FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CONTRACTION
How was the West Villages Improvement District (WVID) created, and what does it do?
WVID was created by special act of the Florida Legislature in 2004. It is a special, limited purpose unit of government that has the authority to plan, build, operate and maintain various elements of infrastructure, such as roads, ponds, preserves, water and wastewater systems, etc.
What is “contraction” or “de-annexation”?
These are two words for the same thing: redrawing city boundaries to exclude certain areas. Both annexation and contraction (de-annexation) are defined in Florida Statutes, Chapter 171, Local Government. https://bit.ly/2mq6vR
How is contraction accomplished?
Florida law (Florida Statutes Section 171.051) gives residents the right to petition city government to ask that city boundaries be redrawn to exclude their part of the community. This requires a petition supported by at least 15% of the registered voters resident in the area proposed for contraction. The city must then study the situation and either agree or refuse to redraw the boundaries as requested within 6 months.
If the city refuses, the people can submit another petition (which must also be supported by at least 15% of registered voters in the affected area) requesting that they be allowed to vote in a referendum in the affected area.
What are the legal standards for annexation and contraction?
An area can be legally annexed only if it satisfies the standards in Florida Statutes section 151.043:
(1) The total area to be annexed must be contiguous to the municipality’s boundaries at the time the annexation proceeding is begun and reasonably compact, … [and]
(2) Part or all of the area to be annexed must be developed for urban purposes…which meets any one of the following standards:
(a) It has a total resident population equal to at least two persons for each acre of land included within its boundaries;
(b) It has a total resident population equal to at least one person for each acre of land included within its boundaries and is subdivided into lots and tracts so that at least 60 percent of the total number of lots and tracts are 1 acre or less in size; or
(c) It is so developed that at least 60 percent of the total number of lots and tracts in the area at the time of annexation are used for urban purposes, and it is subdivided into lots and tracts so that at least 60 percent of the total acreage, not counting the acreage used at the time of annexation for nonresidential urban purposes, consists of lots and tracts 5 acres or less in size.
The only legally permitted basis for the city refusing a properly supported referendum petition for contraction/de-annexation is a determination that the area covered by the petition satisfies all of the standards of the section quoted above. Because West Villages is not contiguous to North Port’s boundaries (it is separated by up to 3 miles of unincorporated county and otherwise undevelopable state park land) and is not compact (because it encompasses prohibited enclaves of unincorporated county land), there is no legal basis for rejecting a properly supported referendum petition.
What happens if the city refuses both petitions?
If the city tries to prevent a referendum, an appeal can be filed in State courts seeking to force a referendum.
If there is a referendum, who gets to vote?
Only the people registered to vote in the affected area are eligible to vote in the referendum. People living in other parts of the city (outside of WVID) would not be eligible to vote.
Is there any other way to achieve contraction to exclude West Villages from the city?
Another way to accomplish contraction would be to seek a special act of the legislature to redraw the city boundaries. This happened recently, when the legislature redrew the boundaries of the City of Palm Bay, in Brevard County FL. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/1063/Analyses/h1063c.SAC.PDF
The 2019 House Bill 1063 text and overwhelming voting results can be accessed online: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/1063/?Tab=BillText
The legislative process requires the support of the majority of the local (Sarasota County) legislative delegation to the State Legislature before it will be voted on by the house and senate.
If the original annexation was illegal, why can’t we just go to court to get us out of North Port?
The statute dealing with annexation only gives people adversely affected by annexation 30 days to go to court and try to set aside the decision. Because annexation occurred so long ago (before any of us lived here) it is too late to set it aside without pursuing the other options we have described.
What are the chances of success in seeking contraction?
Because city commissioners view us as a “cash cow”, we expect them to be hostile to our efforts. However, our common assessment is that if the majority of registered voters residing in West Villages sign the petitions, one of the governmental entities (city commission, the courts or the Florida legislature) will respect the will of the people and concur with our request for self-determination on local government.
