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LWR citizens face significant decision in 2011

Life is full of choices.

Coke or Pepsi?

Cat or dog?

Chevy or Ford?

Rent or own?

Democrat or Republican?

Maybe neither.

Then there are the life-changing decisions, the really heavy choices, such as whether to stay in a relationship, change jobs, have kids, or put a loved one in an assisted care facility.

There are also many choices in between, not light-hearted maybe, but hopefully not accompanied with possibly catastrophic consequences either.

For Lakewood Ranch residents, the decision is whether to incorporate.

Proponents and opponents have been slugging it out for months.

There seems to be little give on either side. Not surprising, because it’s hard to change anyone’s mind once it’s made up.

On one side, you have the pro-incorporation group, the Lakewood Ranch Incorporation Study Group.

This group grew out of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum deciding in October 2008 to have Fishkind & Associates study whether it would be feasible for Lakewood Ranch to become a city.

Months later, Fishkind returned with the verdict that Lakewood Ranch has the makings of a viable city.

Proponents say Lakewood Ranch is now missing out on funding that would be available to it as a city, and that with city government, there would be unified management rather than the current collection of five community development districts and an Inter-District Authority, which is responsible for Town Hall operations.

Both sides have been having a series of public meetings.

The pro-incorporation group held its most recent forum Feb. 16.

At that meeting, Chair Tom Thomaides said the City of Lakewood Ranch would have a population of between 15,000 and 18,000.

It could count on surplus net revenue of $3 million to $4 million per year, or about $37 million over 10 years, according to reporter Sara Kennedy’s story.

The other side, Friends of Lakewood Ranch, comes to bat 7 p.m. Monday at an open forum in Town Hall. The Friends group opposes incorporation, at least for now.

Chairman Gary Berns promised in a press release to outline flaws in the Fishkind study and in other conclusions. The Friends group would then take questions for the audience.

Berns has also challenged the Incorporation Study Group to an open debate.

But Keith Davey, a member of the pro-incorporation group, says that won’t happen now.

“It’s one of their meetings; they haven’t presented anything new in the past month,” Davey said.

What both sides are looking forward to at this point is a straw poll, probably to be conducted in August or September.

The poll won’t decide whether Lakewood Ranch will incorporate, but it should be a bellwether for members of the Manatee County Legislative Delegation. If the poll shows strong support for incorporation, lawmakers would probably heartily support filing legislation to move it forward.

If the majority of residents disapprove of incorporation, it’s difficult to see how lawmakers would feel comfortable filing legislation contrary to citizens’ wishes.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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