On Sept. 30, Sarasota County Legislative Delegation to hear details of feasibility study completed on Siesta Key incorporation initiative

‘Final push’ on for petitions as Save Siesta Key strives to achieve goal of 2,000 as show of support for undertaking

State Rep. Will Robinson Jr. is chair of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation for the 2022 session. Image courtesy Florida House

On Thursday, Sept. 30, in downtown Sarasota, leaders of the nonprofit organization established to seek incorporation of Siesta Key will present their feasibility study to the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation.

That was just part of an update that Tracy Jackson, a member of the board of Save Siesta Key, provided to members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) on Sept. 9.

Additionally, Jackson pointed out, the Save Siesta Key group hopes to be able to tell the members of the delegation that the nonprofit has 2,000 petitions in support of the initiative to determine whether the barrier island should have its own government.

“We are 265 short of 2,000,” Jackson said. As of that day, she noted, the count was 1,735. “We have until Sept. 29,” she added, to collect more.

After the nonprofit was establishment in the spring, its representatives set the goal of gathering 2,000. They have received enough petitions to represent 10% of the island’s registered voters, she told the SKA members. Nonetheless, Jackson pointed out, they remain focused on hitting that 2,000 mark.

“We really would like to walk into that meeting” on Sept. 30 with the extra 265, she said.

The Florida League of Cities says the Sarasota Legislative Delegation meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 11 a.m. It will be held in the Commission Chambers of the Sarasota County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.

Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, who holds the District 71 seat, serves as chair of the delegation for the 2022 session, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, are among members of the delegation who live in Sarasota County.

The delegation must offer unanimous support of a local bill during the 2022 legislative session, if Siesta Key is to have a chance to form its own government, champions of the incorporation initiative have explained.

That local bill has to win approval of the Legislature, and then Gov. Ron DeSantis has to sign it. If both steps happen, a referendum would be scheduled to determine whether the majority of voters on the Key wish to see incorporation become a reality.

Section 165 of the Florida Statues outlines the incorporation process.

This is a section of Florida Statute 165, which lays out guidelines for the incorporation of municipalities. Image courtesy State of Florida

Although the northern part of the island is within the jurisdiction of the City of Sarasota, leaders of the nonprofit also have pointed out that they are focused just on the land within the county’s jurisdiction.

Ultimately, if that part of the Key were to become a town, the election of council or commission members would take place in November 2022, the Save Siesta Key board has noted. Then, as of Jan. 1, 2023, the new town would begin operations with what has been described as a “government lite” approach. Save Siesta Key representatives have talked of potentially four to eight employees and a council whose members would receive no pay.

Tracy Jackson. Photo from the Save Siesta Key website

The feasibility study and a draft charter were among the documents the nonprofit had to complete prior to a Sept. 1 deadline, for the 2022 Legislature to consider the issue, Jackson reminded the SKA members on Sept. 9.

Save Siesta Key submitted those materials to the Legislature “in unprecedented time,” Jackson said, adding, “We are very, very happy with the results of the feasibility study.”

“If we had not met that goal of Sept. 1,” she added, we would be waiting another year. … We had to make the timeline a real priority, and we did that, and it benefited us.”

Given all that has been happening on the Key, Jackson said, “We couldn’t afford to wait.”

For example, Save Siesta Key leaders have talked about the fact that four proposals for hotels on the island have been submitted to the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department since May 2020. Two of the applications have won the county Planning Commission’s endorsement and are scheduled for County Commission public hearings in late October and early November.

Save Siesta Key leaders have explained that they would not be able to stop the processing of any of those project applications, even if the incorporation initiative succeeds. However, Jackson has stressed that if the Key were its own town, its governing body would have a say on future proposals for new construction.

Reader’s Digest’ version of feasibility study to be released

Jackson also talked about the fact that the nonprofit’s leaders are in what she called “an adjustment phase” in regard to the feasibility study. They are giving the members of the Sarasota Delegation the opportunity to review it and then offer any suggestions for modifications, she said.

As soon as the board has received the comments and can revise the document accordingly, she continued, the study would be posted on the nonprofit’s website. The board did not want to confuse anyone, Jackson said, by putting the original version on the website and then having to make changes to it.

This is part of the timeline for incorporation efforts that Save Siesta Key features on its website. Image courtesy Save Siesta Key

“In the meantime,” she noted, “we’ve put together … the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version,” which is a three- to four-page document. Tentatively, she indicated, that would go up on the website this week. (As of the deadline for this issue of The Sarasota News Leader, that document was not available.)

This is a slide that Tracy Jackson of Save Siesta Key showed Siesta Key Association members in early May. Image courtesy Save Siesta Key

The short version will include the five-year pro forma, Jackson pointed out.

A pro forma “is a method of calculating financial results using certain projections or presumptions,” Investopedia explains.

Save Siesta Key had to be able to demonstrate to the legislators that an incorporated Siesta Key would have the financial wherewithal for operations for five years.

Florida Statute 165.041 says the feasibility study must contain the following, among other elements:

  1. “Evidence of fiscal capacity and an organizational plan as it relates to the area seeking incorporation that, at a minimum, includes:
  2. “Existing tax bases, including ad valorem taxable value, utility taxes, sales and use taxes, franchise taxes, license and permit fees, charges for services, fines and forfeitures, and other revenue sources, as appropriate.
  3. “A 5-year operational plan that, at a minimum, includes proposed staffing, building acquisition and construction, debt issuance, and budgets.”

During the last public meeting Save Siesta Key’s leaders conducted — on July 22 — they said that the consultant they hired to undertake the feasibility study had determined that a millage rate of 0.25 mills would be sufficient to pay for “bare bones” services in the early years of the town’s existence.

1 mill represents one dollar per $1,000 value of a piece of property. Jackson pointed out during that meeting that the median value of a Siesta Key house is $497,000; thus, the owner of the house with that value would pay an extra $119.75 a year in taxes. “That’s less than $10 a month,” she added at the time.

‘Final push for petitions’ emphasized

In emphasizing the nonprofit’s “final push for petitions,” Jackson reminded the SKA members on Sept. 9 that three are available for download from the Save Siesta Key website. One is for residents; one, for business owners; and the third, for property owners who are registered to vote in another community. “They all have a voice,” she said.

This is a copy of the petition for use by Siesta Key property owners who are registered to vote elsewhere. Image courtesy Save Siesta Key

SKA Vice President Joyce Kouba noted that a husband and wife each can sign a petition.

Jackson affirmed that, adding that if husbands and wives co-own businesses, each can fill out a business petition, as well.

Jackson also explained that submitting a petition does not signify that a person has to vote for incorporation. The goal is to provide evidence to the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation that enough people associated with the Key want to see a referendum conducted on the issue, she pointed out.

“It does need to be a wet ink signature,” Jackson said, referring to the petitions. “We have boxes in both Davidson’s Drugs locations [on the island],” for petitions to be turned in to Save Siesta Key.

This is the entrance to Davidson Drugs in Siesta Village. Image from the business’ Facebook page

John Davidson, the founder of Davidson Drugs, is chair of Save Siesta Key.

The drug stores are located on Ocean Boulevard, on the northern part of Siesta Village, in Davidson Plaza; and in the Southbridge Mall on Midnight Pass Road.

“Two hundred sixty-five, guys,” Jackson added. “If you haven’t filled [one] out, please do so.”

Asked what she would do if the nonprofit is able to collect the extra petitions by Sept. 29, Jackson replied, “You guys will hear me shouting it from the rooftops.”

“That’s great,” SKA President Catherine Luckner told her.

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