Former mayor of Cape Coral provides more information to supporters of Cosentino initiative launched in February
Editor’s note: This article was updated at midday on March 29 to correct information regarding how much the new Town of Siesta Key could expect to get in revenue-sharing funds from the state in its first year and to clarify that $11,000 would be the expense for the financial analysis that would be part of the incorporation effort.
If proponents of incorporating Siesta Key cannot convince the members of their legislative delegation in Tallahassee to support them, their effort cannot succeed, a Lee County consultant and former mayor of Cape Coral, told Siesta residents attending a March 18 meeting outside St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Midnight Pass Road.
“If your local delegation is not interested in helping you,” Mazurkiewicz said, “[incorporation is] DOA …”
In response to a question about which member of the delegation he would recommend island residents try to work with first, Mazurkiewicz responded, “Most incorporation efforts start in the House of Representatives.” Therefore, he indicated, Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, who was elected to the Legislature in November 2020, would be the best choice.
(The other members of the county delegation are Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota; Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton; Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota; and Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey.)
Mazurkiewicz also cautioned the meeting attendees that he would expect Sarasota County Government’s lobbyists in Tallahassee to try to prevent any Siesta Key incorporation initiative from succeeding.
When one audience member asked what primary hurdles have to be overcome for a community to incorporate.
Mazurkiewicz told her that numerous hurdles exist, “and most of them are political. … The county will lose money if you incorporate.”
Asked by an audience member about a lobbyist the incorporation proponents could hire to assist them, Mazurkiewicz said he could recommend attorneys who handle lobbying.
If the legislative delegation approves the incorporation plans, he continued, then the Legislature has to pass what is called a “local bill” to establish the community as a new municipality, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has to sign the bill.
Following those actions, Mazurkiewicz pointed out, a formal referendum would have to be scheduled, so Siesta residents could vote on whether to incorporate. “It’s an up-or-down vote,” with 50% of the voters, plus one, necessary to approve incorporation, he added.
During Cosentino’s first gathering on the incorporation proposal, attorney Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, who has assisted communities in incorporating, explained that $40,000 is the typical expense for all the steps necessary to comply with the Section 165 of the Florida Statutes, which governs the process.
Mazurkiewicz referenced those, as well, during his remarks on March 18. Among the primary documents that will have to be produced, he explained, is a fiscal analysis showing that an incorporated Siesta Key would have sufficient revenue to handle services for residents for five years.
Referring to that analysis, Mazurkiewicz noted, “It’s easy to do.” He has built his own model, he said, which “spits out the numbers.”
Mike Cosentino of Siesta Key, who launched the incorporation effort in February, told the audience members, “We’re trying to raise the $40,000 for the [required feasibility] study],” which will include that analysis. “If we don’t meet that goal,” Cosentino added, “there’s no sense in [proceeding with the effort].”
Cosentino also pointed out that he and leaders of the incorporation initiative have filed the necessary paperwork with the Florida Division of Corporations to establish the Siesta Key Preservation Commission. Along with Cosentino, the directors are Charles Byrne and Lisa Choate of Siesta Key. The Articles of Incorporation were filed on March 1, the Division of Corporations records show.
And, like Brookes during the first meeting Cosentino convened, Mazurkiewicz talked about the necessity of having at least 10% of the registered voters on the island sign a petition in support of incorporation. In lieu of that, he noted, a straw poll could be conducted. If 50% of those who voted in that poll, plus one, approved the proposal, then those results could be included in the packet with the feasibility study and a charter laying out how the new municipality would function, he added.
Those advocating for incorporation must decide on the form of government they would want to establish for the Key, Mazurkiewicz continued. What he recommends to his clients, he said, is a form he calls “government light,” in which the town leadership contracts with the entities that already are providing services to the island — such as the Sheriff’s Office and Waste Management — so the services will remain in place.
Further, Mazurkiewicz told the audience that he would suggest initially that five to seven employees would be sufficient to oversee those contractual relationships and assist the governing body of the new town. He recommended the Siesta Key municipal leaders “not bring on a full, extensive layer of bureaucrats.”
The studies he undertakes for residents wishing to incorporate show plans for no new services, he pointed out.
Further, he said, “I would do a boots on the ground tour [of the island]. … I have to try to find unfunded liabilities.”
In response to a question about that statement, he explained that he was talking about the potential that a piece of the island’s infrastructure is failing and that the new municipality would end up paying a lot of money to deal with the situation.
Additionally, Mazurkiewicz pointed out that, under the applicable state guidelines, it makes no difference whether a new municipality calls itself a village or town or city. “It’s totally at your discretion.”
Replying to another question, Mazurkiewicz said, “You have to have revenue.” Setting a property tax rate of 3 mills, he said, would allow the new town to participate in state revenue sharing. Moreover, with about 7,500 residents on the Key, he added, the 3 mills would bring in approximately $100,000 per year in that revenue-sharing revenue.
Building from a model
Cosentino then brought up the consulting work Mazurkiewicz undertook for the residents of the area that eventually was incorporated as Fort Myers Beach.
Members of that community “decided to incorporate when the Lee County Commission OK’d a high-rise resort right in the middle of the beach.” The name of the hotel is Diamond Head, he added.
(Cosentino noted during the first incorporation meeting that the proposals for three major hotel projects on Siesta Key — including 80-foot-plus properties on the edge of Siesta Village and on Old Stickney Point Road — were part of the impetus for his efforts.)
Prior to that commission decision, Mazurkiewicz continued, attempts to win sufficient support for Fort Myers Beach to incorporate had failed.
Earlier, he had talked about the fact that an incorporation initiative typically results from residents’ desire for “home rule,” instead of having a county commission making decisions about their community.
When one audience member asked what would happen to Sarasota County property on Siesta if incorporation succeeded, Mazurkiewicz responded that the county could give it to the new town or hold onto it and require the town to maintain it. A third option would be for the county to sell it to the new municipality.
“I will meet with the county administrator and the county commissioners,” he added, “to try to gauge their feelings in regard to those things.”
If the Siesta Key incorporation initiative is successful, he explained, he would recommend that the new leaders be elected in February or March, so they could conduct their first meeting in April. That session would include adoption of an interim budget, he added.
The leaders of the new town would want it to exist legally by Dec. 31 of the preceding year, Mazurkiewicz explained, so it would qualify for state revenue sharing in its first year.
Essentially, he pointed out, the new town would not begin to function in all respects until the following summer.
In response to another question, Cosentino said that island leaders in the early 2000s considered incorporation, but they did not reach the point of trying to make their case to the county legislative delegation.
Either a petition drive or a straw ballot, Mazurkiewicz pointed out, “is a great tool” in finding out who will be supportive of the new initiative.
Cosentino added that he had talked with representatives of the Florida League of Cities about the undertaking. “I now know how to craft that petition. We want to make sure we don’t get shut down on that.”
Given the 7,100 registered voters on Siesta, Cosentino continued, “Let’s get 80%; let’s get 90%” to sign petitions.
“That would be very powerful,” Mazurkiewicz said.
If the incorporation team wished to hire him to assist with the process, Mazurkiewicz noted, “The most you would spend for me is $11,000.” That would cover the financial analysis portion of the necessary feasibility study.
Cosentino also told the audience members, “We need your help, and we need your input. … We’re not here to dictate policy. We really want to have your thoughts.”