Do we need to raise money in order to achieve contraction?
Yes, but it is too soon to know how much. We will need between $10,000 and $40,000 for a city planning expert to support our requests to the city to either contract the city boundaries voluntarily or hold a referendum, and to provide information to the Sarasota County legislative delegation if the city refuses. This amounts to approximately $10.00 for every currently occupied household in West Villages, which is about 1% of the anticipated average $1,000.00 annual tax savings for every household.
At this point, we hope that the petitions will succeed via the governmental bodies’ actions. If we must go to court, which is the least desirable and most expensive option, we will need to raise additional money to pay for attorney fees and court costs. This could require average contributions of about $100.00 per household.
How did land in West Villages become part of the City of North Port?
Some of the land within WVID (e.g., Myakka State Forest) was already within the city limits when WVID was created. But most of the land in West Villages that is within current city limits got there through “voluntary annexation” by major landowners/developers. The developers were unhappy with strict land use regulations and limitations imposed by the County approximately 20 years ago, and they saw an opportunity to change zoning and substantially increase the number of homes that could be built if they became part of the city. So far, approximately 8,200 acres of developable land within West Villages has been annexed in this way. An additional 4,200 acres is still part of unincorporated Sarasota County.
Who agreed to annex land in West Villages to the City of North Port (to include West Villages within the city limits)?
As created by the legislature, part of West Villages consisted of land that was previously annexed to the City through “voluntary annexation” and the remainder consisted of land in the unincorporated area of Sarasota County. Subsequently, major landowners have agreed with the City to “voluntarily annex” additional tracts, removing them from County jurisdiction and making them part of the City. They were able to do this because there were no residents to oppose the move.
Was there any opposition to the City’s annexation of property in the West Villages?
Yes. The County file suit against the city some 18-20 years ago because it considered the annexation illegal. The trial court agreed with the County and deemed illegal the annexation via city Ordinance 2000-18A (“Taylor Ranch”) and 2000-19A (“River Road Office Park”). https://bit.ly/38zviWG The city appealed, but that appeal was eventually dismissed. https://bit.ly/2LAjeeo
Additionally, some citizens in North Port opposed the annexation. https://bit.ly/2RxYVBR
If we are successful in achieving contraction, what is to prevent North Port from just re-annexing the West Villages?
All the property annexed in West Villages was voluntarily annexed by the developers, when no one lived here. Voluntary annexation requires the agreement of all landowners in the area to be annexed, and the area must also satisfy the legal standards for annexation. Florida Statutes 171.044. In all other cases, annexation can only occur if a referendum election is held and a majority of registered voters in the affected area vote in support of annexation. Florida Statutes 171.0413.
Why do you want city boundaries contracted to exclude West Villages?
We believe that the residents of West Villages are being grossly overtaxed and overcharged by the City of North Port to pay for years of deferred maintenance and major non-essential “improvements” that are of little or no benefit to our neighborhoods. Every year, our property tax bills are hundreds or thousands of dollars higher than those of residents in comparable housing in surrounding neighborhoods that are not part of North Port, and their municipal services are indistinguishable from ours.
How much of North Port’s property tax revenues come from West Villages?
We do not yet know, but the construction of new homes in the city in 2019, the vast majority of which have been in West Villages, has increased the assessed value of property in the city by $232 million. This represents new property tax revenue of more than $900,000 annually. This is on top of all existing housing in West Villages, so the share of property taxes paid by West Villages residents is clearly a substantial portion of the total of $17 million collected by the city. We believe West Villages has added more than 20% to the city’s property tax revenue base since 2013.
How much of the city’s tax revenue is spent on non-essential items like the new Aquatic Center, purchase and rehabilitation of Warm Mineral Springs, City Hall renovations, new administration buildings, etc.?
Instead of spending the money on critically needed repair/reconstruction of the city’s drainage system (expected to cost more than $34,000,000 in the near future), the city spent more than $12,000,000 to construct the Aquatic Center, which is budgeted for an operating loss of more than $750,000 this year.
