West Villages, Florida, March 19, 2022
For Immediate Release
March 19–John Meisel, chairman of West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG), was recognized Saturday with the Control Growth Now (CGN) Citizen of the Year Award, presented by Dan Lobeck, CGN president, at their annual meeting and luncheon.
Meisel leads WV4RG, a group formed by residents of West Villages who first met when they organized to protest a proposed 30% property tax increase by the city of North Port. After their initial efforts succeeded in lowering the tax to just under 14%, the group formally became WV4RG, a public action committee. Their stated objective is to focus on accountability from those responsible to residents—government and developers. Their current focus is contraction/de-annexation from North Port because of the city’s financial irresponsibility. While accepting his award Meisel provided several examples of the city’s negligence in managing city revenues.
In concluding his remarks, Meisel compared his group and CGN’s efforts as a “David and Goliath” struggle and saying that they must “collectively …educate and awaken enough citizens that they need to take control of their government.”
CGN is a non-partisan group of people working to preserve the unique lifestyle and environment of Sarasota County. The organization advocates for “integrity and independent thought in local government and balancing the influence of developers to responsibly protect our neighborhoods, environment and traffic mobility as well as to protect the taxpayers by making growth pay its own way.”
West Villages, Florida, February 1st, 2022
To: All Residents of West Villages
RE: De-Annexation and Real Estate Market Update
This is an important message about de-annexation for the residents of Islandwalk, Gran Paradiso, The Preserve, Renaissance, Tortuga, and Oasis which makes up the West Villages. This message is equally important to both our newest residents and those of us that have been here for several years now. It is about needless and double, indeed triple taxes we pay to live in the West Villages.
My great concern right now is that there are many of you who may be against, undecided, or indifferent about the de-annexation vote. Perhaps you are hearing a lot of propaganda from the developers and some residents who want to remain with North Port (that is a real head scratcher for me). Perhaps you are hearing over stated and outright false information from North Port officials. What I can say to you is that it is in your best interests as a resident to vote FOR de-annexation when you get the chance. That chance may never come along again. In the short term, you will save money on extra property taxes based on assessed value. In the long run you will save even more money on property taxes.
De-annexation is a complex and convoluted issue unique to our little corner of Sarasota County, indeed to all of Florida. Historically the state was so large, the county and county government was the jurisdiction the residents lived under. Within the county though, residents could petition to “Incorporate” and establish a city government and jurisdiction separate from the county. Sarasota County has three (3) incorporated cities; City of Sarasota, City of Venice, and City of North Port; and the Town of Longboat Key. When North Port was originally incorporated, it did not include the lands west of the Myakka River to the FPL ROW. It remained with the county. No one really lived here except wild pigs and alligators. The major land holder was Thomas Ranch Land Holdings. The lands remained in the county jurisdiction up until about 20 years ago when the developers saw great potential in these lands west of the Myakka and thought their interests could be better served if the West Villages was annexed into North Port. The contention is that this annexation done at the time was illegal.
Regardless of the legality of the annexation, it got done. The result is that the West Villages came under the jurisdiction of North Port. Now comes the West Villages Improvement District (WVID) formed under Florida law to establish a third jurisdiction that we also live under to provide an infrastructure and manage it. Residents pay to WVID a CDD tax. So here we are living within THREE taxing authorities. They all take money from us.
How the North Port Ad Valorem Tax (a tax based on assessed value) affects you
I did an analysis on property values. We here have seen dramatic property price increases, to the tune of 22% year over year (December to December). I know of homes that have sold in December at $200,000 more than the original Mattamy sales price from 2-3 years ago.
Because the last half of 2021 represents the most recent prices and represents this booming market, I looked at closing prices from 7/1/21 to 12/31/21. I separated North Port proper, that is to say east of the Myakka, and in the West Villages.
For the last half of 2021, there were 229 total sales with prices ranging $246,998 to $1,083,155 with an average of $489,431 from IW, Gran Paradiso, The Preserve, Renaissance, Tortuga, and Oasis.
For the same period in North Port east of the Myakka all the way to Port Charlotte, there were 1,258 sales with prices ranging from $24,000 (not a typo) to $975,000 with an average price of $313,802. That is a difference of $175,629.
If property taxes are based on assessed values derived from market value, we are paying proportionally more in taxes than North Port proper. The difference is only going to increase as the values in West Villages grow faster than North Port. With deference to our friends in North Port, buyers are not coming to Florida to go to North Port, they are coming here to the West Villages and Wellen Park. Have you ever wondered why we have a Venice Zip Code? The builders knew a long time ago that it would be a challenge to sell homes with a North Port address, so they requested and received our 34293 Venice Zip Code.
For those who say that it is going to cost us money to de-annex from North Port, I say that it is already costing us more in property taxes to be in North Port, and it is going to cost more as West Villages and Wellen Park values appreciate at a much faster rate than other parts of North Port. The gap will widen as the market progresses. We are already subsidizing North Port with higher taxes based on higher assessed values, and the gap will widen.
You could argue that the Homestead will help mitigate increases in assessed values, this is true, but what of you seasonal residents without the protection of the Homestead? You will continue to pay a much higher proportion of taxes, unabated. You will continue to subsidize North Port at a higher rate.
Many ask what is the developer’s interest in staying with North Port? To answer that would take a deep dive into building codes, setbacks, minimum lot sizes because North Port and the county have different zoning classifications for land use with complex rules and regulations within the specific classifications. In a quick summary, the differences could cost the developers lost revenues in the millions from the reduced number of home sites for future unapproved lots. The developers have hedged their bet, many of the lots planned for Preto Blvd. south to the proposed Manasota Beach Road are already on the books with the assessor. They are locked in so to speak.
If you want to know more about de-annexation, go to http://www.wv4rg.org, to get caught up on the history and status. John Meisel is the chairman. He and his group are waging a protracted legal fight with North Port, WVID, and the developers. They are fighting for our right to get to vote on de-annexation as provided in Florida law, and they are winning. This is really a David vs. Goliath battle here. Heroic if you ask me.
Florida Licensed Real Estate Broker
Florida State-Certified General Real Estate Appraiser RZ3914
West Villages, Florida, December 31st, 2021
My Friends & Neighbors,
This did not take long! In less than a week, Judge Carroll has denied the City of North Port’s motion for a rehearing. Several of the team members with legal backgrounds termed it a “smackdown”! In Judge Carroll’s order he on numerous occasions identified how the City of North Port has misinterpreted FL Statute 171 and applied their interpretations erroneously…at one point stating, “The City’s expansive reading leads to an absurd result”. See the links below for the Herald Tribune Article and Judge Carroll’s Order…
The City of North Port will now have 30 days to file a motion with the 2nd District Court for a Second Tier Certiorari review of Judge Carroll’s prior order. WV4RG will then have 30 days to file a response to the City of North Port’s filing and the City of North Port will have 20 days following WV4RG’s filing to file a final response. In this review, the only elements that can be reviewed are:
- Whether the Circuit Court afforded procedural due process.
- Whether the Circuit Court applied the correct law.
On both these elements, we are certain that the 2nd District Court will uphold Judge Carroll’s order.
Again, the wheels of justice continue to turn slowly, but with each decision in our favor, the goal line get closer and closer. These successes could not have been achieved without the continued support of each of you and your financial support. While the volunteers in our group have successfully been able to minimize our legal fees, albeit a fraction of what the City of North Port and Developers are spending to stop us, we are still incurring legal expenses on a monthly basis. Your support is needed more now than ever during this final push through the court system.
If you have yet to send a donation, please reconsider as the return on investing in our cause will pay significant dividends. For example, if the taxable value of your home is $400,000, you will save over $1400 a year on your taxes at the current tax rate in perpetuity. That means a $100 investment in our cause could pay you back $14,000 over 10 years.
For those of you that have already sent a financial donation, a huge thank you to all of you, especially those that have contributed on multiple occasions. We have received donations from only about 10% of the residents, but of those 10%, 25% or more have contributed multiple times!
