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Ongoing effort to get Siesta Key incorporation on ballot continues

Save Siesta Key is waiting on straw ballot responses from residents in the next step to getting a new measure on the ballot.

SIESTA KEY, Fla. — Dozens of people living in the Siesta Key area want a shot at making the island community a town.

Siesta Key is currently under the jurisdiction of Sarasota County. 

The group Save Siesta Key is rallying the community together and working to get a measure added to next year's ballot. The measure would allow Siesta Key registered voters to decide if this area should become the town of Siesta Key.

But to get to that point, a lot of pieces need to come together first. A straw ballot is currently in Siesta Key residents' mailboxes. Those results will be independently tallied and sent to Siesta Key's local delegation of state lawmakers. 

"I will be blunt, if you don't have voter turnout that is sufficient and that there is interesting in incorporation, I'm probably not going to be there for you," Michael Grant, House majority leader, said at Tuesday night's Save Siesta Key meeting. 

Lawmakers will then have the opportunity to introduce a bill to the legislature to place Siesta Key incorporation on the local ballot. If the legislature passes the bill, those living in Siesta Key could see the incorporation measure on the ballot next year. 

The head of this initiative said the community has been considering incorporating since the 90s. But now, the issue has resurfaced after three large hotels were approved for construction on the island. 

"The current county commission has just blatantly set aside the special zoning district and thinks it just doesn't apply to them," Tim Hensey, chairman of Save Siesta Key, said.

Hensey said the three mega hotels that were approved go against what's allowed in Siesta Key's special zoning district. 

"There were many dozens, if not hundreds, of speakers speaking against the hotels. But they still passed," Hensey said.

If incorporated, Save Siesta Key wants to end illegal, short-term home renting and let the community make decisions for itself. If a town government is created, Save Siesta Key plans to add a .5 millage rate to property owners. 

Some critics say it'll be more expensive than it sounds. 

"When the town commission gets in, they're going to need to raise the rate," Mark Smith, Sarasota County commissioner, said. "If it ends up going from .5 to 1.9, are we okay with that?"

That would be roughly a 60% increase in property taxes, Smith said. 

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