Give the residents of Siesta Key a chance to vote on the city’s incorporation
Siesta Key is the crown jewel of our entire region. People come to visit Siesta Beach from all over the world, making it an economic engine for Sarasota County. In fact, Siesta Key contributes over 8% of ad valorem taxes and over 28% of resort taxes collected by the county.
Still, we make up only 1.6% of Sarasota County’s population, and our Barrier Island is split between two County Commissioners who don’t live on the island – and who don’t understand its needs. The reality is that the county has ignored Siesta Key for years, resulting in:
• Roads in ruins.
• Dangerous sidewalks and cycle paths.
• A lack of enforcement of the code, which has led to a galloping growth of illegal hotels.
• Lack of coordination with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office regarding law enforcement matters.
The county’s recent approval of two high-density hotels on Siesta Key, despite the high level of opposition expressed by residents, has been the proverbial straw.
The Sarasota County Commission has removed all density restrictions for hotels not only in Siesta Key, but for the entire county. One of the county-approved hotels is a 170-room structure that will span less than an acre of land on a residential street. Even International Drive in Orlando only allows 60 rooms per acre for a hotel.
This is why the people of Siesta Key have come to the conclusion that the County Commissioners have lost sight of their purpose, which is to serve the people who elected them. Commissioners do not engage with the community. They do not solicit comments from the community. And they ignore community concerns when making decisions that affect our quality of life.
In short, Sarasota County uses Siesta Key as a cash cow without investing in the island.
These pent-up frustrations over the years have led to a movement to incorporate Siesta Key and take our destiny into our own hands. We believe that the local residents who live on the island – the people who understand its needs and care about protecting this gem – would be better stewards of Siesta Key.
As required by Florida law, we have submitted a feasibility study and a draft local law and charter to our local legislative delegation and staff in Tallahassee. Staff did not raise any red flags in their comments, and we have responded to any questions they raised.
Our feasibility study uses a “light government” model that asks us to continue to use the county and sheriff’s office services we are already paying for. The sheriff’s office sent us a letter confirming that they will continue to provide their current services at no additional cost. In addition, our feasibility study shows that we would be able to manage the new town of Siesta Key with ad valorem taxes of 0.25 mil. This equates to approximately $ 97 per year in taxes for an average assessed value of $ 440,000.
One of the concerns raised by members of our local delegation is whether we would be able to effectively run a city with 0.25 mil ad valorem taxes, which would be among the lowest in Florida. However, there are two explanations for how we might achieve this.
First, we already have nearly $ 6 billion in assessed value, which generates significant income with low mileage. Plus, we wouldn’t duplicate county services – such as law enforcement, firefighting, and waste management – that we already pay for and receive.
The City of Siesta Key would enter into agreements with the County to provide these services, thereby establishing a supplier / customer relationship between the County and elected members of the City.
• There would be better coordination between the sheriff’s office and the town of Siesta Key.
• We would have control over our land use and enforcement.
• There would be money in our budget for infrastructure improvement and beautification work.
In other words, Siesta Key would finally have a voice – and a seat at the table – with our county and state.
We have engaged in a healthy dialogue with members of our local delegation to seek their support for this bill. State Representative Fiona McFarland has agreed to sponsor the bill in Tallahassee, and State Senator Joe Gruters has also offered her support.
In addition, State Representative Will Robinson, the chair of our local legislative delegation, called a meeting for January 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the Sarasota County Administration Building. During this session, members of the delegation will vote on whether to sponsor the bill in Tallahassee. We hope to get a unanimous vote in favor of the bill, as it would reflect the unity of the community for having taken this step.
After the delegation’s vote, the bill must be passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. If the governor signs the bill, it will return to Siesta Key for a residents’ referendum. Ultimately, it’s up to the people of Siesta Key to decide if they want a new town.
We ask our legislators and Governor DeSantis to give us the opportunity to exercise our right to self-determination. Please allow the residents of Siesta Key to vote – and have the final say on this matter.
Harry Anand has been a full time resident of Siesta Key since 2013. He served three terms as Mayor of Laurel Hollow, New York, and is the former CEO of Royce International LLC.