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Islamorada mayor addresses Matlacha Civic

December 27, 2017
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

Last Wednesday night about 75 members of the community arrived for the December meeting of the Matlacha Civic Association. Islamorada - Village of Islands, Mayor Chris Sante was invited to speak about Islamorada's 20 years experience with incorporation

"In order to gain greater insight into the pros and cons of incorporation, the Matlacha Board of Directors approved the invitation," Karl R. Deigert, MCA member, said. "Islamorada incorporated 20 years ago and has experienced many trials and tribulations during those 20 years and Mayor Sante can explain those to you."

MCA members prepared a list of questions for Sante who has served 10 years as a council member and is now in his fourth term as mayor.

Article Photos

Islamorada Mayor Chris Sante speaking to the Matlacha Civic Association.


"I'm not here to convince you to incorporate or not incorporate," Sante said. "When the issue of incorporation came up, I was originally against incorporation and then I changed my mind.

"At the time in Islamorada, there was a threat of a contractor building 100 condominiums and many residents were against it," Sante said "We realized that incorporation and a slight increase in our taxes we could come under 'home rule'.

"The biggest hurdle we had in those 20 years is our community was all septic tanks," Sante continued. "The state gave us an unfunded mandate. This means you have to change over from septic systems to sewer and the state doesn't provide the city with any money you have to pay for it yourself. The cost per household was about $25,000 per house."

Sante explained that once you incorporate, you can create rules that benefit your city. Islamorada has a regulation entitled Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) designed to restrict development.

Once incorporated, Islamorada gained the ability to restrict growth by only issuing 7 building permits every quarter. An additional benefit of limiting permits is to keep property values up.

One option Sante suggested before embarking on the incorporation route was for the citizens of Pine Island/Matlacha to go to the County Commissioners and request more independence from the county before proceeding with incorporation. If they reject the idea of added independence, then move forward with incorporating.

Some of the initial costs for Islamorada was renting a government building.

"We rented a building for 5 years and then built a City Hall," Sante said. "In the beginning the city outsourced everything but then gradually the City Council voted for our own fire department and police. But outsourcing is a cheaper way to go."

According to Sante, one big advantage incorporated Islamorada realized recently is that the city was able to clean up quickly after Hurricane Irma.

"We were able to get the job done ourselves without waiting for the county, while Key Largo and Key West are still in process," he said.

He then answered questions provided by the audience:

Q: "How does Islamorada address the need for a growing tax base without allowing commercial expansion?"

Islamorada tried to stop Walmart from building a 'big box' store on the island but lost the lawsuit. "In a way, we lost the lawsuit but in a way we did win," Sante said. "Walmart was able to build their store but wasn't able to build one larger that 10,000 feet. And the architecture of the store had to fit in to our architectural standards."

Q. "How many times has Islamorada had a millage rate increase to generate increased tax revenue? Are increases approved by referendum?"

According to Sante, Islamorada increases its millage rate almost every year and the City Council approves millage increases without referendum.

Q. "How did Hurricane Irma impact the financial reserves of Islamorada?"

"There wasn't any impact because we have a large financial reserve and luckily the hurricane didn't hit us full on we were on the edge," Samnte said. "We did spend $3 million cleaning up US 1 and we're supposed to be reimbursed from FEMA."

Q. "What parameters must be in an original charter to ensure fiscal responsibility?"

"Choosing those first City Council members is crucial," Sante said. "Our first five were from every walk of life, we weren't all in favor of development or all against."

Q. "Have you ever been challenged with a Bert Harris lawsuit?"

"All the time. We just finished up with one recently after 3 years in court - we won," Sante said.

Q. "If you had to vote for or against incorporating again what would you do?"

"I would be the first person to vote for incorporation and I'll tell you why," Sante said. "Because when I go over the bridge into Islamorada, the streets are clean, the plants look nice, the houses look nice - there's a noticeable perception that residents and even visitors see."

Visit to see Islamorada charter and budgets.



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