Sarasota County Legislative Delegation vote on whether to allow Siesta Key incorporation initiative to proceed expected during week of Dec. 13

Director of Save Siesta Key disputes misinformation being circulated about taxes property owners would pay if municipality wins final approval

The members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation meet at the County Administration Center in Sarasota on Sept. 30. File image

Members of the nonprofit organization working to achieve the incorporation of Siesta Key have been invited to address the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation again the week of Dec. 13, Harry Anand, a director of Save Siesta Key, has reported to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members.

The exact date of that meeting had yet to be set, Anand told SKA members on Nov. 4. However, he continued, Save Siesta Key’s leaders expect that the Delegation members will vote during that session on whether to file the necessary local bill for Siesta Key incorporation.

As other leaders of the incorporation initiative previously have explained, Anand noted that the Delegation vote has to be unanimous. Otherwise, no local bill will be filed for consideration during the 2022 legislative session, which will begin on Jan. 11.

Save Siesta Key directors hope to speak to each member of the Delegation before that December meeting, he said, to try to convince all of them to support the incorporation proposal.

Further, he noted that the nonprofit still hopes to conduct a town hall meeting with state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota. However, Anand indicated, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ scheduling of a special legislative session, which will start Nov. 15, has made it more difficult to plan that event. “So there’s a little bit of uncertainty on the timing [of the town hall meeting].”

(A Nov. 10 update from Save Siesta Key, which the Siesta Key Condominium Council sent to its members, said the town hall would be held this month, “date and time and location [to be decided].”)

Anand urged the SKA members to contact the Delegation members and ask that they support the incorporation effort. He noted that, in recent email blasts, Save Siesta Key has provided the email addresses and phone numbers for all of the Delegation members.

“This is our only chance to get this done,” he stressed. “[The legislators] don’t want to stick their necks out in Tallahassee,” Anand added, only to see the referendum fail.

This is the amount of money Save Siesta Key had raised as of the morning of Nov. 11. Image courtesy Save Siesta Key

He was referring to the fact that a referendum would have to be conducted on whether Siesta Key should be incorporated. That would be scheduled, though, only if the local bill wins approval in the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis then signs the bill.

“There is some resistance in Tallahassee about creating new layers of government or creating new townships,” Anand acknowledged. “They just don’t like to see new townships because they think new townships are new headaches,” he added of the legislators.

Yet, if anything has underscored the need for the island to have its own government, he continued, it has been the County Commission’s support of two high-rise hotels on the Key. The votes on Oct. 27 and Nov. 2, he said, confirmed “that Siesta Key has no representation, no voice, at the county level. They do what they want to do, when they want to do it,” he added of the commissioners. “That’s it. It’s just a sad state of affairs.”

Having served as the mayor of the Village of Laurel Hollow, N.Y., before his relocation to Florida, Anand explained, “I have always said that our democratic process is built upon people’s public input. … It’s appalling to see what happens in Sarasota County, because I have never seen something like this, ever. We have this whole façade of a public hearing … This is not how the process is supposed to work.”

Work on the draft local bill and spread of misinformation

In other news, Anand reported that the nonprofit provided a draft of the local bill for incorporation to Rep. McFarland, as she would be the one to file it in the Florida House.

On a less positive note, Anand told the SKA members that a rumor has been spreading on the island that if Siesta were to incorporate, property owners’ taxes would be doubled. “It’s absolutely not true.”

(In an email blast to its members this week, the Siesta Key Condominium Council provided an update on Save Siesta Key’s efforts. That report included a variation on Anand’s statement to the SKA members: “This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE.”)

Anand pointed out during the SKA meeting that the summary of the nonprofit’s feasibility study is on its website. That study, which is a mandatory part of the incorporation process, showed that only 0.25 mills would be needed to generate sufficient revenue for the municipality’s initial operations, Anand emphasized. In fact, he continued, only 46% of the proceeds would be necessary to run the Town of Siesta Key, with the remaining 54% allocated to infrastructure improvements and contingencies.

One mill represents $1 per every $1,000 of a property’s value.

The town’s millage rate would result in the owner of the average residential unit, valued at $440,602, paying only an extra $97.65 per year, Anand said.

This is the chart of current taxes and assessments included in the summary of the Save Siesta Key feasibility study. Image courtesy Save Siesta Key

(In the update that the Condominium Council sent out on Nov. 8, Save Siesta Key also noted, “There is no possibility of our taxes going up any higher than this in the next 5 years,” as a result of the feasibility study prepared for the Legislative.)

Following his remarks, SKA Secretary Margaret Jean Cannon asked Anand about a question McFarland had asked regarding the potential of Siesta Key leaders taking a different tack and trying to become part of the City of Sarasota. That inquiry came during the Sept. 30 Legislative Delegation meeting, when Anand made the presentation about incorporation.

(The northern part of the barrier island is within the city limits; Save Siesta Key has been focused on incorporating the portion within Sarasota County’s jurisdiction.)

Harry Anand. Image from the Save Siesta Key website

“We don’t see that as an option at this time,” Anand told Cannon. For example, he noted, Siesta property owners who would have to pay an extra 4 mills of property tax each year if they were to become city residents, and the city has quite different zoning regulations than those on the Key.

He did not go into details during the Sept. 30 meeting, he continued, because of the amount of time he had been given to make his remarks. Therefore, he said, he emailed McFarland later to provide an explanation. After she received, it, he added, she responded that she understood the nonprofit’s view.

Following the exchange with Cannon, an SKA member who lives on Bay Island, on the northern part of the Key, asked where those residents stood in terms of incorporation.

“This is a two-step process,” Anand replied. “If Siesta Key was to incorporate,” he said, “and, in the future, the north part of Siesta Key wants … to merge into the Town of Siesta Key, that would be a whole different process.”

Contact information for the Sarasota County Delegation

These are the phone numbers and email addresses for the members of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation:
• Sen. Joe Gruters — local number, 941-378-6309; Capitol, 850-487-5023;
• Rep. Fiona McFarland — local number, 941-361-2465; Capitol, 850-717-5072;

• Rep. Tommy Gregory — local number, 941-708-5660; Capitol, 850-717-5073;
• Rep. Will Robinson, chair of the delegation — local number, 941-708-4968; Capitol, 850-717-5071;
• Rep. James Buchanan — local number, 941-429-4560; Capitol, 850-717-5074;
• Rep. Michele Rayner — local, 727-892-2468; Capitol, 850-717-5070;