NORTH PORT — If Larry Cobb could make the de-annexation movement in Wellen Park disappear, he would.
But he can’t, so the retired CEO has gathered what he insists are the true costs of de-annexing Wellen Park from North Port, including the city’s bonding debt, pensions and potential lost services.
Those shared costs would get invoiced to Wellen Park property owners exiting North Port for unincorporated Sarasota County, argues Cobb, who lives in Wellen Park’s Renaissance.
He also researched a similar de-annexation in Memphis. Those communities also got invoiced by Memphis for community-wide debt, he said.
In south Sarasota County, the group pushing for separation, West Villagers for Responsible Government, are “regurgitating nonsense … over and over again,” Cobb said of the messaging in Wellen Park.
“We may end up with fewer services and more taxes. (Homeowners) aren’t asking all the questions,” he said.
Formed in 2019 to protest property tax hikes, West Villagers for Responsible Government represented a core of homeowners, group members insisted. The city ultimately backed off increases of more than 30%. But the group last year shifted gears, pushed the de-annexation message, collecting petitions and setting in motion what’s deemed a “divorce” between Wellen Park and North Port.
That is set to play out April 29 when the North Port City Commission debates a de-annexation feasibility study. That 60-page document also implies minimal savings for Wellen Park homeowners, which the West Villages residents had pegged at about $1,000 per year for an average-priced home.
That feasibility study by a Fort Lauderdale firm, however, “is about possibilities, not facts,” said John Meisel, president of the West Villagers group. He counts the words “could,” “may” and “might” dozens of times in the report provided by Munilytics, he added.
“We look forward to the (feasibility study hearing) with all the inconsistencies and lack of facts contained therein,” Meisel said.
That April 29 hearing promises fireworks; all sides presenting their case before the five commissioners who will rule on granting de-annexation. The matter could end up in court, however, ultimately before Wellen Park voters, the separatists argue, decide their fates.
But Cobb insisted Tuesday that de-annexation loses steam as Wellen Park homeowners learn it will cost them, he said.
“All (home) construction will stop,” he insisted, adding certificates of occupancy would require reapplication and reapprovals, inspections would cease until Sarasota County could supply replacements, and other sudden changes would affect Wellen Park, “including lost home values,” he said.
“Too many things don’t line up,” Cobb said.