Could Siesta Key become Florida’s next city? Lawmakers representing Sarasota County expressed some skepticism at a delegation meeting Thursday. But cities on the island community have moved forward with evaluating the feasibility of incorporation.
“The delegation will eventually come to accept our arguments and support us,” said Harry Anand, who presented a proposal to lawmakers.
Rep. Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican and chair of the Sarasota County delegation, expressed some concern the push comes over issues well outside the Legislature’s purview.
“At some level, the Legislature is getting asked to mediate a couple of zoning issues going on between Sarasota County and the community on and around Siesta Key,” he said. “… I frankly have a lot of concerns. It’s tough to me to add a layer of government and new taxes. But we are just at the beginning of the process.”
The push by Save Siesta Key, a citizen group, to incorporate occurs as four hotel proposals make their way in front of the Sarasota County Commission.
Anand and others argue the community deserves to decide its own fate. While the fewer than 8,000 residents on the barrier island make up a small portion of the nearly 434,000 county residents, they make up the largest barrier island without an independent incorporated city in Florida.
Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents the community under existing lines, said he doesn’t expect his board to fight any effort to make a city. That said, he suggested the majority of residents feel comfortable with the level of government services on the island.
“It’s unfair to say they don’t have representation, and that’s why they are moving forward with a government-light model,” he said.
Anand said that much is true. The proposal presented to lawmakers to date calls for just a 0.5 mill property tax, lower than nearby island cities like Longboat Key or Anna Maria. That’s low in part because the community wants to continue receiving law enforcement form the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and utility service through Sarasota County. It’s plan largely focuses on creating a decision-making process through a new five-member City Council.
Anand previously served as Mayor of Laurel Hollow, New York, before moving to Florida, and he had a fiscally conservative record there. He expects a new city would elect conservative leadership as well.
Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican who represents Siesta Key, questioned why the area wouldn’t instead simply incorporate into the City of Sarasota. The municipality already includes a north portion of the island. And annexing would not require an act of the Legislature.
Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody said if residents ever want to broach that conversation, City Hall would be open to it.
“Growing up in this area and spending time on Siesta Key, I understand a lot of the issues there,” he said.
Of course, that city already has nearly 57,000 residents, most of those inland, and some Save Siesta Key members at the delegation meeting suggested if Siesta Key incorporated, many residents of the city would prefer to shift the jurisdiction of the north end of the island into the new municipality.
Ultimately, Anand reminded that even if some lawmakers have doubts, legislation would only throw the question to voters. The effort would only move forward if a majority of voters in a Special Election approved an incorporation referendum.