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Ranch incorporation coming back to table

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Roughly 100 involved in Lakewood Ranch governance will preview a proposed city charter next week, as incorporation moves back in the spotlight.

But, with the economy still struggling, some are still wondering if this is the right time to be considering cityhood for Lakewood Ranch.

Supervisors from community development districts and homeowner associations, as well as neighborhood chairs and their voting members, are expected to attend the by-invitation-only events.

Duplicate events are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 15 and 5:30 p.m. June 19 at Town Hall, said Jo Anne Dain, president of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum, whose volunteer Incorporation Study Committee has worked on this city charter draft for many months.

A public workshop on the same material will be held in the future, Dain said.

Although Dain and others said this workshop is for supervisors only to gain their input, they acknowledge that the public can’t be turned away from these meetings if they choose to come.

District 1 supervisor June Stroup said Monday, “My personal opinion is that it is not the right time for incorporation, but that is June Stroup private citizen talking.”

There might be some signs that job losses have hit bottom and housing is beginning to stabilize, but many say the pendulum is far from beginning to swing toward economic health.

Although these June meetings will give a peek into the kind of government this group thinks would be best for Lakewood Ranch, it won’t have any financial figures until a feasibility study by economist Hank Fishkind is completed in several months.

“I think it’s too soon,” Stroup said. “Economic times are not in our favor. Let’s wait until some of the other areas that are going to be created and built by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch are known.”

Dain and Keith Davey, vice president of the civic action forum, continue to stress that taking steps forward doesn’t mean a decision must be made to incorporate.

The charter Dain and her group will present for critical analysis is basically the document that would explain how the city of Lakewood Ranch’s government could be structured.

Dain said the draft is being kept under wraps until the meetings.

“We have the charter drafted, and that is what we are discussing at the meeting,” Davey said. “It’s by no means a final charter.”

Lakewood Ranch will no doubt one day be a city, but timing is all important, said District 5 supervisor Dave Brucker.

“The question is, ‘Is it the right time and is it the right geographical area?’ ” Brucker said. “We have a lot of options. You can do the existing Lakewood Ranch or expand it out to include the stewardship areas, or include River Club and other areas.

“If you keep it a small area, you have a more exclusive area where the property values are roughly the same,” Brucker said. “But if you encompass a larger area, and all different types of home values, the economic impact per home is not as great. These are big decisions to make.”

Brucker, who has not gotten a peek at the draft charter, compliments the incorporation committee for its work.

“I think the group is doing a marvelous job,” Brucker said. “They’ve worked really hard.”

Residents have a lot of questions and most agree they will need a lot more information before they can make a decision, said Shirley Surowiec, vice president of the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Homeowners Association.

“One of the things we would lose is the sense of being a small community,” Surowiec said. “We would be a city. I think losing that smallness is something to consider. Personally, I feel our taxes will go up.”

Stroup said taxes are indeed a key element.

“They quote statistics that say in several towns taxes went down,” Stroup said, referring to Dain’s group. “But those communities incorporated during the boom and you constantly had new taxpayers added to the tax rolls and I am not sure it is a reasonable barometer. It might go down at first, but as you mature as a city, people ask for more services. You don’t stay static. And they are not even close to projecting what kind of finances they are looking at.”

For District 4 and Interdistrict Authority board member Michael Spring, there is one main question that must be answered at a future meeting.

“Why is it better to become a city than to stay the way we are?’ ” Spring said. “I don’t have an answer to that. If you want to propose to become a city, you will have to answer that question. Why should people vote for something different unless they perceive it will be advantageous?”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.