SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Residents on Siesta Key aren’t giving up on their efforts to make the barrier island its own city.
A split vote by the local delegation Tuesday night ended their attempt at moving the issue forward this year. The group that spearheaded the movement to incorporate tells 8 On Your Side they aren’t giving up.
“We are disappointed with the outcome of last night’s vote, but we are not discouraged. We are currently evaluating our next steps and have no intention on giving up. We are so grateful for the support of our community and the volunteer Neighborhood Ambassadors. Save Siesta Key will continue to work on getting incorporation on the ballot for our island community,” said a SSK representative in a statement to 8 On Your Side.
The meeting was packed with residents Tuesday night. All but one public speaker spoke in support of incorporation.
Despite the overwhelming public support from residents on the barrier island, the vote was a 3-3 tie between members of the Florida House of Representatives and State Senator Joe Gruters:
- Rep. Fiona McFarland (R) – yes (bill sponsor)
- Sen. Joe Gruters (R) – yes
- Rep. Michele Rayner (D) – yes
- Rep. James Buchanan (R) – No
- Rep. William Robinson (R) – No
- Rep. Tommy Gregory (R) – No
“Of course we are wondering why, with an entire room full of constituents that are obviously in support of incorporating Siesta Key, our representatives are not voting with us or for us. Constituents, we are losing ground, because as I mentioned, there is too much of a separation between the government and their interests and the citizens’ interests,” said Siesta Key resident Eileen Jones. “We are absolutely confident that the next time around we will not let any of these stumbling blocks get in our way and we will be successful. We will incorporate this island, we will control our own destiny,” she continued.
8 On Your Side reached out to the three representatives who voted ‘no’ to get a better idea of why they made that decision. So far, only Rep. Tommy Gregory responded to our request for comment.
When we why he didn’t support the proposal, this is what he had to say.
“The concerns that we have now really center on whether or not there is a need to create another layer of local government and then what the tax rate is going to be for those citizens,” said Rep. Gregory. “They are trying to improve the quality of life for the residents of Siesta key and we are all on board. We all live here, we all vacation where we live in Siesta Key and we know that traffic is a concern, we know that bike lane safety is a concern, but the .25 millage rate that they have proposed in new taxes for the residents there doesn’t resolve any of those issues and isn’t outlined in their proposal to incorporate, so we don’t think it gets them where they want to go and as I said we had a variety of fiscal concerns with the proposal,” he continued.
Rep. Gregory also expressed caution to the residents spearheading this effort.
“They might not get what they want. Even if they got this on the ballot and even if it passed, we don’t think it is going to solve their quality of life concerns,” said the representative. “I along with the other two representatives that voted no, all of us gave a roadmap for them to get where they want to go. We all said we don’t think this will do it, but if you want to get delegation support, here’s how you do it. They need to recognize that we gave them that roadmap. I think all three legislators said that we are ‘no right now’, but here’s how you can get a ‘yes’ from us,” he said.
Siesta Key residents hope to make changes to their proposal and win over the delegation the next time around.
“We basically feel that we got a roadmap last night and we really know how to navigate this now. It was a learning experience for all of us,” said Jones.
“Let’s get some facts on the table, listen to each other and get to a solution that is going to work so that we don’t lose. This is a magnificent jewel of a location for Sarasota and this whole area, we don’t wanna lose it,” said Jann Webster.
Save Siesta Key ambassadors also plan to gain more support from residents on and off the island. However, some residents are worried time is not on their side. The issue cannot be brought back until 2024.
“That is two years from now and I am afraid that the boat will have already sailed by then. Right now, there are two approved mega-hotels on the island. They are in litigation right now, as I understand it, but if those go through, then what is to stop a number of commercial big real estate companies from coming in here and doing the same thing, nothing,” said resident Richard Marano.