It is time for everyone that supports the deannexation effort to send in a contribution to the effort. Everyone will benefit once the deannexation occurs and we rid ourselves of the fiscal irresponsibility of the City of North Port.
Please make your contributions payable to WV4RG send your donations to:
12161 Mercado Dr, Unit 102
Venice, FL 34293
God Bless and Happy New Year!
West Villages, Florida, August 16, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SARASOTA COUNTY SHERIFF QUESTIONS NORTH PORT CLAIMS IN DE-ANNEX STUDY
August 16, 2021—Efforts by West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) to de-annex from the City of North Port have been bolstered by an affidavit from Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman, which challenges claims made in the city’s feasibility study conducted prior to the city’s April 29 quasi-judicial hearing on deannexation/contraction.
In the affidavit the sheriff notes that his office was not contacted for any of the information included in the study, and much of the information cited is incorrect or misstated. He specifically takes issue with these statements from the North Port study:
· “The city would have up to 15 additional personnel each shift available immediately to assist officers currently assigned to the study area.” Hoffman notes that “on average the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office has more than 65 sworn personnel with patrol cars working at any one given time to respond to police issues anywhere in the county…. more than 120 sworn personnel assigned to the southern half of Sarasota County.”
Hoffman added that effective October 1, 2021, “the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will have 1,017 budgeted positions which include 453 sworn law enforcement deputies, 210 sworn corrections deputies and 352 civilian support personnel.
· “It is probably more likely that the city (North Port) would be called upon to assist deputies as the city police officers would likely be closer to respond…the lion’s share of mutual aid calls would be to the unincorporated area.” Hoffman calls that statement “factually incorrect,” and adds that since January 2020 his department has received 11 calls for assistance from the North Port Police Department, and to his knowledge no requests have been made to North Port for assistance during that same time period.
· “The local control and direct ability to control resources and policy is an important element that North Port enjoys…can be a challenge for larger governments and organizations that have many masters and financial resources that have many demands upon them.” Hoffman counters that, “The sheriff is an independent elected constitution officer…has far more ‘local and direct control’ than any municipal form of government…reports directly to the citizens of Sarasota County…does not require approval from a city manager, mayor or city council to act swiftly and efficiently…”
· “To get a level of service greater than what the sheriff provides county-wide, it would be reasonable to expect …the County to create a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) that would levy taxes or charges to property owners located in the contraction area (West Villages). Hoffman states that the sheriff’s office has existed for over 100 years and “during that time, there have been no instances in which an MSTU has been proposed.” He further calls the statement “unreasonable.”
In his affidavit Hoffman notes that the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office provides these services which are not provided by North Port: Animal Services Unit; Mounted Patrol Unit; Aviation Unit; Emergency Response Team (ERT); Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT); Sheriff’s Underwater Recovery Force (SURF); Marine Patrol Unit; Hazardous Devices Unit (HDU); Hostage Negotiation Team; Drug Laboratory; Digital Forensics Laboratory, and Victim Assistance Unit
Hoffman’s affidavit was submitted with WV4RG’s petition for a writ of certiorari that cites North Port improprieties in conducting the April 29 quasi-judicial de-annexation/contraction hearing and contests its outcome. WV4RG declined a request by the attorney for Wellen Park LLC, the developers of land in West Villages, to strike the sheriff’s affidavit from their filings. Earlier the developers filed lawsuits to halt the de-annexation process but asked to have these suits dismissed after the April 29 hearing resulted in a 5-0 vote by commissioners not to de-annex.
WV4RG also filed a writ of mandamus that requests that a referendum on de-annexation/contraction be conducted for West Villages voters. The filing argues that the North Port commissioners’ vote against de-annexation/contraction does not void the residents’ right to have a referendum vote and an opportunity to decide on their jurisdiction. A petition requesting a referendum vote signed by over 15% of the registered voters in the affected area was submitted to the North Port city clerk at the end of the April 29 hearing, but the city has refused to act on it.
North Port responded to both the writ of certiorari and the writ of mandamus filed by WV4RG. The documents submitted by both parties have been reviewed by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll, and a hearing for “oral arguments” from both sides on both filings is scheduled for October 8, 2021. One hour will be allotted for each filing, and each side will have 30 minutes for arguments on each filing.
WVID residents from the communities of Gran Paradiso, Renaissance, The Preserve, Oasis and IslandWalk officially became WV4RG in February 2020 when they filed to become a political action committee. More information on the organization and their activities can be found on www.wv4rg.org.
West Villages, Florida, June 3, 2021
Yesterday, WV4RG filed a Writ of Certiorari in the 12th District Court, naming the City of North Port as the Defendant. The Writ of Certiorari is a legal filing that requests the court to review the proceedings of the April 29th quasi-judicial hearing and make a determination whether or not the City of North Port applied appropriate standards of FL Statute in making their decision. This filing comes on the heels of WV4RG filing a Writ of Mandamus last week, requesting the court to order the City of North Port to process our petitions for a Referendum and schedule a date for a vote on the question of to contract or not to contract the municipal boundaries.
We fully expected the need to file the Writ of Certiorari and the City of North Port provided substantial reasons and causes for filing the lawsuit. It will ultimately come down to the court to decide if the causes are substantive enough to either order the City of North Port to proceed with the voluntary contraction, order the City of North Port to “re-do” the hearing, or agree with the City of North Port that their actions and decisions were within acceptable standards of FL Statute. Whatever the decision, we knew this was going to be another step in the legal process. The next step will be an Appeal, filed by whomever is not in agreement with the courts ruling…either WVRG or City of North Port.
You can view the Writ of Certiorari at the following link: https://app.box.com/s/s3f7r4u8sv13m3dgn96xei5zu3w9z4tq
You can view the Writ of Mandamus at the following link: https://app.box.com/s/p0r3jfxmks4mt8g568vaalyawpg407g6
John Meisel, Co-Chair WV4RG_
West Villages, Florida, April 29, 2021
SOME EXCERPTS FROM PUBLIC COMMENTS Submitted by West Villagers at the April 29 Quasi-Judicial Hearing
Poor Land Use, Economic Development Planning
North Port is considered a bedroom community since less than 10% of the land in the city is commercial/industrial. Former North Port City Planner Sam Jones stated in a 2013 interview, that the city needed 13 to 17 percent commercial development to help offset special assessments and taxes for residents. Eight years later the problem still exits.
The Fiscal Impacts of Land Use on Local Government, a study of 17 communities including one in Florida, concluded that “bedroom communities are not economically sustainable at tax rates that are likely to be levied.” And added, that “In not a single instance, did residential development generate sufficient revenue to cover its associated expenditures.”
North Port was platted as a residential community by General Development Corp, and businesses cannot locate in those residential neighborhoods without substantial rezoning, which has never occurred. Even where land is available for commercial sites in North Port, the City gives up revenues by giving developers relief from impact fees, like they have done with the current Hampton Inn site.
The pipeline of shovel-ready sites for business is limited, especially for light industrial manufacturing, which offers the greatest potential for adding to the city’s tax base. In addition, much of this land is NOT connected to the city’s water and waste systems—a major barrier to attracting development.
According to your own de-annexation feasibility study: For every $1 spent on infrastructure, the city would add between $58 and $290 of taxable assessed value to its tax rolls that would generate annual property tax revenue and pay one-time impact fees. Currently the business and development climate in North Port is NOT viewed favorably. The city should consider the “opportunity cost” of not acting to prepare for this type of desired development.
Existing trends favor single family residential development as the most financially feasible. AND, without infrastructure development and/or policy changes that prepare and preserve land for commercial and industrial development, the city’s remaining undeveloped land supply will continue to be consumed by single family homes and the tax base will become increasingly unstable.
On Commissioners’ Financial Responsibility:
North Port’s financial future is doubtful. No positive outcomes are apparent; only increasing overhead, taxes and costs for residents because of the city’s ongoing financial irresponsibility.
