Longboat Key eyes savings in leaving Manatee County

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If it came simply to property taxes paid and services received, the case for Manatee County being nixed from the map of Longboat Key is clear and hard to refute.

According to Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock, residents in the Manatee County half of Longboat Key pay almost twice the county property tax as their neighbors with the same value property in Sarasota County.

The kicker is there are no additional services the Manatee County side of Longboat Key receives for the additional taxation and Longboat Key Commissioners have repeated publicly on numerous occasions that Manatee County officials are far less responsive to Longboat Key’s needs than Sarasota County.

The aggregate of the higher tax rate means that Manatee County residents on Longboat Key pay on average $2.6 million more in taxes than if the entirety of the island was located in Sarasota County.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor has been advocating moving in a direction that could lead to the town taking formal steps to become solely incorporated in Sarasota County.

“County lines can be adjusted,” said Bullock.

Bullock said he could not think of any services that would be lost or any advantage that would disappear if Longboat left Manatee County. He said school choice would mean students who want to attend Anna Maria Island Elementary School or a Manatee school could do so.

But the process quickly intersects with politics in that all counties are described in Florida State Statutes and it takes an act of the Florida Legislature and approval by the Governor to change any existing county boundary, according to Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale.

Further complicating the issue is debt issued by the county that is being left, which is based on property taxes, must be accounted for. In short, that means Longboat or Sarasota County would find itself in the position of having to pay Manatee County part or all of the cost incurred in the lost tax revenue.

The next step according to Bullock is bringing the idea to Longboat residents and if the Commission decides, holding a non-binding referendum. He said it takes a simple majority vote of the state legislature.

“This is not a sprint, it is a marathon,” said Bullock regarding the time frame. “ But I am always interested in opportunities to find a better way to provide services at a lower cost for our residents.”

Longboat Key has dramatically increased and overlapped its relationship with Sarasota County over the last decade.

Most of that overlapping occurred after Bullock was hired six years ago from his position as Deputy County Administrator for Sarasota. Since then, the town has moved all of its police and fire dispatching services to Sarasota County from Longboat Key. The town has also partnered financially with the expansion and renovation of the Bayfront Park on the island.

Several key positions on Longboat have all been filled with Sarasota County employees over the past year.

First, after long-time Public Works Director Juan Florensa announced his retirement, Bullock nabbed Sarasota County Public Works Director Isaac Brownman to fill the position. Last August, the town commission chose the current Sarasota County Administrator, Tom Harmer, to replace Bullock who retires in January 2018.

Most recently, Bullock replaced outgoing Planning and Zoning Director Alaina Ray with Sarasota County Planning Division Manager Allen Parsons.

Adding to the arsenal of employees from Sarasota is the fact that Longboat Key’s Fire Chief Paul Dezzi was hired out of Sarasota County, as was Town Clerk Trish Granger several years ago.

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