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Annexing Siesta: Who wins?

On the surface, it sure looks like the city of Sarasota would be a bigger beneficiary than Siesta Key taxpayers.

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Sarasota Mayor Eric Arroyo tossed into the air an interesting topic for dinner conversation in Sarasota this season: Whether the city should annex Siesta Key.

We’ll give Arroyo credit for thinking outside the box, as they say. At least he’s thinking, being creative and trying to solve a problem.

The problem: Many Siesta Key residents have had it with the Sarasota County Commission and county government and the way they treat and govern Siesta Key.

It’s the usual stuff: mostly zoning issues.

No doubt you know, of course, what happened two weeks ago. The local legislative delegation rejected proposed legislation in Tallahassee that would have allowed Siesta residents to vote on whether to incorporate into the town of Siesta Key.

Into the breach came Mayor Arroyo and his idea of annexing the barrier island into the city. His fellow commissioners voted unanimously to allow Arroyo and City Manager Marlon Brown to discuss with Siesta Key incorporation leaders whether they’re interested in becoming part of the city.

There is much to think about on both sides. The consequences would have the arms and tentacles of an octopus — so many issues that would affect city and Siesta Key taxpayers in different ways.

Foremost, of course, would be taxes. Siesta Key property owners pay 12.16 mills for county and school taxes, plus another 0.6676 mills for emergency medical services and a lighting district. Siesta Village property owners also pay 1.278 mills more for an improvement district.

If Siesta is annexed into the city, Siesta taxpayers would be adding the city’s millage rate on top of what they are paying to the county. The city millage is 3.3472.

Likely, that rate would fall once the Siesta tax base is added to the city’s tax base. Nonetheless, Siesta taxpayers would pay more in property taxes than the additional 0.25 mills in the proposed incorporation.

If you’re a Siesta taxpayer, the next question would be: What am I going to get in return for that additional tax? How is that additional cost going to make my life better?

We would be inclined to look at history. Which governmental body has been more competent — the City Commission or County Commission? History is often a great predictor of the future.

There are, of course, more issues that Siesta taxpayers would need to evaluate. One that would appeal to the Siesta incorporation advocates is the city’s planning and zoning apparatus. There is a sizable anti-growth contingent in the city. Growth, as always, is a major bugaboo of  many Siesta residents.

But now flip the coin. On the city side, city taxpayers would likely ask: “What is in it for me?”

In all likelihood, a lower millage rate. That Siesta tax base is an attractive pot of gold into which city elected officials would love to stick their spending mitts.

But what else besides a lower millage rate?

Count on this: A bigger, more expensive, less efficient city government, with 5,500 to 10,000 Siesta residents competing for city resources.

If you look at Arroyo’s proposition, on the surface, it looks to be  a one-way benefit — more for the city than Siesta taxpayers. Which leaves Siesta taxpayers with this: Which do you take — the devil you know, or the devil you don’t know?


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Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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