—the Aquatic Center which was originally in the budget as a community pool that would cost an estimated $1 million + morphed into the Aqua Center. That albatross now appears to be a continuing liability that posts—an $800,000 + operating deficit annually
–Warm Mineral Springs has potential as a tourist attraction, but it needs a $20 million facelift to reach its full potential. Your own feasibility study on de-annexation concludes that Warm Mineral Springs does NOT offer the “payback/ROI” that other business/industrial ventures promise. So where will you spend your money? How will you prioritize your expenses?
–You have over $34 million+ in infrastructure repairs needed immediately if you want to have the shovel-ready land necessary to attract the tax-paying light industrial and commercial businesses that can help stabilize your tax base, and dig North Port out of the financial hole you continue to dig. How soon can you get that work started?
–You moved the $9 million for Atwater Park improvements to the FY ’22 budget to balance this fiscal year’s budget. Will you have to move it again next year?
–Over the next five fiscal years the current fiscal year budget projects that the reserve fund balance will decrease from its current balance of $24,602,644 to a much smaller balance of $8,528,774—a significant decrease!
–The Wildan Study that you had prepared projected that the city’s growth vs. current impact fees collected would create a $30 million shortfall. Who will pay for this shortfall—the developer or the taxpayers?
There are many more financial challenges North Port must deal with in the coming years, but unless some tough decisions are made, North Port does not have a financially viable future —with or without West Villages!
On Impact Fees
There is ongoing communication of false information to West Village residents. We use less of the North Port’s services, but contribute more taxes per person than all other North Port residents.
Our WVID bonds and the impact fees on our homes, along with our HOA dues, cover the costs of building and maintaining all our roads and landscaping, the wastewater treatment plant, the sewers and other infrastructure. Our WVID bonds total almost $160 million and are in addition to the annual ad valorem taxes we pay.
In addition, North Port receives impact fees from the construction of West Villages homes. These are projected to be an estimated $9 million in FY’21. In FY’20 the impact fee for one 2000 square foot house exceeded $12,000. We are talking major dollars here.
WVID has paid and continues to pay the developers for the roads, landscaping, and infrastructure like the waste-water treatment plant with the money received from the impact fees that West Village residents pay when they buy their homes. North Port even admits that it has not spent any money on West Villages development or infrastructure!
So, the $12 million for the fire station, the $50 million for wastewater facilities, the $52 million “donation” from WVID, the $400,000 plus for police cars and equipment, along with all the roads within West Villages has all been paid for (in some way) by West Villages residents!!
West Villages, Florida, April 27, 2021
Hearing on North Port De-Annexation Gives West Villages Their Day in Court
What: Residents of West Villages who want to de-annex/contract from the
City of North Port, will have the opportunity to present their case during a quasi-judicial hearing before the city’s five commissioners. Previously, two lawsuits by developers seeking to stop the petition to de-annex were overturned by the courts.
Who: West Villages residents from Gran Paradiso, Island Walk, Oasis,
Renaissance and The Preserve will be represented by attorney Luke Liroit
and Ensite, a land use company. North Port will be represented by Andrew
Mai and Munilytics.
Where: City of North Port, Commission Chambers,
4970 City Hall Boulevard, North Port, FL
When: Thursday, April 29, 9 a.m.
DETAILS: WV4RG is a political action committee representing homeowners in the West Villages Improvement District who want to de-annex/contract from the City of North Port’s municipal boundaries. Their stated purpose is to escape the city’s continuing fiscal irresponsibility and become part of unincorporated Sarasota County. The group began after North Port Commissioners tried to pass a 25.59% increase in the city’s millage rate in 2019.
De-annexation is a highly contentious issue that began when the land in West Villages was illegally annexed and ruled by the courts as not in compliance with the requirements outlined in the state’s statues on annexation.
Actual information gathered by the acting North Port city manager confirmed that West Village residents pay 26% more in ad valorem taxes than residents of neighboring communities in unincorporated Sarasota County with homes of the same appraised value.
WV4RG is concerned that West Villages residents might not receive unbiased, objective consideration from the North Port Commissioners, since former Mayor Debbie McDowell has spoken negatively about de-annexation on her Facebook page, and current Mayor Jill Luke has called the group “selfish,” and stated the real owner of the properties is the developer, not the residents.
West Villages, Florida, February 6, 2021
West Villagers Answer Developers’ Third Attempt to Block De-annexation
February 26—West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) has responded to the third attempt by developers (Wellen Park LLLP, Mattamy Homes and Neal Communities) to stop residents’ efforts to de-annex from North Port. In their February 24 response to the developers’ Third Amended Complaint, WV4RG moved to have the suit dismissed in its entirety because it improperly interferes with residents’ constitutional rights to petition their government for redress, and their rights under the Florida statute to seek de-annexation from the City. They also argue that the developers’ claims have no legitimate basis in law.
The most recent WV4RG filing also includes an Anti-SLAPP claim. A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a lawsuit typically filed in retaliation against people for speaking out on a public issue, reporting official misconduct or circulating a petition. Most SLAPPs are filed by corporations, developers, or government officials against individuals or community organizations that oppose their actions, to silence their targets by intimidation and forcing them to waste resources on attorney fees and costs. Florida law prohibits SLAPPs because they interfere with peoples’ constitutional right to of free speech on public issues.
Last year, residents of WVID filed petitions seeking to de-annex their neighborhoods and adjacent undeveloped parcels west of the Myakka River (including Myakka State Forest) from the City of North Port. Nearly 2,500 residents signed petitions to de-annex because of their view that City leaders persistently mismanage City resources and continue to demonstrate a lack of fiscal responsibility. Before filing their petitions, WV4RG invited developers to work with residents to address their concerns; however, the developers responded by suing for an injunction to block the de-annexation process.
After the 12th Circuit Court denied the developers’ motion for a temporary injunction last month, they filed the Third Amended Complaint. In this complaint, the developers added a new claim that residents should be “estopped” from petitioning for contraction because they have enjoyed “the benefits and privileges” of living in the City of North Port. They also added a claim that the de-annexation petition is “invalid” because it covers the Myakka State Forest, which was annexed to the City before the Florida statute on annexation and de-annexation was rewritten in 1974. They also renewed their request for an injunction to prohibit the residents and North Port from following the statutory de-annexation procedures.
No date has been set for the next hearing on the developers’ most recent complaint. A quasi-judicial hearing on the residents’ petition to de-annex from North Port is tentatively scheduled for this May. At that time, representatives of parties supporting and opposing de-annexation will have an opportunity to present their positions to the City Commission.
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West Villages, Florida, January, 2021
On the way to get approximately 40% of registered voters’ signatures in West Villages, which were later filed with the referendum petition. Our sincere THANKS to ALL!
West Villages, Florida, November 4, 2020
GUEST EDITORIAL: West Villagers are legally entitled to separate from the City of North Port
Victor Dobrin – Guest columnist
I am deeply concerned about the Herald-Tribune Editorial Board’s Oct. 31 opinion about thousands of West Villagers who signed the petitions to de-annex from the City of North Port, as defined and protected by the Florida Statutes Chapter 171.
The West Villages are separated from the City via miles of development-suited land belonging to the unincorporated county. Calling these thousands of WVs, who merely followed the law, a “mutiny” makes someone think that a Big Brother’s boot is trying to crush their rights, while brushing over many past and current issues, such as:
- The city was ill-conceived from its inception, being 95% residential; now it’s about 10% taxable non-residential, but will need at least 15% to be sustainable, which, with the current city area size makes it impossible!
The combination of the city with county government would make sense for all city’s taxpayers, although that fell on deaf ears.
- The city annexed the WVs via the voluntary request of the developer after the county did not approve their plans. The county sued and won in court against the initial annexation; in its current form it is still illegal.
- North Port attempted to charge WVs for drainage (the district retains this function); this went to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the district.
- The city intentionally, in bad faith, singled out the WVs for a ZIP code change in 2017, although the city has 8 ZIP codes!
- Contrary to false information, the city did not build the infrastructure of the WVs, as this burden lies on the homeowners and developers.
- Services (solid waste, fire, police), simply, are not better or more affordable than those offered by the county.
