Should the 120 representatives and 40 senators of the Florida Legislature agree with the Sarasota County delegation, residents of Siesta Key will have the opportunity in November 2024 to vote on a referendum to allow most the island to become its own municipality.
The delegation last year denied the request by a 3-3 vote, among the objections skepticism of a proposed 0.25 millage rate being adequate to meet obligations of running a city. The delegation last year was comprised of six members. Following redistricting, it now has four — Reps. James Buchanan, Fiona McFarland and Michael Grant; and Sen. Joe Gruters.
Save Siesta Key Chairman Tim Hensey told the four that proponents since last year doubled the proposed mileage rate to 0.5, which would generate $4.7 million in revenue based on the 2023 overall property valuation of $7.7 billion, an increase of $2 billion in one year.
The dissenting vote was cast by Buchanan, as he did last year, citing precedent of adjacent city limits, which is discouraged by Florida statute. The northern tip of Siesta Key is within the Sarasota city limits.
“We've been working on this for a year, and many of the proponents of incorporation have been working on it for 20 years,” McFarland said. “I am happy we got another year to work on this issue. The proponents of incorporation have answered every question and every cause for concern that we had as a delegation of fiscal responsibility financial soundness.”
The Siesta Key proposal includes contracting fire and law enforcement services with county agencies. Basic government functions would be performed by a new city staff. Among the motivating factors for pursing incorporation, Hensey said, is local control over planning and zoning decisions and dissatisfaction with the county’s leadership in those areas, among others.
Should an incorporation referendum be approved by the legislature, Hensey said he is confident in the support of Siesta Key residents, citing an unofficial straw ballot, mailed to all 6,750 registered voters in the unincorporated area.
“They were mailed out they included a pre-addressed pre-stamped envelope for return to a law firm and Lakewood Ranch, so that basically we didn't touch the ballots,” Hensey said. “We had a 41.4% voter turnout. Even more impressive in my mind is that we had an 87% in favor of incorporation.”
Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.