LONGBOAT KEY – A gap in services provided to residents of Longboat Key has officials questioning if they are better off becoming a one-county town.
The sandy beach town is one of just four Florida municipalities split between two counties, although hundreds of cities across the nation deal with similar circumstances. Officials have cited the challenges of having two supervisors of elections, two property appraisers, two tax collectors, two sheriffs.
The majority of the town sits in Sarasota County, where there are 6,617 Longboat Key parcels worth a combined $4.54 billion. In Manatee County, Longboat's 3,747 parcels have a $2.17 billion value, officials said.
Talks over Longboat Key moving into one county first surfaced earlier this year after the state approved of a study to analyze the financial implications of keeping the town split between Sarasota and Manatee or moving it entirely into one or the other.
At the time, some officials loosely floated the idea of Longboat shifting into just Sarasota in some type of land swap that could involve parts of Lakewood Ranch, which also borders the two counties.
Market Snapshot Photos: Longboat Key's Beachplace
During a special meeting, town commission members met with Manatee County commissioners who on Wednesday lobbied for the town to stay in Manatee and dubbed it a “donor island” because of the significant tax boost generated by residents.
For instance, Longboat Key has 33 kids enrolled in Manatee County schools and 38 in Sarasota County schools, but residents pay $13.9 million and $28.7 million in tax revenue to each district, officials said.
“The purpose of this study was really to have an independent body look at the impacts,” Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “There is some cost differential that you could argue, but there are also the everyday challenges.”
Manatee County Commissioner James Satcher said the county would either like to maintain its stake in Longboat Key or expand it to include the whole island.
“We want to get that southern part of the island,” Satcher said. “I think that it would be very reasonable and in their best interest to move into Manatee County.”
Funds needed for aging sewer line
At the forefront stands a $21.7 million project to build a new sewer line to connect Longboat Key to Manatee County's treatment facilities to alleviate concerns after a June 2020 incident where the sewage line burst.
Longboat Key officials estimate about 14.7 million gallons of wastewater leaked during the incident, although officials still consider themselves lucky it burst about 400 feet inland instead of under Sarasota Bay waters.
Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said the town has limited funds and is looking for support from county and state contributions, as well as federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, to help pay for the project.
“Our operating general fund budget is about $18 million,” Schneier said. “We don't have a plan for the $21 million... At some point in the not-too-distant future, we are going to have to put a plan together to start work and start putting contracts out. It's a big amount for us to handle.”
Harmer said Manatee County could pay for matching funds for an $800,000 appropriation request to state lawmakers this upcoming year to address portions of the pipeline while other financial decisions are locked into place.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked that an agreement be put in place to ensure that if Longboat Key were to leave Manatee then those funds would be reimbursed.
Town officials also asked for the counties to work together to provide a public transit service to cover the entire island, as opposed to offering services that end at the county lines – forcing riders who depend on public transit, like service industry workers, to transfer between buses if they need to cross the entire island or reach employment hubs like St. Armand's Circle.
Manatee County commissioners also will consider funding for the construction of a new roundabout at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway Street during the board's first January meeting.
“It probably started a couple of years ago where this board wanted to try and have a working relationship with Longboat Key, and I think that we are seeing that,” Manatee County Chair Vanessa Baugh said. “We can't solve all the problems in Longboat Key, but we can certainly be partners.”
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Should Longboat Key be in Sarasota or Manatee? Town cites service gap