- North Port raised our taxes for unsustainable projects, such as the Aquatic Center, while more critically important capital projects that are looming, such as potable water or flood control structures, etc., are unfunded. Unfortunately, this is going to be a perpetual issue.
- City commission elections are not the cure for the multiple issues facing us.
As individuals, West Villagers do not derive any tangible free benefits from the city or developers; but they do expect fair treatment and, above all, to stop the interference with their rights, as defined in the laws of the state and the United States. Moreover, most of West Villagers’ affinity does not belong with the city. The sheer size of our neighborhoods gives us the true identity: West Villagers.
Widely held opinion is that, when the de-annexation happens, part of the negotiations between the county and the city will lead to recognizing the development rights obtained by landowners with the city. And that is my position, too, as a petitioner.
It is time that the West Villagers’ legally protected position and efforts get the respect they deserve.
Victor Dobrin is a retired Ford Motor Co. engineering manager living in West Villages who volunteers with various entities in the county.
West Villages, Florida, October 31, 2020
TO: Editorial Board, Herald-Tribune
RE: Your October 31, 2020 Editorial
Your editorial is very one-sided and appears to have been written without your ever having a serious discussion with any West Villages residents who are proponents for de-annexation. Since the developers are paid advertisers for your newspaper we realize you may feel the need to pander to their wishes, but as a responsible news organization, we hope you will also fulfill your obligation to include all the relevant facts.
The more than 2000 registered West Villages voters who signed the initial petition requesting de-annexation from North Port are not “unenthusiastic about sharing with those less fortunate than themselves.” They have done their homework and learned that the city as originally platted and as currently mismanaged is not a sustainable entity without continuing double-digit tax increases and/or rapidly accelerating fees and assessments to cover looming budget deficits.
FACT: The North Port City Manager requested a comparison of taxes paid by North Port homeowners vs. homeowners in unincorporated Sarasota County. The analysis disclosed that a North Port resident whose home has a taxable value of $200,000 will pay approximately 26 percent more in taxes and fees than the owner of a home with the same taxable value in unincorporated Sarasota County with little or no difference in quality of the services received and no additional tangible value for residents of North Port.
FACT: Because North Port was platted as a residential “bedroom” community, only about 10 percent of the city’s land is designated commercial/industrial. “In not a single instance did residential development generate sufficient revenue to cover its associated expenditures.” The Fiscal Impacts Of Land Use On Local Government.
In 2013 former North Port city planner, Sam Jones, said in an interview that the city needs 13 percent to 17 percent commercial development to help offset special assessments and taxes for residents.
FACT: The land in what is now West Villages was illegally annexed. Florida Statute 171.043 states, “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 no part of the area shall be included within the boundary of another incorporated municipality.” In 2000 and again in 2002 the circuit court in Sarasota County ruled that the annexation was invalid. No significant changes in the land involved in the illegal annexation have occurred since then. Due to an interlocal agreement between North Port and Sarasota County the city proceeded to annex the lands now in question.
FACT: West Villages Improvement District, funded by bonds paid for by West Villagers homeowners, paid for all infrastructure in the West Villages communities—not North Port.
FACT: North Port Commissioners demonstrate financial irresponsibility. In September 2016 the commissioners changed a CIP from a $2.3 million renovation of a 25-meter pool at the Dallas White Center to a 50-meter pool at the Morgan Center without addressing its increase costs or amending the FY’ 17 budget which they approved at the same time. That 25-meter pool then blossomed into the $12 million Aquatic Center which operated at a $800,000 loss in the most recent fiscal year. North Port voters were never given the opportunity to vote on this and now must bear the financial burden for its ongoing maintenance. This is the most noted example of their mismanagement, but there are many others.
On behalf of West Villagers for Responsible Government
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Petition Requests De-Annexation Of All Lands West of Myakka River
October 28, 2020—A petition requesting de-annexation from the City of North Port, signed by 1,314 qualified registered voters who live west of the Myakka River, was submitted to the city clerk today. The petition addresses the 1970 annexation of Myakka Estates which was overturned by an ordinance passed by North Port in 1990, in which the city acknowledged that the annexation of Myakka Estates did not meet the criteria stated in Florida Statute 171.043.
To be eligible for submission the petition required the signatures of 15% of registered voters in the affected lands, which currently is 584 voters and will be a higher number after the upcoming election. Regardless, more than double the required number of signatures accompanied the petition submitted today.
The North Port Commission now must study the feasibility of removing the lands west of the Myakka River, and if the voters’ petition is rejected, the commission must state the specific facts for the rejection. West Villagers for Responsible Government, a political action committee established to address issues impacting the lives of West Villages’ residents, commissioned a land planning firm to confirm that the land is eligible for de-annexation, and this document was submitted along with the petition.
Florida Statute 171.043 states, “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 no part of the area shall be included within the boundary of another incorporated municipality.” In 2000 and again in 2002 the circuit court in Sarasota County ruled that the annexation of property now known as West Villages was invalid. No significant changes in the land involved in the illegal annexation have occurred since then. Due to an interlocal agreement between North Port and Sarasota County the city proceeded to annex the lands now in question.
Residents west of the Myakka River cite several reasons for their continued pursuit of de-annexation from North Port:
· We receive no added benefits for paying 26% higher taxes than our Sarasota County neighbors with homes of the same appraised value. (Validated by comparison study requested by North Port City Manager, June 24, 2020.)
· We object to the commissioners’ irresponsible spending and bloated budgets for “pet projects.” Recent example: Proposal of a new department that included one new hire, one upgraded position and $100, 000+ for remodeling the department’s offices.
· We are angered by the negligent, corrupt behavior of North Port city commissioners: ethics complaints against commissioners Debbie McDowell and Chris Hanks.
· We are wary of North Port’s long-term sustainability when only ten percent of city land is for commercial/industrial use. In 2013 former North Port city planner, Sam Jones, said that the city needed 13 percent to 17 percent commercial development to help offset special assessments and taxes for residents.
· We are deeply concerned about a tsunami of budget threats: $34 million in repairs needed to water control infrastructure; $1 million in maintenance and repairs needed for Warm Mineral Springs; annual Aquatic Center operating deficits–800,000+ in FY ’20, etc.
If the North Port City Commission does not accept the petition filed by the voters, the next step will be for the voters to request that a referendum be conducted to provide residents in the affected area an opportunity to vote either for or against de-annexation from North Port.
West Villages, Florida, October 26, 2020
For Immediate Release
MAYOR CLAIMS SHE IS “ABOVE THE LAW”
NOT LIABLE FOR CHARGES IN LAWSUIT
October 26, 2020–North Port Mayor Deborah McDowell claims she has sovereign immunity and qualified immunity to the complaint filed against her in a civil suit that states she knowingly used credentials surreptitiously obtained to eavesdrop on a private, invitation-only, password-protected WebEx meeting to discuss plans for de-annexation from North Port.
McDowell admits she listened to the entire meeting and remained silent when all meeting attendees were asked to identify themselves. But, in a motion for dismissal of the civil suit, filed by five members of West Villagers for Responsible Government, she claims that she is protected because “as an official, she is indistinguishable from the government entity that employs her” and has sovereign immunity. According to Florida law her actions would be admissible if they were “inherent in the act of governing.”
Responding to McDowell’s suit for dismissal of the civil suit, Luke Lirot, attorney for the plaintiffs, stated, “McDowell certainly did not possess any authority whatsoever, to break the law by hacking into a private meeting among citizens by using an ill-gotten password that she knew she was not meant to have, and concealing her presence… so that she could continue to eavesdrop.”
According to the Florida Constitution, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and against the unreasonable interception of private communications by any means, shall not be violated.”
McDowell’s request for dismissal of the lawsuit further claims qualified immunity to the complaint against her because the call did not involve a “wire communication.” However, the Florida Constitution also provides a very high degree of protection of private communications “from government intrusion” per Article I, section 23.
