Local representatives in the Florida Legislature have questions for residents who are pushing to incorporate Siesta Key as its own municipality.
On Sept. 30, during a meeting of the local delegation, Save Siesta Key board member Harry Anand outlined the impetus for the group’s campaign to incorporate Siesta Key and its vision for how a municipal government would function. The group, which formed in March, hopes to get a question on the ballot asking Siesta Key residents whether they support creating a new town. For that to happen, state legislators must first authorize the referendum.
Rep. Will Robinson, a Republican whose District 71 includes the north end of Siesta Key, said he had concerns about the feasibility study Save Siesta Key submitted as part of its application. Robinson said he was hesitant to authorize another layer of government and taxation. Robinson said incorporation is a tool officials don’t frequently use in Florida, with only two municipalities added statewide since 2006.
“It’s not done every day in the area, and frankly, it’s not done often in the Legislature,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he felt legislators were being asked to settle a zoning dispute, as Save Siesta Key originally formed in response to a series of proposed hotel developments on the island that drew resident opposition. Anand disputed the idea that the incorporation effort was limited to disagreements on a few land-use decisions, stating that the group sought to create a government that was more responsive to the specific interests of Siesta residents.
“Siesta Key has a unique island lifestyle and has needs that may not be understood unless you actually live there,” Anand said.
Save Siesta Key is proposing a “government lite” operating model focused primarily on planning, zoning and code enforcement. Other essential services would be maintained via contracts with the county and other partners. Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Republican whose District 72 includes the rest of Siesta Key, asked whether incorporation was the best solution if Siesta residents were satisfied with most of the government services currently available to them.
“I’m wondering if there are other avenues to solve your concerns,” McFarland said.
Anand reiterated the group’s belief that Siesta Key residents would be better represented if its leaders were responding directly to the island’s needs. He said population growth in Sarasota meant Siesta was becoming an increasingly smaller portion of the county.
“We think services can be better if we have a seat at the table,” Anand said.
McFarland asked whether the group had considered pursuing incorporation into the city of Sarasota, rather than as an independent town. Anand said it had not, but on Tuesday, City Commissioner Erik Arroyo expressed a desire to explore the concept.
“I thought that was a very interesting idea to consider at some point,” Arroyo said.
The local delegation said it would not make any final decisions on whether to sponsor an act authorizing the incorporation referendum at the Sept. 30 meeting, with representatives indicating that they may contact Save Siesta Key with additional questions or to get more information. Anand said supporting the group’s efforts did not represent a vote to create the town of Siesta Key, but rather an affirmation the idea is feasible and that residents should have an opportunity to say if they support it.
“At the end of the day, what we’re requesting is: Let the people vote,” Anand said.