges as well.

For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducts county-by-county damage assessments after strong storms. So, Bullock said, a FEMA team will assess one county’s portion of the Key at one time, then come back weeks later with a different team to assess the other portion.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Bullock said.

Bullock added that a potential benefit of becoming part of a single county is that the town would not need to use extra time and money to advertise public meetings in multiple newspapers.

The town manager also mentioned differences in the collection and use of impact fees in the two counties. Bullock said the town collects more impact fees in Sarasota County than Manatee County, noting that the study to implement a turn lane on Gulf of Mexico Drive for the Country Club Shores neighborhood has been funded by Sarasota fees.

Bullock also noted that Sarasota County has invested in making improvements to Bayfront Park, while Manatee County has not made any similar commitments.

“It’s just sort of a messy situation,” said Vice Mayor Ed Zunz.

Zunz noted there must be more research in exploring how much money residents contribute to each county and how much each county gives residents in return.

“It requires a lot more study,” Zunz said.

Mayor Terry Gans stressed the need for research, noting discussion of the topic could last years.

Gans said it remains undetermined whether Key residents in Manatee County have any desire to be part of Sarasota County, or vice versa. He also emphasized that the discussion is not meant to alarm officials of either county.

“This is not a move to get anybody’s attention,” Gans said. “This is an accident of history. Let’s explore where that has led us today."


MILLAGE RATES                                      

Sarasota County

Total millage: 12.2478                                                                  

Tax on $500,000 property: $6,123.90                   

Manatee County

Total millage: 13.8587

Tax on $500,000 property: $6,929.35



There are four towns in Florida situated in two counties. 

Longboat Key (population 6,879) 

Manatee 2,390 (35%)

 Sarasota 4,489 (65%)

Flagler Beach (4,642)

 Flagler 4,582 (99%)

 Volusia 60 (1%)

Fanning Springs (850)

 Levy 500 (59%)

 Gilchrist 350 (41%)

Marineland (6) 

 Flagler 4 (67%)

 St. Johns 2 (33%)


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