Indiantown, Hobe Sound ask Florida Legislature for their independence

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The Legislature this year will decide whether Indiantown and Hobe Sound can become municipalities.

The two unincorporated areas of Martin County have been considering becoming independent for decades, and leaders hope having their own government and elected officials will give the more than 20,000 residents combined more power to make decisions that affect them.

“As a community, we found, as Hobe Sound did, there are things we can do better ourselves,” said Brian Powers, who heads Indiantown Independence. The group has organized two community meetings, and Powers, president of Indiantown Gas Co., said he hasn’t heard any opposition from residents.

State Rep. Mary Lynn Magar, R-Tequesta, will file two bills the Legislature will hear during its March-to-May session to allow the towns to incorporate. If lawmakers pass the bills, voters in each town will decide in November whether to incorporate in 2018. A simple majority, or more than half of votes, is required.

Read more: Hobe Sound, Indiantown seek independence.
TAX AND SERVICES

No property tax increases are expected in both towns, according to studies commissioned by groups pushing for the incorporation in each town.
Future increases could happen in Hobe Sound if its elected officials, with input from residents, decide to add additional services, such as new parks, said Michael Ennis, head of the group Protecting Hobe Sound. Indiantown elected officials could opt for tax hikes in the future, but Powers doesn't expect that to happen because the town would have a $15 million surplus in the first five years.

Both municipalities would contract with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Martin County Fire Rescue for their services. Those contracts largely would offset the revenue Martin County would lose if the towns incorporate, Ennis and Powers said. Their elected officials would decide whether to have their own law enforcement and fire rescue in the future as the towns grow.

SIZE MATTERS

Hobe Sound would have a population of 15,300 that could reach 20,000 with seasonal residents, according to a study commissioned by Protecting Hobe Sound. Its northern boundary would be Osprey Street and extend south to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, east to the Indian River Lagoon and west to 138th Street, which is just south of Bridge Road.
Indiantown would have 5,700 residents and extend to the northwest of Kanner Highway and along Warfield Boulevard.

Among the benefits of being a municipality is setting zoning and building rules that allow a municipality to grow as its residents intend, Ennis said. He said he hopes Hobe Sound stays small.

Another benefit is Hobe Sound and Indiantown would set their own impact fees, which developers pay for new construction, and have their own departments, Powers said. That would save Indiantown residents a trip to Martin County’s administrative building in Stuart every time they need a permit, he said.

Read more: Indiantown, Hobe Sound ramp up incorporation efforts.

COUNTY SUPPORT

Ennis and Power said they aren’t pushing to incorporate because they want to secede from Martin County and said county officials have supported their efforts.

“It’s about being able to protect our area,” Ennis said. “It has nothing to do with the county.”

Martin County has a population of 150,000 residents and four municipalities: Stuart, Jupiter Island, Sewall’s Point and Ocean Breeze.

Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith said he supports allowing Indiantown and Hobe Sound to become municipalities. He said leaders in each community have a better understanding of what happens in their neighborhoods. He said he’s not concerned about losing tax revenue.

“We will work through it,” Smith said.