Friday, June 15, 2018

County decision to give "prime real estate" to Sheriff questioned

UPDATE June 15: A Petition has been created to STOP the proposed Sheriff's truck garage on prime visible property in Nokomis.

UPDATE: See this recent letter of June 4, 2018, from John Ask to Commissioner Al Maio. It refers to the matter detailed in letters to Sheriff Tom Knight below, and begins:

Dear Commissioner Maio:

I hope you and your family are well, and doing well!
This personal communication is a long time in coming, and is written in the spirit of great disappointment, both in you and local government leaders; it’s written with stunning disbelief that individuals that I’ve known well, trusted, and believed in, can be so willing to put themselves ahead of others, and more importantly, ahead of what is in the best interest of the community and Sarasota County at large. Continue...
Earlier Correspondence:
Letter from John Ask, former chair of the Sarasota County Planning Commission and longtime member of the Nokomis Area Civic Association, to Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight, dated May 9, 2018. 
The Letter concerns a county commission decision to give to Sheriff Tom Knight a prime parcel of public land for $zero compensation for a truck garage. The land is at Honore near Laurel Rd. in Nokomis. The Planning Commission hearing which supported this decision is here, beginning at the 2 hr 54 minute mark. 

Public Land at Honore near I-75 Laurel Rd. exit
Given to Sheriff for Truck Garage by Board

Dear Sheriff Knight:

This communication is intended to provide a partial solution to your several capital requests including the most recent helicopter request. As you well know, your Vehicle Maintenance Facility planned for the I-75 interstate exchange at Laurel Road and Honore Ave is on prime real estate that could be sold for high dollars and become an ongoing income generating source for Sarasota County tax rolls. As you well know, this Laurel Road interchange is where Sarasota Memorial Hospital is constructing a hospital. This county property which lies across the street has the potential to become commercial uses to complement the hospital and a true asset to Sarasota County residents, both in services and ongoing tax revenue generation.

Please recall, your meeting on the topic of the vehicle maintenance facility with Nokomis community leaders Bruce Dillon (also, an elected official on the Sarasota County Charter Review Board, and NACA Board Member), Bill Cantrell (Nokomis Area Civic Association President – NACA), and myself, at the time a Sarasota County Planning Commissioner, and former 13 year NACA President. 

An aerial map shows the proximity of
Rustic Road to Interstate 75. 
During that meeting we discussed that the alternative site for the maintenance facility was on the corner of Knight’s Trail and Rustic Road a couple of miles away, and is already zoned for Government Use (GU). This site is owned by Sarasota County and sits adjacent to your many other facilities. In fact, we shared with you documents showing that this was the site of choice of a previous study for locating Sheriff and Fire facilities, at study where I was in fact one of the participants and am a primary source. You stated to the three of us that you don’t care which site is selected, that either can work, and your absolute priority is getting the facility built as your need is imminent.

Sheriff Knight, in the way of review, if Sarasota County sells the Laurel Road/Honore Ave parcel it can generate sufficient money to buy your helicopter and more. 

Also, the commercial uses constructed on the site will provide an ongoing income stream to Sarasota County for other needs, including your office.  For example, the Sarasota County Tax Collector has told Bill Cantrell that a hotel on that site would generate roughly $250,000 in property tax revenue, with additional revenue to come from jobs, room taxes, and visitor spending.  Best of all, the hotel would only require roughly 4 acres of the site leaving much more opportunity for other development and income generation for Sarasota County. A hotel located by an interstate exchange and a new Sarasota Memorial Hospital represents a very realistic example and opportunity.

Finally, developing this interstate exchange commercially is not only best use of public assets, but it meets with the wishes of the community. The local community seeks commercial uses that meet resident needs vs. a vehicle maintenance facility; uses that create a positive first impression of Nokomis and North Venice as this is our Eastern Gateway Entrance. NACA has a long history of seeking to revitalize, redevelop, and develop Nokomis into something that the community and all of Sarasota County can be proud of.

Your vehicle maintenance facility does not come close to meeting that positive development goal, nor is it the best use of a valuable public asset that this land represents. A win/win for your office, Nokomis residents, and Sarasota County taxpayers is to construct your vehicle maintenance facility on the Knight’s Trail location on land that is of little value for other uses.