The city is also planning to spend more than a million dollars on designing (not constructing!) improvements for Warm Mineral Springs Park. Then the city plans to spend nearly $22 million on actual improvements (“master plan implementation” and “building rehabilitation”).
These are just examples of the city’s misplaced priorities.
Are the comparisons between property taxes in North Port vs. Sarasota County exact numbers?
They are close approximations, but not exact for any particular home. Some homes are subject to tax limitations and partial exemptions under Florida law, which limits their property taxes. Also, North Port uses complex formulas to calculate some of its non-ad valorem taxes in ways that two homes with the same assessed value and taxable value can be subject to different tax burdens. Also, outside of West Villages, there are dozens of different non-ad valorem taxes that that apply in some neighborhoods and not others. If you like, we can show you sample TRIM sheet to illustrate this.
Won’t our taxes go down now that Cool Today Park and the nearby shopping center are up and running?
Cool Today Park will not directly improve the city’s tax base, because it is not actually part of the city (the land belongs to the County and is not taxable). The new shopping center is taxable, but it will not add enough tax base to cover the city’s rapidly increasing expenditures.
Why can’t the City reduce taxes by attracting new businesses?
Approximately 95% of the city (other than West Villages) was platted as a residential community by General Development Corp. many decades ago. Businesses cannot locate in those residential neighborhoods without substantial rezoning, which has never occurred. And even where there is land available for new commercial activities, the City gives up tax revenues by giving developers relief from impact fees, etc. (as with the Hampton Inn currently being built).
Another obstacle is the lack of water/sewer infrastructure. Less than 20,000 of the approximately 70,000 platted lots have access to city water – this includes the approximately 4000 housing units in West Villages). Even less have sewer lines available.
Are North Port property taxes expected to stay the same in the next few years?
No. City commissioners have made it clear that tax rates will continue to escalate as the city continues to acquire, develop, upgrade and operate new parks and recreational facilities (e.g., the Aquatic Center, Warm Mineral Springs Park, etc.), construct new and larger buildings for city operations, widen a few streets, build more trails and bike paths in older parts of the city, etc. The city plans to spend $67 million on such items this year alone, and the planned capital improvement expenditures for the next 5 years are $267,568,380 (that’s $4,000 for every person in the city population)! And that does not include a penny for operations.
In the next couple of years, the General Fund that is supported by our residential property taxes will be further burdened by the cost of maintaining the city parks that are currently maintained by the county for about $1.5 million (a burden in excess of 0.3 mills) and the salaries of 21 fire fighters whose pay is currently subsidized by a $2,000,000 federal grant. In addition, the city will continue to expand its workforce and substantially increase pay and benefits for employees, with no end in sight.
What does it mean that the North Port water control infrastructure is crumbling, and why should I care?
Much of the older part of North Port is habitable only because of a complex water control system built decades ago. It has reached the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced in the near future.
Will the West Villages Improvement District continue to exist if the City boundaries are contracted?
Yes. The West Villages Improvement District is an independent district; it will continue to provide infrastructure whether or not West Villages remains part of the city
Who will govern West Villages if it is de-annexed from North Port?
If the contraction efforts succeed the communities in West Villages will go back to being governed by the County (like Sarasota National, Grand Palm, Plantation, etc.). In effect, residents of WVID would join the other 260,000 residents of Sarasota County (about 60% of total county population of 419,000) who live in unincorporated areas of Sarasota County.
Who will provide municipal services if West Villages is de-annexed from North Port?
- Police services will be provided by Sarasota County Sheriff Department, as they are for Sarasota National, Grand Palm, Plantation and other surrounding communities.
- Fire protection services will be provided by the Sarasota County Fire Department.
- EMS services will be provided by the Sarasota County Department of Emergency Services, as they are for Sarasota National, Grand Palm, Plantation and other surrounding communities.
- Schools will continue to be provided by Sarasota County Schools, as they are now.
