SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Save Siesta Key continues its work to get the possibility of incorporation on the ballot.
The local group launched a grassroots movement in 2021, which gained significant public interest following two controversial hotel approvals on barrier island. However, their first effort ended last January after the local delegation was split on whether or not the issue should move forward to Tallahassee.
In just a few days, local lawmakers will vote yet again on the issue.
“The key point here is that we are not asking our local delegation to actually vote on incorporation, we are just asking them to vote to allow us to vote on our own destiny,” said Save Siesta Key chairman Tim Hensey.
“A big issue has been to try to ensure that we have thoughtful development going forward and it’s not just about putting up high-rises in adding more hotel houses,” said resident Jann Webster. “It is about thoughtful development that will really retain the character of the island, but allow it to prosper for all of Sarasota County.”
Last month 41% of island residents voted in a straw poll. Of those who voted, 87% were in support of moving toward self-governance.
Representative Fiona McFarland, who voted in support of the residents last year, said she believes the results from this year’s poll will be a significant element in this year’s decision-making.
“If you live on Siesta Key and are a voter out there, you likely got one of these certified, sealed envelopes asking how you feel about incorporation,” Rep. McFarland said. “That straw vote came back both with high turnout and high support — more than we see for any ballot amendment, ideas or, frankly, any local candidate. It was very, very positive.”
Hensey explained another big change with this year’s proposal is the millage rate in the feasibility study.
“We took our proposed millage of a quarter mill and updated it to a half mill, which was encouraged by all four delegation members. We ended up with a lot more revenue in our feasibility study of expenses versus revenue this year that gives us almost $1 million of essentially contingency year over year, which puts us in a very comfortable position,” said the chairman.
Residents who support incorporation believe they can do a better job than Sarasota County’s elected officials in protecting the character of the popular beach destination.
“This is not picking on the county. I love Sarasota County. I have lived here for 53 years, but if you just look in Sarasota County alone, there is the City of Sarasota, the City of North Port, City of Venice, the Town of Longboat Key — they have all got the privilege of governing themselves, so we think we should have that privilege,” Hensey added.
The local delegation will vote on the issue Thursday afternoon.
“Thursday is a big deal in the lifecycle of Siesta Key’s hope to incorporate, but it is only one of many steps. So let’s assume we have a positive results on Thursday and this moves forward,” said Rep. McFarland. “I will carry the bill in this upcoming legislative session up in Tallahassee. We start in March and I will instead of having to convince a delegation of four members, I have to convince my entire chamber, which is 120 members, that we should form a new city in the state of Florida.”
“Oftentimes, legislators will defer to the people who are the local experts on whether this is something we should do as a legislative body, but creating another form and layer of government is a really, really big deal and we take it very seriously up in Tallahassee,” she continued