LONGBOAT KEY – Manatee County officials have been notified that a state agency is reviewing the possibility that the Town of Longboat Key may be designated as entirely in Sarasota County or Manatee County.
The northern portion of Longboat Key is currently in Manatee County and the southern portion is in Sarasota County.
On May 27, R. Philip Twogood, coordinator for the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), sent written notification of the review to Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh. County Administrator Scott Hopes was also copied on the one-page letter.
“At the direction of the Legislature, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability will examine administrative and fiscal factors related to placing the Town of Longboat Key in either Sarasota or Manatee county. We expect to begin this review immediately. To assure the least disruption to your agency, we would like to meet with you or your representative to discuss the procedures for this review. We will contact your office in the near future to establish an appropriate time and place for the meeting. Thank you for your cooperation,” Twogood’s letter states.
The current county designations result in some Longboat Key property owners paying property taxes to Manatee County and some paying taxes to Sarasota County. The county designations also determine where and how Longboat Key residents vote.
When contacted on Thursday, June 3, Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town was previously notified of the state review.
“We made a request to OPPAGA to review the circumstances around Longboat Key being in two counties. This was discussed with both Manatee and Sarasota counties and one of our legislative priorities was to ask OPPAGA to do an independent review of the challenges of being in two counties,” Harmer said.
“This has been a topic of discussion for a number of years – the challenges and differences with the property appraisers, the tax collectors, the supervisors of elections and the emergency management offices. There are also differences in how the two county governments are funded and what services they provide here. We’ve done our own review, but this would be an independent review,” Harmer said.
In 2018, the town commission held public hearings pertaining to the town’s two-county status. Harmer said no final conclusions were drawn from the 2018 hearings.
“We were just presenting the finding to both county commissions, so we had joint meetings with both Sarasota County and Manatee County. We looked at the differences and some of the challenges we face. One thing that did come out of those hearings was related to emergency management. Both counties agreed that we shouldn’t report to two different counties during an emergency, like a hurricane. The two sheriffs may have different curfews. The two counties may have different evacuations and reentry timings. We entered into a three-party agreement a little over a year ago that says during an active state of emergency we report through Sarasota County. This applied to the COVID pandemic too,” Harmer said.
“We’ve had discussions with Manatee County and looked for ways to partner with them financially. They agreed to partner with us on our beach renourishment project,” Harmer said.
Harmer provided The Sun with a copy of a March 2021 town presentation titled “Two Counties Challenges.” The presentation notes the total millage rate imposed on Manatee County property owners was 13.87 mills in 2020, compared to 11.7 mills for Sarasota County property owners.
“There’s been no discussion with the town commission on a preference. We’ve provided what we think is factual information to say here’s the difference in the millage rate, here’s the difference in services, here’s the difference in grant opportunities, school board funding and how working with the West Coast Inland Navigation District differs in both counties. The residents have not taken a vote and the commission has not taken a formal position on a particular county at this point,” Harmer said.
“This is really an act of the state Legislature. It’s the state Legislature that would approve it. That’s not something the town can do. Anything that we would do would be more of a non-binding straw ballot or survey. The state is the only one that can move county boundaries,” Harmer said.
Harmer was asked if the facts favor one county over the other.
“It’s a little bit of apples and oranges the way the counties are funded and how we interact with them. That’s why we want to present this to the state Legislature. We want to present the two different financial models for the counties and how it impacts us. We’re looking to the state for recommendations or options on how we address some of these concerns. Some of the concerns are about duplication, some are financial. We’re looking for the state to tell us what we can do and what we should do. Our residents may have different views, the counties may have different views, so why not go to the state and ask for a review of the circumstances and their thoughts on our options,” Harmer said.
“In their notice to us, they said they were moving forward immediately and wanted to complete the report in September. We appreciate them taking this on,” Harmer said.
According to Harmer, the current population of Longboat Key is approximately 7,200 residents.