- Libraries will continue to be provided by Sarasota County, as they are now.
- Water will continue to be provided by the City of North Port, at least until the West Villages water plant is completed.
- Sewer (wastewater) services will continue to be provided by the City of North Port, at least until the West Villages wastewater plant is completed.
- Solid waste/recycling will be provided by Sarasota County (which charges less than the city for the services).
Will the city increase our water rates if contraction is successful?
Probably, at least in the short term. Currently, the city charges a 15% premium for water service properties outside of the city limits, so we expect our rates would increase by that amount as long as we get our water from the city.
However, if WVID decides to operate the water treatment plant it is already obligated to build (see below), we could see substantial reductions in water rates. We currently pay just over $70.00 for 2,000 gallons of water. The Coral Springs Improvement District operates a new reverse osmosis water plant (the same type targeted for WVID) that provide about 7,000 gallons of water for $70.00. Households using 3,000 gallons or less pay only $38.00.
What is to prevent the city from retaliating by doubling or tripling our water rates?
Florida law prohibits municipalities like North Port from charging non-residents a premium in excess of 25% of resident rates for water or sewer services. It also generally prohibits treating one group of non-residents differently than another group, so we expect that the city will continue to impose a surcharge of 15% if we achieve contraction.
Will Sarasota County raise our taxes to pay for municipal services if we are successful in leaving North Port?
No. Sarasota County charges the same property tax rates for all County residents in unincorporated areas (areas outside of the municipalities of North Port, Venice, Sarasota and Longboat Key). Any increased costs of providing services in our area will be spread over all taxpayers in the County, just as increased costs of providing services in other parts of the county are supported by our taxes.
How will West Villages infrastructure be developed and paid for if it is not part of North Port?
Since 2004, all infrastructure in West Villages has been developed and financed by WVID and paid for has been paid for by the residents and landowners of West Villages. The city has not had anything to do with paying for any of it. That will continue, whether or not West Villages is part of the city.
Will West Villages have to build wastewater and water treatment facilities if it is not part of North Port?
West Villages is obligated to build wastewater and water treatment facilities whether or not it remains part of North Port, because our service demands will exceed the current capabilities of the city or the county. There is no way to escape those costs.
Will we have to make West Villages into an independent city if it is not part of North Port?
No. All necessary services can be provided by the County or WVID. There is no need to create a new city (or to incur the additional cost burdens of running a city government). People may want to do that at some point in the future, but it is neither necessary nor contemplated at this time.
Are the landowner developers benefited or penalized by the exclusion of West Villages ID from the city?
Initially, there will be matters of dis-entanglement, involving separation of funds that were funneled into the city coffers via impact fees. Because of the loss of revenues from West Villages, a great deal of hostility from the city might be expected. This could complicate the job of the local developers’ management, as they will have to continue to obtain permits from the city until de-annexation is completed. However, the developer landowners will no longer pay the additional city property tax, and can develop the rest of the land by dealing with only one governmental entity – the county, rather than with both the county and the city- for zoning and building codes. In the long run, the developers may also reap substantial benefit by being able to sell more/more profitable homes because the lower tax burden on residents will make the homes more economically attractive.
What are the reasons against returning West Villages to unincorporated county through contraction?
As non-residents, we would have to pay higher fees to use the city’s Aquatic Center. We would also have to pay higher rates for water, at least until the WVID water plant is on-line (as discussed above).
Developers would likely have a more difficult time with city permitting and approvals in the short term and might face stricter county zoning and planning standards in the long run.
City, county and WVID officials would have to undertake a time-consuming process of reaching an agreement about what portion, if any, of the existing indebtedness or property of the city shall be assumed by or transferred to the county, the fair value of such indebtedness or property, and the manner of transfer and financing it.
There may be other reasons, but we have not heard them yet.
