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Expert green-lights Lakewood Ranch incorporation

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Well-known economist Hank Fishkind has given Lakewood Ranch the green light to become a city right now.

That’s the bottom line of the Fishkind Feasibility Study, a review recently completed by the Incorporation Study Committee of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum.

“The study is well done and complete,” Jo Ann Dain, vice president of the Civic Action Forum, announced Friday. “It shows that incorporation is financially feasible and sustainable.”

Fishkind will present his findings at 7 p.m. May 25 at the Polo Grill and Fete Ballroom on Main Street.

The event is open to the public and a $10 donation will be requested to help underwrite the presentation, Dain said.

After the presentation, Fishkind will be available for questions during a reception at the Polo Grill lounge.

The entire Fishkind study will be posted on the Incorporation Study Group website, www.lwrdv.com/incorp, by May 7, Dain said.

Not all Lakewood Ranch residents agree with Fishkind.

Joan Brummer of Country Club believes that Lakewood Ranch would need to annex subdivisions around it to be economically viable as a city, a decision that could make incorporation non-feasible.

“I think it’s a bigger picture than is being presented, and in order to be workable will have to encompass a greater area than the Lakewood Ranch we know today.” Brummer said Friday. “I don’t think the people in University Place would want to unify with Lakewood Ranch. Yet, I think we have to go beyond our borders to make this work.”

Dain said Fishkind’s report states that Lakewood Ranch could incorporate without University Place, River Club or other nearby communities.

Successful incorporation could include just Greenbrook, Country Club, Summerfield and Edgewater, the new stewardship district and the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, a future community in Sarasota County, Dain said.

“Lakewood Ranch has about 15,000 residents and of the six municipalities currently in Manatee County, only Bradenton is larger than the existing Lakewood Ranch,” Dain said.

“The Fishkind study is clear that incorporation is financially feasible with the current population,” Dain added.

Michael Spring of Greenbrook, who thinks that incorporation could be a positive move, first wants to know how Fishkind arrived at his conclusion that incorporation is financially feasible.

“I have no doubt the report says it’s feasible,” Spring said. “Whether it is true or not I do not know. What are the assumptions made? Are they reasonable?”

“It would have to show that there are no tax increases and maybe some tax savings,” Spring added.

The Incorporation Study Committee has come up with a recommendation for governance structure should Lakewood Ranch incorporate.

It would call for a council-manager form of government with five council members, including three elected from their districts and two at-large, and a mayor elected by the city council.

Right now Lakewood Ranch has a district-manager form of government with five supervisors for each community development district.

The council would manage Town Hall operations, appoint the city manager and authorize expenditures for city operations.

“Overall, the council would be responsible and accountable for long-term planning and decisions regarding the overall appearance, zoning, safety and welfare of Lakewood Ranch,” Dain said.

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