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Longboat to debate divorcing Manatee County

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

When distilled, it comes down to economics and efficiency.

Those two principles are in many ways driving the quest by the Town of Longboat Key to effectively adjust its boundaries to eliminate Manatee County.

The issue, which was instigated in 2016 by the work of primarily Commissioner Irwin Pastor and former Town Manager Dave Bullock, has led to a complete legal and economic analysis on how a one-county Longboat can come about.

In order to modify the county’s jurisdictional limits, state legislation must be passed and approved by the Florida Governor.

The Town Commission will entertain a discussion at a Sept. 24 workshop. Town Manager Tom Harmer will provide the next steps necessary to modify the county boundaries.

 

A look back

In 1921, Sarasota County was formed by carving a portion of southern Manatee County off. In the process, the boundary line was drawn along University Parkway. That boundary line was extended from the mainland across the bay and then across Longboat Key. Thirty-four years later in 1955, Longboat Key was incorporated and the new municipality was split into two counties because of the mid-key County line.

Most of the primary services residents receive are provided by the town, including Fire, EMS, Police, water and sewer, solid waste and recycling.

Over time, a distortion that continues to this day, occurred. As property values on Longboat Key began to increase, and reliance on County services that the town started to provide decreased, the town became a major ad valorem revenue supplier to the two counties while receiving less and less services.

At the meeting Monday, town staff will provide the commission as well as the public a Power Point tour de force describing the history as well as the challenges in becoming one county.

 

By the numbers

Of Longboat Key’s total population of 6,534 residents, 65 percent live in Sarasota County, and the rest in Manatee. Unsurprisingly, Sarasota County holds 63 percent of the available land parcels on the key. The taxable value of all of the town private property is about $5.744 billion, of which $4.051 billion is in the Sarasota County portion of the island.

Town staff has explained the challenges of existing in two counties including having to generate two trim notice filings, two GIS systems, as well as having to interact with two county governments with different procedures and filing deadlines. Add to that there are also two Sheriffs, two Emergency Managers, as well as often differing evacuation and emergency shelter and storm decisions.

The challenges continue with Longboat Key having to deal with two Department of Environmental Protection offices because of the County Line.

 

Ongoing business

Currently, Sarasota County provides police, fire and EMS dispatch at no cost. Manatee County treats Longboat like a customer and provides wholesale water and wastewater. The Sarasota County portion of Longboat Key is included in the tax bill for the Public Hospital, while Longboat Key utilizes Manatee County to put its trash in the landfill.

 

Economic decisions…

Perhaps the difference in tax rates imposed by the counties is the most sensitive issue for both the commission and residents. The total millage rate in Manatee County is 14.2585 on the 2018 Trim Notice. The millage rate in 2018 for Sarasota County is 11.7711 mils. The difference is almost 20 percent or 2.4874 mils higher in Manatee County.

There are some savings on the Manatee County side. Sarasota residents pay impact fees on schools, libraries, mobility and justice. On Manatee County there is only a school impact fee on Longboat Key.

If Longboat Key were to exit successfully from Manatee County, the Manatee School System would face losing more than $12 million per year.

The town staff will present the commission on Monday with the following options to pursue, the first is for Longboat Key to remain in two counties and continue to work to find ways to mitigate the differences. Another option will be to shift the boundary to make Longboat Key either exclusively part of Manatee County or Sarasota County.

One of the next steps proposed is to conduct a straw ballot.

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