A hearing on the request for dismissal of the civil case against McDowell is scheduled for November 4, 2020 in Circuit Court. At that time the court will determine if McDowell’s actions are allowable and she has sovereign immunity, which supersedes the citizens’ right to privacy as provided by the Florida Constitution.
West Villages, Florida, September 10, 2020
TO THE EDITOR (Venice Gondolier SUN): September 10, 2020
TOP 5 REASONS FOR DE-ANNEXATION
We saw no noticeable advantages for remaining in North Port in your September 2 editorial. Here is abridged list (due to 250 word limit) of our TOP FIVE DISADVANTAGES:
- We receive no added benefits for paying 26% higher taxes than our Sarasota County neighbors with homes of the same appraised value. (Validated by comparison study requested city manager requested, June 24, 2020.)
- We object to the commissioners’ irresponsible spending and bloated budgets for “pet projects.” Recent example: unanimous approval of a new department that included one new hire, one upgraded position and $100, 000+ for remodeling the department’s offices.
- We are angered by the negligent, corrupt behavior of North Port City Commissioners: reinstating city manager after investigation finds evidence of his guilt; ethics complaints against McDowell and Hanks, etc.
- We are wary of the city’s long-term sustainability when less than ten percent of land is for commercial/industrial use. In 2013 former North Port city planner, Sam Jones, said in a SUN article that the city needed 13 percent to 17 percent commercial development to help offset special assessments and taxes for residents.
- We are deeply concerned about a tsunami of budget threats: $34 million in repairs needed to water control infrastructure, $1 million in maintenance and repairs needed for Warm Mineral Springs, annual Aquacenter operating deficits.–800,000+ in FY ’20, etc.
FYI, we are NOT Wellen Park. We are five neighborhoods in West Villages Improvement District: Gran Paradiso, IslandWalk, The Preserve, Renaissance, and Oasis, built on land illegally annexed in 2002.
West Villagers for Responsible Government
West Villages, Florida, August 31, 2020
Civil Suit for Ethics Violation Filed Against North Port Mayor
August 31, 2020–Five members of the West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) have filed a civil action against North Port Mayor Deborah McDowell for unlawfully eavesdropping on a private, password protected online meeting on March 23, 2020. Also named in the lawsuit is a North Port resident who was not authorized to provide the access information for the meeting to Mayor McDowell.
In July McDowell also was named in an ethics complaint filed by a representative of WV4RG with the Florida Commission on Ethics. In that complaint she was cited for violating Florida Statute Chapter 934, Security of Communications, by intentionally intercepting wire, oral and/or electronic communications. According to the complaint McDowell used credentials surreptitiously obtained to eavesdrop on an online private strategy session of the WV4RG steering committee. Prior to that meeting only committee members received email invitations with the link to the meeting password.
Commenting on the lawsuit, Luke Lirot, Esq., the attorney representing the WV4RG plaintiffs, said, “The Mayor’s unlawful eavesdropping on this private call was a clear violation of the Florida Statutes, which, in addition to being a civil violation, can also be charged as a Third Degree Felony. The Mayor had no authority or permission to violate the privacy rights inherent in this intercepted communication. There is no excuse for government officials to violate the law in the effort to advance their own agenda, and this lawsuit is designed to send a message that such unlawful conduct will not be tolerated by honest and motivated citizens”
WV4RG is a political action committee representing homeowners in the West Villages Improvement District who seek to de-annex/contract from the City of North Port’s municipal boundaries. Their stated purpose is to escape the continuing fiscal irresponsibility exhibited by the City, and become part of unincorporated Sarasota County.
West Villages, Florida, August 31, 2020
WHERE WILL NORTH PORT FIND REVENUE FOR FY ’21 BUDGET?
August 31—At this Thursday’s upcoming meeting of the North Port City Commission the proposed ordinance to approve the city’s budget for fiscal year 2021 will be read for the first time. Per the meeting agenda, the ordinance will propose adoption of the new ad valorem millage rate of 3.8240, which is slightly less than the current 3.8735 millage rate, but still considerably higher than Sarasota county’s current millage rate of 3.2075. In contrast the proposed FY ‘21 budget is 11% higher than in the current fiscal year–$189,328,104 vs. $170,478,610–so significant additional revenue will be needed.
Last year’s attempt by North Port Commissioners to adopt a double-digit millage rate increase met with strong opposition and led to the formation of West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG), a PAC pushing for the de-annexation of West Villages Improvement District (WVID) from North Port. Politics and the upcoming November elections have helped hold this year’s millage rate increase in check.
Further complicating things for North Port, when acting City Manager Jason Yarborough recently requested a comparison of taxes paid by North Port homeowners vs. homeowners in unincorporated Sarasota County, the analysis disclosed that a North Port resident whose home has a taxable value of $200,000 will pay approximately 26 percent more in taxes and fees than the owner of a home with the same taxable value in unincorporated Sarasota County. To date, no one has identified any tangible benefits that residents receive for their additional payments.
Where will North Port find the additional operating revenue for FY’21? One suggested source is increasing impact fees for land use. Per the proposed new fee schedule residential fees for single family dwellings would increase from $2,198 to $6,356 and from $1,296 to $4,075 per unit for a multi-unit dwelling. These costs would ultimately be absorbed as part of the home’s purchase price. Similar impact fee increases also are proposed for nonresidential buildings.
Other new sources of revenue being considered are public service taxes on water sales and electricity. Currently North Port, Venice and Sarasota County do not levy a tax on water sales. If North Port were to levy a 10% public service tax on water sales, this would produce an estimated $1 million in new annual revenue. North Port currently levies a 2% tax on electricity, but Sarasota County does not levy any tax on this. Increasing the public service tax on electricity to 10% for North Port residents would result in an estimated $3.7 million in additional revenue for the city. Public service taxes on gas products and payment in lieu of franchise fees are other new revenue sources also reported to be under consideration by North Port.
With so many questions remaining to be answered, and a new fiscal year budget that includes almost $12.7 million in self-insurance and employee benefits, as well as almost $1 million for Warm Mineral Springs, and $4.467 million for parks and recreation, the September 3 meeting of the North Port City Commission should be a “must” for residents concerned about past budget decisions made by the city’s commissioners.
West Villages, Florida, September 10, 2020
…AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING
Tuesday night’s decision by North Port City Commissioners to retain Peter Lear as city manager underscores the imperative that we must de-annex from North Port!
After a complaint was filed by a city employee who alleged that his live-in fiancée, the city planning manager, had sexual liaisons with Lear, the city attorney ordered an investigative report be conducted by an outside law firm. Taxpayer monies paid for this.
After conducting an investigation that included 19 witness interviews and the review of hundreds of documents, the report concluded that “there was sufficient evidence that Lear violated city policy.”
Besides ethical and moral transgressions, “Lear made significant and far reaching management decisions that resulted in preferential treatment of Nicole Galehouse,” the Planning Manager. Lear reorganized the NOS Department where Galehouse worked into two separate departments, and created a department with the Planning Division, Social Services Division and Economic Development that would have a new director position and also include an environmental technician, the arborists, and an archaeologist (a new position). More taxpayer dollar$.
Galehouse subsequently developed plans for her new department’s offices, and said she had a “$100,000 budget” for the “extensive renovation,” which proved to be much more costly than that budget, and was described by others as a remodel that should be identified as a project in the city budget. Later Lear requested a city van to take Galehouse and two other city employees furniture shopping in Tampa for the new department’s offices. Taxpayer dollar$
Lear disregarded the city attorney’s instructions not to discuss the complaint with others; however, he did discuss the complaint with some employees, who later became concerned that they could be subject to retaliation for reporting this—which posed a threat to the investigation’s integrity.
The three commissioners who voted to retain Lear—Carusone, Hanks and Emrich—are known to have socialized with Lear while the investigation was conducted and he was on administrative leave from his position. Carusone’s rationale for rejecting the report’s conclusion—there wasn’t enough documentation in the 59 page report submitted on September 3. The report originally was requested to be completed by September 28, but the same commissioners who rejected the report as incomplete, are the ones who moved the deadline up 25 days! Lear’s “punishment” ethics training—at taxpayer expense!