Added on May 20th, 2020:
Q: Can you speculate on the possible ramifications and/or the probability that the communities involved in de-annexation might be involved in litigation by North Port, Sarasota County, property developers, Atlanta Braves or any other entity that feels an unjust loss by the action of de-annexation, that necessitates a legal action for them to recover such loss? And if so, who (communities, developers, individuals as a collective group, etc.) would be involved in any such litigation.
A: Litigation in connection with de-annexation from North Port is certainly a possibility, as anyone who will “suffer material injury” due to the City’s failure to “follow the procedures” or “meet the requirements established” by statute for de-annexation can seek judicial review of the City’s action. Fl. St. 171.081(1).
If the City unjustly rejects our referendum petitions and refuses to allow West Villagers to vote on the issue, we will need to appeal to the circuit court. That litigation would be between the disenfranchised voters of West Villages and the City.
It is conceivable that developers might try to join in such litigation on one side or the other, but we do not consider it likely at this point (the City might retaliate against them if they joined us, and they would antagonize residents and potential residents if they joined the City in trying to squelch West Villagers’ voices and votes). Mattamy Homes may be an exception, considering their recent activity through their appointees on the WVID board.
Neither the County nor the Atlanta Braves has any reason to join in any litigation; CoolToday Park will remain County property (as it is now) and the Braves will continue to train there whether or not de-annexation is successful. In any case, no one could obtain any judicial relief unless the City acted unlawfully, in which case the City’s action would be invalidated. There is no provision in the law for any disgruntled party to recover any monetary damages for what they feel is an “unjust loss”.
Q: Is it true that successful de-annexation will cost millions of dollars? If so, who will have to pay for that?
A: Claims that millions of dollars will be spent on de-annexation are nothing more than fear mongering. If our de-annexation campaign is successful, the boundaries of the City will be redrawn (by simply passing a resolution) to exclude the land in the West Villages. In addition, the City will be obligated by Florida law to “reach agreement with the county governing body to determine what portion, if any, of the existing indebtedness or property of the municipality shall be assumed by the county … the fair value of such indebtedness or property, and the manner of transfer and financing.” Fl. St. 171.061(2).
The only “City property” that would be affected by de-annexation consists of existing water and sewer systems in the West Villages that have already been paid for with the impact fees and bonds that will continue to be paid by WVID property owners. The City has not shouldered any of the cost of those items and they are not subject to any City debt, so they should be turned over to the County without any real problems or significant costs. No one is going to have to pay millions of dollars to continue to enjoy the benefit of the facilities for which we property owners are already paying millions of dollars.
Mattamy’s chief legal counsel estimates ‘turn over’ fees from the City to the County will be $200,000 to $250,000 for legal and legislative work (worst case thinking on their part). WVID will initially pay the expenses, but will pass the costs on to all the WVID property owners. The pro rata cost, likely a one time assessment would be $100.00 per residential unit. This is small fraction of the amount each residential unit would save every year.
Q: Some people say the estimated savings to taxpayers in WVID from de-annexation will disappear because of increased fees for water, sewer, solid waste and emergency services including police and fire. Is that true?
A: No. If we are successful in de-annexation, North Port can increase our water/sewer rates because we will be non-residents. Currently, the City charges an extra 15% for non-residents, so a typical $80.00-$100.00 water/sewer bill would increase by $12.00-$15.00/month. Solid waste (including recycling and yard waste) would be provided by the County; the County currently charges $186.59 per year, which is $58.41 lower than the City for the same service. The City and County both charge non-ad valorem taxes (based partly on value) for Fire Rescue. The Fire Rescue tax on a home with a taxable value of $299,000 would be $192.73 if de-annexation is successful, which is $156.93 lower than the $349.66 the City charges on a home with the same taxable value. We would have to pay the County EMS tax of 0.66 mills if de-annexation is successful, but that is much lower than the City tax of 3.8735 mills. Side-by-side comparison of a homes with a taxable value of $299,000 (plus or minus 0.3%) show de-annexation tax savings of more than $1200 per year, reduced by $96 to $180 for increased water/sewer charges.
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