Island Residents Make Progress In Their Exploration for Self-Governance
In April 2009, Clearwater island residents organized a non-profit corporation, Islands Independence Initiative, Inc. (III) to explore the possibility of Clearwater Beach, Island Estates and Sand Key deannexing from the City of Clearwater and incorporating their own city, according to JoEllen Farnham, III spokesperson. Ms. Farnham explained that a significant interest in self governance had been expressed by the residents of the island communities to warrant an exploration of this and other options and that a two step inquiry process was launched to answer the fundamental question: "Is it legally possible and economically feasible to incorporate the three islands in the City of Clearwater Beach?"
Ms. Farnham said that III raised funds through donations from residents on the islands to retain legal counsel to research how the three islands could incorporate into a new City. She added, "We are pleased to share that it is legally possible for the three islands to de-annex from the City of Clearwater and incorporate the City of Clearwater Beach. The process does not require the approval of the Clearwater City Council. A Special Act may be presented to the State Legislature seeking their approval. This requires sponsorship by the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation (PCLD) that is comprised of the state house of representatives and state senators whose districts include the three islands."
Ms. Farnham said that when III reached out to the PCLD, III was advised that an economic feasibility study conducted by a professional and certified consultant, is required for the process to move forward. "An economic feasibility consultant is ready to perform an analysis of the amount of revenue the three islands pay to the City of Clearwater, and the potential cost savings of incorporating the three islands into The City of Clearwater Beach." The study, including all experts, will cost $90,000.
On September 21, 2009, III launched its fund raising efforts to raise the $90,000 for the feasibility study with each island having to raise $30,000. Donations in the amount of $155 per household were requested and the deadline for the fundraiser was October 22, 2009. Farnham said, "Reaching out to households was also the best way to gage the level of interest and support by the residents for the initiative."
Information meetings were offered on all three islands by III to educate the residents on the incorporation process, answer their questions and begin a dialog on the issue. Farnham said, "At the end of the thirty day fundraiser, the islands raised the following amount of money: Clearwater Beach - $10,090; Island Estates $5,790; and Sand Key $15,140 for a total of $31,020."
"But many of our neighbors have requested additional time to discuss the issue with their friends and neighbors and attend more information meetings," Farnham said. "So we carefully weighed the request of the residents for additional time to become more educated on the issue against the timeline requirements to submit the Special Act to the 2011 state legislative session and agreed to extend the fundraising deadline to November 30, 2009."
The next two public meetings are scheduled for Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Harbour South Condominium located at 1591 Gulf Blvd. and Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at The Meridian Condominium located at 1200 Gulf Blvd.
Farnham noted, "There is definitely a correlation between the residents' understanding of the incorporation process and the financial support they are willing to give to the initiative." Farnham added, "Donations received from a donor on an island that does not reach its fundraising goal, will be returned."
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