The second/final reading of North Port fiscal year 2021 budget will be at the September 17 Commission meeting, and Peter Lear, the primary author of that budget will be at the proceedings.
How can you trust a budget he is in charge of? Why would you want to be part of a city whose commissioners condone his behavior? We must de-annex!!!
West Villages, Florida, August 12, 2020
For Immediate Release
“Representation” by North Port Commissioners Disturbs West Villages Improvement District Voters
August 12, 2020–When a member of West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG), was shown an email sent by Commissioner Jill Luke, he said that Luke’s dismissive attitude towards her constituents in District 5 is another example of why WV4RG was formed to oppose irresponsible government. He added that other commissioners besides Luke exhibit total disregard for their constituents, and cited a recent Chris Hanks radio interview as an example.
In the Luke email she refers to current de-annexation activities and describes the residents involved as “only a group of single lot owners.” But, she expresses her support and concern for the developer whom she describes as the “owner of the district.” She further states that she doesn’t know how homeowners in West Villages Improvement District (WVID) have the “right to derail the developer’s plan.”
As the WV4RG member points out, North Port commissioners are chosen by voters who expect them to provide assistance and support for the needs of their constituents. Luke seems to forget that over 2000 voters in her district signed petitions requesting WVID’s de-annexation from North Port. A commissioner who sides with the developer who will ultimately not own any of the land in question and is not a resident in the district, raises serious concerns for her constituency.
Commissioner Luke also has a serious misunderstanding of the economics of WVID. Although Luke believes North Port has $200 million invested in WVID, this is not the case. The homeowners in WVID have assumed almost $160 million in debt to pay for WVID’s waste treatment plant and sewage system and are funding this through CDDs over the next 30 years. North Port’s books do not show any capital investments for WVID infrastructure, but do list $52 million in WVID assets identified as “donations.” These “donations” were paid for out of the WVID residents’ CDD funds.
Unfortunately Luke is not the only North Port commissioner who lacks a complete understanding of the financials for WVID. Current North Port Commissioner Chris Hanks, who now is a candidate for the Sarasota County Commission, stated in a recent interview on WSLR radio that North Port’s fiscal year 2020 tax increase was necessary because of the rapidly growing number of homes in WVID and their requirements for services like a waste water treatment plant, firefighters, police, a new fire station, etc. Apparently he also is not aware that WVID residents are funding services with their almost $160 million in CDD payments and their $52 million “donation” to North Port.
Luke and other commissioners continue to lament the potential loss of Braves stadium; however, Cool Today Park is NOT part of West Villages and is owned by Sarasota County and NOT the City of North Port. The City of North Port entered into an agreement with Sarasota County that waived property tax on Cool Today Park for 30 years. Commissioner Luke is the commissioner of record for this precinct of the City, but she seems to be badly misinformed about her district.
Commenting on the North Port commissioners’ disregard for the facts about WVID’s financial situation, the WV4RG representative noted that North Port cannot stay financially viable because it is not platted to have the commercial/industrial tax base necessary for long term funding of the services residents need. Raising taxes will not, in the end, save North Port.
He added, “The City needs major commercial enterprises, businesses with large employee bases and large revenue streams that can pay the taxes needed to sustain/maintain its services. Nothing in WVID will provide that sort of tax base. Whatever the original thinking was for annexing WVID into North Port, having more expensive homes to get more tax dollars is not the solution and never will be.”
He pointed out that larger entities like the cities of Sarasota and Venice and Sarasota County have the commercial/industrial tax base necessary to provide services at a reasonable cost for their residents now and into the future. As an example he said that Sarasota County currently provides solid waste including recycling and yard waste for $186.59 per year, which is $58.41 lower than what North Port charges for the same service.
To date WV4RG has over 2000 signed petitions from registered voters in WVID as well as donations from 250 residents who support the efforts to de-annex from North Port. WVID residents from the communities of Gran Paradiso, Renaissance, The Preserve, Oasis and IslandWalk officially became WV4RG in February when they filed to become a political committee. Their website mission statement reads:
We believe that responsible government works diligently to understand what is right or wrong, essential or wasteful, and can be trusted to exercise good judgement to do what is right and best for the long-term interests of the people instead of doing what is easiest, most popular or most ostentatious. We believe that the residents of our community should be permitted to decide which local government (city or county) is likely to best serve their long term interests.
More information on the group, their activities and answers to Frequently Asked Questions can be found on their website, www.wv4rg.org.
West Villages, Florida, July 14, 2020
For immediate release
North Port Commissioners Asked To Approve WVID De-annexation
July 14, North Port, FL—West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) asked the North Port City Commission at their regular monthly meeting tonight to consider an ordinance to de-annex West Villages Improvement District (WVID) from the city of North Port.
In addition to submitting signed voter petitions for passage of the ordinance to de-annex WVID, the group submitted a report from EnSite, a land planning company. The report confirms that WVID is substantially the same property that Florida courts ruled was not in compliance with the requirements for legal annexation in 2002.
In summary, the report stated: “…the ‘Annexed Property’ in the West Villages Developer Agreement contains enclaves, fails to meet the standard of compactness, and has a tenuous contiguity with the city.” To be legally annexed, an area must meet the standards of Florida Statutes section 151.043 which requires compactness and contiguity and prohibits the creation of enclaves.
According to Florida statutes, section 171.051 (2) the North Port Commission will have up to six months to approve or reject the WV4RG ordinance for de-annexation. Should they reject the ordinance the commission must demonstrate in a quasi-judicial hearing the specific facts upon which the rejection is based.
If the commission lacks a legitimate basis for rejecting the petition, WV4RG can petition for a referendum vote on de-annexation. The de-annexation ordinance will be approved if a majority of the votes cast are in favor of its passage.
Earlier today WV4RG provided the North Port city clerk with 994 signed voter petitions requesting passage of the ordinance. Florida Statutes require that any request for de-annexation/contraction must be supported by at least 15% of the number of registered voters in the affected area’s last election, which for WVID is 584 voters. WV4RG withheld over 1100 signed petitions in case they are needed for future de-annexation efforts, and continues to collect petition signatures from WVID residents.
The reason that de-annexation is requested according to a WV4RG spokesman is, “(We) 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.” He added that, “Instead of spending the money on critically needed repair/reconstruction of the city’s flood control system–expected to cost more than $34 million in the near future—the city spent more than $12 million to construct the Aquatic Center, which is budgeted to lose $832,740 in fiscal year ’21, and wants to spend more than twice that amount on ‘improvements’ to Warm Mineral Springs Park.”
When WV4RG compared two typical homes of the same appraised value, one in IslandWalk in the city/WVID, and one in Sarasota National in Sarasota County, they found that the property taxes for the home in the city/WVID were 18% higher due to the property taxes paid to North Port. According to WV4RG de-annexation would save most WVID homeowners $7,500 to $10,000 over a ten year period.
WV4RG is a registered political committee. The organization’s website states, “We believe that responsible government works diligently to understand what is right or wrong, essential or wasteful, and can be trusted to exercise good judgment to do what is right and best for the long-term interests of the people instead of doing what is easiest, most popular or most ostentatious. And we believe that the residents of our community should be permitted to decide which local government (city or county) is likely to best serve their long-term interests.”
West Villages, Florida, July 13, 2020
De-Annexation Petitions Ready for Submission At North Port City Commissioners Meeting Tuesday
July 13, 2020; North Port, FL—Tuesday’s monthly meeting of North Port City Commissioners will include an official request by West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) on behalf of West Villages Improvement District (WVID) residents to de-annex their community from the city of North Port.
On Tuesday morning WV4RG representatives will deliver signed petitions to the North Port city clerk, along with a copy of the proposed ordinance to de-annex WVID from the city. Florida law requires such petitions to be supported by at least 15% of the area’s registered voters at the last general election (2018); this means 584 signatures. The de-annexation effort has been supported by more than 2,000 residents, which is more than half of the number of voters registered as of the last general election.
