- January 7, 2022
Supporters of incorporating Siesta Key filled the Commission Chambers in the Sarasota County Administration Building on Tuesday night, where they learned the proposed bill will not move forward to the full state legislature after the local legislative delegation's 3-3 vote.
The bill needed a 4-2 simple majority to proceed to Tallahassee, where it would have again faced consideration and would have required approval by the state House, Senate and governor before reaching the ballot for an up or down vote among residents.
Those in favor of incorporation must wait two years to attempt the same process again.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Ashley Cebak, a Save Siesta Key ambassador. “My family came here in the '60s, and I’m the only one left. Nothing means more to me and I even have our ZIP code tattooed on my wrist. It means so much for the people who live here and the future people that will live here.”
Citizens of Siesta Key voiced their concerns and desires regarding the island before legislators made their decision. Those who voted against the bill raised concerns about the proposed .25 millage rate and comparably small $4 million proposed budget in proponents' feasibility study.
Proponents of incorporation also suggested a five-person staff to operate the new town, a number that seemed too low for Rep. Will Robinson Jr., who voted “no” on the bill. A law requiring an incorporated town to be at least two miles from another municipality also affected the vote.
“I’m not convinced this is going to do what you think this is going to do,” said Rep. Tommy Gregory, who voted against the bill. “But I have been looking at what it would take to get you where you want to go.”
Rep. James Buchanan, also a “no” voter, said additional government and taxes were not the answer to the citizens’ problems. But he, as well as the other “no” voters, affirmed that he understands the “valid concerns” behind the bill and would be open to future discussion upon it.
More than 10 supporters of the bill spoke at the meeting that included nearly three hours of debate. For Rep. Michelle K. Rayher, a Democrat who represents just a small portion of Sarasota County, said an example given by one of the supporters helped confirm her “yes” vote.
“I heard something today that stuck out to me. It was said that ‘the people were willing to pay for it and were demanding it,” Rayher said. “You, the people, are demanding it and are willing to pay for it. So who am I to say you cannot vote or have self-determination?”
Rep. Joe Gruters and bill sponsor Rep. Fiona McFarland also voted “yes.” Both legislators said they wished for the citizens of the community to vote for what they believe is best for Siesta Key.
The same logic was proposed by incorporation supporter and member of the board of directors of Save Siesta Key, Harry Anand.
“This is purely people wanting to take control of their own destination, that is what’s driven this whole process,” Anand said.
Incorporation supporters mentioned land-use decisions, cultural preservation, pedestrian safety and general beautification as the lead priorities if Siesta Key were to become its own town on the proposed “government-lite” model. The bill suggested that basic government functions would be handled by the new staff but Siesta Key would still rely on other county services such as law enforcement, fire-rescue and others.
While the possibility of true incorporation was largely put on hold with Tuesday’s vote, Save Siesta Key ambassadors remained determined to preserve and control their community the best that they can.
“We have two lawsuits against the county for building this and that. We hope the lawsuits help us prevail in getting control of the two hotels that came up. Nothing else can come up,” Carlyn Berghoff said. “Unless they want to continue in this lawsuit world.”
“These politicians need to remember that they work for us,” Berghoff continued. “I’ve talked with people on incorporated islands like Sanibel, Longboat Key and Marco Island and they all said they’d do it again because of what development does to the island.”
The Siesta Key Associated has scheduled a meeting from 4:30-6 p.m Jan. 6 at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Midnight Pass Road. The meeting will include conversation on the incorporation vote and what the initiative will look like going forward.