Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler is right. It would take a champion.
A strong, indefatigable, passionate, committed champion to lead and guide everyone involved to agree on a most difficult objective: consolidating Longboat Key into Sarasota County.
That topic came up again in November before the Longboat Key Town Commission after the commission received a 34-page report from the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability analyzing and assessing what it would take to shift the town into either Manatee or Sarasota county.
It would be a Herculean, yearslong task.
But why even do it? It’s all about the money and efficiency.
Talk of ending the split of Longboat Key between Manatee and Sarasota counties has festered for decades. In fact, there have been many occasions when town commissioners (and this newspaper) have advocated an even more radical idea than consolidating into one county: seceding from both Manatee and Sarasota counties and forming Florida’s 68th county.
That proposition usually surfaces when the Manatee or Sarasota county commissions or school boards treat the town with indifference and disdain, forgetting that Longboat Key taxpayers send $136 million a year in property taxes across the bay to the county and school governments.
Longboat’s Manatee taxpayers send $32.2 million to Manatee County and $13.9 million to the school district. Longboat’s Sarasota taxpayers send $61.5 million to Sarasota County and $28.7 million to the school district.
No wonder Longboat taxpayers and town commissioners often ask what Longboaters get in return.
Not enough, to be sure.
And although it’s tempting sometimes to think of Longboat seceding and becoming its own county, that idea is even more daunting of a journey than consolidating the town into one county. There is no way either of the counties or school boards would allow secession and let all that money disappear.
Instead, about five years ago former Longboat Key Commissioner Irwin Pastor proffered the idea of consolidating Longboat into Sarasota County. Pastor knew it would be difficult and take years.
But two things drove him: the money Longboat’s Manatee residents would save in taxes and the savings that would come from eliminating the duplicate tasks and costs required of the town staff.
Pastor favored the idea of consolidating into Sarasota County, primarily because of what it would save Longboat’s Manatee taxpayers in property taxes. If you combined all of the property taxes for both counties, a Manatee taxpayer whose home is assessed at $1 million would save nearly $2,600 a year — 15% less than now. That adds up fast.
Pastor also liked how consolidation would make town government less expensive and more efficient.
But he also knew this challenge: Manatee County would never go for the idea unless there was some type of land swap with Sarasota County that would replace the tax dollars Longboat Key generated. Pastor told us once that land is in Northeast Sarasota County, parts of which are in Lakewood Ranch.
But who can make that deal happen? More important, though, is whether Longboat Key’s Manatee County taxpayers want that tax savings badly enough.
As noted in the OPPAGA report:
“Consolidating the Key into one county was not a high priority for a majority of Longboat Key residents responding to an April 2021 survey. Among 11 local issues, consolidation of the Key into one county and replacing the Bayfront Recreational Center were the only two issues that fewer than half of respondents ranked as important.”
It would be ideal for Longboat’s Manatee property owners to pay Sarasota County property tax rates, and it would be ideal for the town’s government operations to deal with only one county. The benefits over time would exceed the costs. But as Ziegler pointed out: Where is the incentive for the champion to step forward and take on this sensible, but Herculean, cause?
Pros and Cons of Longboat Consolidation