Upon submission the city commissioners will have up to six months to either initiate removing WVID from the city’s municipal boundary or reject the petitions. If the petitions are rejected the city commission in a quasi-judicial hearing must specifically state the facts upon which the rejection is based.
Registered voters in the WVID communities of Gran Paradiso, Renaissance, The Preserve, Oasis and IslandWalk who signed the petitions are deeply concerned about the commissioners’ irresponsible spending and the city’s looming infrastructure repairs and maintenance costs that threaten to escalate ad valorem taxes for the foreseeable future.
A WV4RG representative explained that WVID residents “pay county taxes, city taxes, district assessments and homeowners’ association fees. That’s too much.” He added that the average annual savings to a WVID homeowner after de-annexation would be $750 to $1500, noting that schools, libraries, and many other services were already being provided by Sarasota County, and waste/management and police/fire/EMS services would be available from the county after de-annexation. He concluded that, “To date (North Port) city leaders have not identified any additional benefits or greater level of service residents receive for living in the city.”
The petitions which have been signed by each registered voter, state, “I hereby petition the City Commission of the City of North Port, to adopt an ordinance of the City of North Port, Florida, removing all lands within the West Villages Improvement District from the City of North Port Municipal boundary, providing for conflicts, providing for severability, and providing an effective date, the full text of which was attached to this petition when circulated, and I had the opportunity to read.”
WV4RG submitted organization papers and was legally recognized as a political committee on February 26, 2020, with the stated purpose of “supporting political candidates and/or issues.” The group’s website is www.wv4rg.org.
# # #
West Villages, Florida, July 2, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NORTH PORT MAYOR ASKED TO RESIGN DUE TO ALLEGED ILLEGAL ACTIVITY
July 2, 2020, West Villages, FL–North Port Mayor Debbie McDowell was asked to resign her position today at a special meeting of the North Port Board of Commissioners. The request resulted from a complaint that was filed against McDowell with the Florida Commission on Ethics for her violation of Florida Statutes Chapter 934, Security of Communications, by intentionally intercepting wire, oral and/or electronic communications.
After a 20-minute meeting delay waiting for sufficient commissioners to be present for a quorum, the meeting began with general comments from the public.
First to speak was West Villages’ resident David Fernstrum, who recounted the circumstances of the ethics complaint filed against the mayor for eavesdropping on a private Cisco WebEx meeting of the West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG) steering committee on March 23. Fernstrum noted that “the (meeting) invitation was personalized to each recipient and stated, ‘Victor Dobrin invites you to join this WebEx meeting,’ ” adding that “the invitation contained the meeting access code and an 11 character password. Nothing about the invitation suggested it was a public meeting.”
Fernstrum provided details on how the log-in credentials eventually were passed on to the mayor, stating that an individual who previously said he supported the group’s efforts was sent the invitation with the meeting log-in information, and then shared it with another person who had openly stated opposition to WV4RD’s pursuit of de-annexation from North Port. That person forwarded the email invitation on to the mayor. Fernstrum noted that none of the emails from the individuals who forwarded the meeting log-in information contained any suggestion that either of them or anyone else “was inviting the mayor to participate in the meeting.”
Having used his allotted three minutes for comment, Fernstrum asked WV4RG co-chairman, Paul Kahle to read his concluding remarks: “She (the mayor) logged in before anyone else, concealed the fact that she was eavesdropping by remaining silent …listened to our entire discussion about plans, strategies and volunteers. No one else knew she was listening, and no one consented to her listening. This violated Florida law, which prohibits anyone from listening in on other peoples’ telephone communications without the consent of all parties. It was a despicable, illegal act that violated her oath of office.
“Madame Mayor, the only honorable thing to do is resign.”
The open comments portion of the meeting continued with remarks by West Villages’ resident Victor Dobrin who said, “We put our trust in our elected officials and give them license to do what is right in the public’s best interest. The acts committed by the mayor’s eavesdropping depict a flagrant violation of her oath to uphold the laws of this state and this nation. The mayor can no longer deliver her duties according to her oath. I respectfully ask the mayor to resign today, as she flagrantly violated the basic public trust.”
Because of her stated opposition to de-annexation, WV4RG is concerned that McDowell will use her position to obstruct fair consideration of petitions the group plans to submit that request a hearing or referendum on de-annexation. To date the group has collected over 2000 signatures from WVID registered voters who favor de-annexation.
The complaint against the mayor was submitted to the Florida Commission on Ethics with substantiating evidence including emails from/to the mayor where information from WV4RG confidential communications was shared, and the Cisco WebEx call log for the March 23 teleconference, which lists the telephone numbers of all participants including McDowell’s city-issued cell number.
WVID residents from the communities of Gran Paradiso, Renaissance, The Preserve, Oasis and IslandWalk officially became WV4RG in February when they filed to become a political committee. Their website mission statement reads:
We believe that responsible government works diligently to understand what is right or wrong, essential or wasteful, and can be trusted to exercise good judgement to do what is right and best for the long-term interests of the people instead of doing what is easiest, most popular or most ostentatious. And, we believe that the residents of our community should be permitted to decide which local government (city or county) is likely to best serve their long term interests.
More information on the group, their activities and answers to Frequently Asked Questions can be found on their website, www.wv4rg.org.
West Villages, Florida, July 1, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ETHICS COMPLAINT FILED ACCUSING NORTH PORT MAYOR OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITY
July 1, 2020, West Villages, FL –North Port Mayor Debbie McDowell has been named in a formal complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics by a representative of West Villagers for Responsible Government West Villagers for Responsible Government (WV4RG). The complaint alleges that McDowell violated the Florida eavesdropping statute (Florida Statutes Chapter 934, Security of Communications; Surveillance), the computer crimes statute (Florida Statutes Chapter 815, Computer-related Crimes) and her oath of office.
According to the complaint filed, McDowell used credentials surreptitiously obtained to eavesdrop on an online private strategy session of WV4RG on Monday, March 23. Prior to the online meeting only members of the WV4RG committee were sent email invitations with the link and password to the meeting which was conducted on WebEx. WV4RG supports the de-annexation of West Villages Improvement District (WVID) from the City of North Port, and Mayor McDowell is on record for opposing this action.
At the beginning of the March 23 WebEx call when each participant was asked to identify themselves, McDowell did not answer, but remained on the line for the duration of the meeting. In an email to her “source”, from whom she obtained the privileged credentials for gaining access to the teleconference call, she indicated that she planned to “listen in,” and in a subsequent email to her “source” indicated that she planned to share content from the call with North Port City Manager, Peter Lear.
Because of her stated opposition to de-annexation, WV4RG is concerned that McDowell will use her position to thwart the fair consideration of petitions the group plans to submit that request a hearing or referendum on de-annexation. To date the group has collected over 2000 signatures from WVID registered voters who favor de-annexation.
The complaint against the mayor was submitted to the Florida Commission on Ethics with substantiating evidence including emails from/to the mayor where information from WV4RG confidential communications was shared, and the WebEx call log for the March 23 teleconference, which lists the telephone numbers of all participants including McDowell’s city-issued cell number.
On June 8 McDowell was invited to meet with WVRG, and with her permission was recorded responding to an inquiry about her presence on the March 23 WebEx Call with WV4RG committee members. When asked why she did not identify herself during the call, she responded that she didn’t want to identify herself because she felt that it might “influence what was discussed.”
The video of the mayor’s response to that inquiry during her meeting with WV4RG can be viewed on the WV4RG website, www.wv4rg.org.
WVID residents from the communities of Gran Paradiso, Renaissance, The Preserve, Oasis and IslandWalk began working together in the fall of 2019 when North Port threatened a double-digit tax increase to the ad valorem rate for residents. Their efforts resulted in a decrease from the initially proposed 25.59% millage increase to a 13.69% increase.
When examination of the proposed city budget for FY2020 disclosed millions of dollars being spent on non-essential items and amenities, while imperative needs of the city were ignored, the group determined that de-annexation from North Port was the only way to escape the irresponsible financial decisions of the North Port City Commission. In February, 2020 the group became officially known as West Villagers for Responsible Government.
Residents living in the city portion of the West Villages pay county taxes, city taxes, district assessments and homeowners’ association (HOA) fees. The West Villages Improvement District builds and maintains the roads, infrastructure, and improvements to public property. A spokesperson for WV4RG said, “We pay for all of those things through WVID assessments; the City provides none of it. The county provides policing, fire rescue and emergency rescue, solid waste, water/utilities, zoning and comprehensive planning to the areas surrounding West Villages Improvement District at a more reasonable costs than the City does. To date, city leaders have not identified any additional benefits or greater level of service residents receive in return for living in, and paying extra levels of taxes to the city.”
More information on the group, their activities and answers to Frequently Asked Questions can be found on their website, www.wv4rg.org.
West Villages, Florida, June 20th, 2020
TO DE-ANNEX OR NOT DE-ANNEX THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS TO ASK
Were the communities in WVID annexed by North Port legally?
NO. Land in West Villages became part of North Port through “voluntary annexation” by
landowners/developers who were unhappy with the strict land use regulations and limitations imposed by Sarasota County and saw an opportunity to change zoning and substantially increase the number of homes they could build through the annexation.
Sarasota County contested the annexation and the Court agreed and found the annexation illegal in 2001. North Port appealed the Court’s decision but their appeal was dismissed.
Does the land occupied by the WVID communities comply with state requirements for annexed land?
NO. The land does not meet the Florida statue of criteria. It is not contiguous with the city of North Port and it is not compact and has an enclave that is not part of North Port within the boundaries of annexed land.
Who benefits most from WVID being part of the city of North Port?
North Port and the developers. Developers benefitted from North Port’s more liberal zoning permit requirements vs. those of Sarasota County. North Port benefits from increased ad valorem taxes from WVID home owners. Currently the median sales price for homes in WVID/34293 zip code is $256,768,which is 29% higher than the median list price for the most populous zip code (34287) in North Port,and higher than all other North Port zip codes (34286, 34288, 34289, 34291). In addition the WVID
zip code (34293) currently has almost as many homes for sale as all other North Port zip codes combined. (Source: Zillow Research)
In the short-term what are the costs of de-annexation?
Worst case scenario: estimated $100 per WVID residential unit. Legal counsel for Mattamy, the majority WVID stakeholder, estimates turnover costs of $200,000 for legal and legislative work. WVID will initially pay these expenses, but when passed on to homeowners this will be about $100 per homeowner, which is considerably less than the projected costs of future tax increases to cover North Port’s budgeted capital expenditures for the next five fiscal years.
What are the projected long-term costs of remaining in North Port?
The North Port ad valorem taxes expected over the next decade are projected to cost WVID homeowners an estimated $7500 to $15,000 (based on the taxable value range of homes) more than taxes paid by homeowners in neighboring communities which are in unincorporated county. This is based on comparing current year taxes for homes of same appraised value and length of ownership, in present $, if the city millage rate does not increase.
North Port’s capital improvement budgets through fiscal year 2024 total $267,568,380. (That’s $4000 or every person, not household, in the city.) Included in this are $34 million for a 70-year old water control infrastructure, continuing costs for a $12.4 aquatic center, $8.9 million for additions to Atwater Park and over $1 million for improvements for Warm Mineral Springs. During the current fiscal year North Port is operating with a budget deficit of $12.5 million. (P.35 North Port FY20 Budget online)
Is there an advantage or disadvantage to having an estimated 70%+ of North Port property classified as residential/non-commercial?
“In not a single instance did residential development generate sufficient revenue to cover its associated expenditures.” The Fiscal Impacts of Land Use on Local Government
In 17 different studies including one in Florida, researchers found that for every $1 in tax revenue collected, a residential tax payer used from $1.02 to $2.11 in services provided by the local government. Whereas commercial/industrial taxpayers use $.05 to $1.04 in services for every $1 paid in taxes. The conclusion: “bedroom communities are not economically sustainable at tax rates that are likely to be levied.”
North Port is considered a “bedroom community” since less than 10% of all land in North Port is commercial/industrial, 56% is residential, and 14% is undeveloped/other. All remaining land is for conservation/recreation use and does not generate tax revenue but incurs overhead.
How much tax revenue do Cool Today Park and other commercial North Port
businesses contribute to the city’s budget?
Cool Today Park is NOT part of North Port, and pays taxes to Sarasota County instead. In FY 2019 North Port collected $28,933 in Non ad valorem taxes.
How will de-annexation affect service levels for water, sewers, solid waste, fire, police, schools, and library?
No noticeable changes. Fire and EMS services, solid waste services, parks, libraries and schools are already provided by Sarasota County (some, via interlocal service agreements). Sheriff services would replace North Port police, and the county
also would provide solid waste services. Until the promised WVID water/sewer plants are completed, we would buy these services from North Port at an estimated 10% surcharge paid by all outside users. All services would be as good as or better than what we currently receive from North Port.
If I support de-annexation, what should I do?
Sign the petitions to de-annex if you are registered to vote in WVID, Volunteer, and
Donate to defray costs of the de-annexation campaign.
West Villages, Florida, June 14th, 2020
West Villages, Florida, June 10th, 2020
West Villages, Florida, June 4th, 2020
CITY OF NORTH PORT NEEDING GRANTS FOR CORE SERVICES
North Port leadership is desperately trying to make-up for lack of fiscal responsibility. For example, the water control system was built in 1950. The need for replacement /repairs, costing $34M in today’s dollars, was known in 2009. (Herald Tribune Sept. 2019 article) https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20190916/north-port-faces-financial-dilemma-with-aging-water-control-infrastructure Hurricane Irma, in 2017, made known the need for wind mitigation of Fire Station 81.
Instead of funding these and other known and needed infrastructure repairs and property upgrades, North Port leaders authorized the building of an Aquatic Center costing $12M and projected to lose $750K over the five (5) years. The Net Present Value of the $3.75M loss for the next 5 years would have addressed a lion’s share of the projects associated with the Grant requests
West Villages residents are fortunate that the success or failure of these Grant Applications are NOT going to impact our safety and well being. However, West Villagers will bear the tax burden.
BTW…the State of Florida only issues between $18M to $26M annually for Economic Recovery Community Development Block Grants…with never any one community receiving more than $1.5M…so the chances of $6.3M is someone’s pipe dream.
West Villages, Florida, May 21st, 2020
You Have Asked, We Answer
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.
For more frequently asked questions click here.
West Villages, Florida, May 20th, 2020
About the ABC Channel 7 Coverage
Following is information requested by some of the people of West Villages
- Here is the link to the letter sent by WV4RG to the WVID Board the morning of the May14th meeting: Letter
- Here is the link to the: ABC Channel 7 Coverage
- Here is the link to the recording of the Board meeting: WVID May 14th Meeting Recording
At the last Thursday’s WVID meeting, we were shocked by the District Chairman’s misrepresentation of information for the purpose of creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt amongst the residents of West Villages. For example, he claimed “We have been working on the portion of the property in Sarasota County, and there has been half a million dollars spent just working on that. Quite frankly, a year later, we are no further than we were last year”. Here is the link about Mattamy’s development proposal: Winchester Ranch in West Villages.
WVID has NOT spent the half million dollars to which he was referring. That is money spent by the developer entities of Mattamy to get the County on board with their plans for the undeveloped lands within the District, but outside of North Port (around 4,000 acres). It is the developers’ cost of doing business. The “we” in the Chairman’s statement was “we the developers”, not “we WVID” or “we, the people of West Villages”. (Chairman Luczynski is a Mattamy employee.)
The WVID Chairman seems to have forgotten that he was supposed to be speaking as a public official, acting for the benefit of all residents and landowners in WVID, rather than as an employee of a Mattamy business entity worried only about whether it could maximize profits.
It is the developers’ obligation to work with the respective governmental entities when they want to expand their development and opportunities for profit. It is also their obligation to pay the associated costs of doing so!
We appreciate your support!
West Villagers for Responsible Government