Thank you in advance for considering this very common sense solution that is seeking the best outcome for all in Sarasota County. Please reconsider the location of your vehicle maintenance facility allowing both the local community and all Sarasota County taxpayers become winners, and subsequently, a reason to be pleased and proud of our elected leaders in their use of public money.


John Ask
Nokomis, Florida 34275

P.S. More information on this project, history, and the community perspectives can be viewed on the Nokomis Area Civic Association – NACA website main page at

NACA and the community are committed to working tirelessly for the benefit of the Nokomis area, and Sarasota County. It continues to be the hope that our local government leaders will choose to work cooperative with our community for the benefit of all Sarasota County residents!

Cc: County Commission Chair, N. Detert; District 4 Commissioner A. Maio, NACA President Bill Cantrell


(Ed's note: More correspondence on this matter can be found here. Images courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader; bolding and hyperlinks added to Ask letter.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thaxton on balanced growth

Note: The Tischler Report that's the subject of these essays can be found here.

Land-use profit/loss study is valuable planning tool

By JON THAXTON Posted Mar 14, 2000 at 12:01 AM Updated May 8, 2006 at 7:42 AM

On Feb. 28, the Sarasota County Economic Development Board received a completely different kind of consultant’s report. Unlike the typical report that estimates the cost to build a library or repair a road, this report attempts to quantify the bottom-line profit or loss for the daily services government provides to our homes, our children and our businesses.

The concept is simple business mathematics: First you determine the price of production, subtract gross receipts, and the result equals your net profit or loss. Only in this case we are not talking about hypothetical widgets or doorstops, we’re talking about homes, businesses and schools and libraries.

The county contracted the economic consulting firm, Tischler and Associates, to estimate the fiscal and economic impacts of selected prototypical land uses in Sarasota County. In other words, compare how much it costs the county to produce the infrastructure (roads, schools, water, sewer, etc.), against how much money the county receives in taxes (real estate, gas, tourist, etc.) and fees (storm-water, recycling, utility, etc.).

The results are not what you might expect.

Most residential housing developments turned out to be a financial burden on the county. According to the Tischler report, a typical Sarasota subdivision, where lot sizes average 75 by 125 feet, and prices range from $150,000 to $230,000, costs the county $1.53 for every $1 of revenue it generates. OUCH! No higher math skills needed here. Surprisingly, even apartment complexes with 5.5 units per acre cost the county $2.65 for every dollar of revenue they generated.

The only residential land uses that cost the county less money for services than the revenue they generated were more expensive 5-acre ranchettes (57 cents spent for every dollar generated) and mobile home parks (75 cents spent for every dollar generated). Agriculture, commercial buildings and industrial sites also fared well in the fiscal and economic impact study, all costing significantly less money to service than the revenue they generate.

So how can these findings help us plan for a better community? First, the age-old assumption that agricultural and park lands take property off the tax rolls and would be more productive as subdivisions, is, at least in my opinion, officially hogwash. Using data from specific land uses in Sarasota, the Tischler report confirms that simply because a property produces more taxes, it does not assure that it will not be a liability to taxpayers. This may in part explain the multi-hundred-million-dollar revenue shortages needed for roads, schools and water.

A second point to consider when using this report for community planning is that it is only one of many planning tools required to make a community a quality place to live, work and play. We don’t want housing options to be limited to mobile home parks and expensive ranchettes out in the boondocks.

A significant force that affected the calculations found in this report is schools. Unlike typical residential suburban developments, commercial buildings, agriculture, industrial parks, rural residential and mobile home parks do not produce large numbers of school-age children. So, do we begin to award special benefits to those land uses that produce a positive revenue flow and penalize the less “profitable” ones? I personally do not want to live in a community that targets childless development. Education, just like ignorance, is a community expense -- only education is cheaper. We all share in the costs and benefits. Likewise, it is disturbing to imagine a community where affordable housing options are discouraged and forced into neighboring counties.

While the Tischler report raised as many questions as it answered, it was money well spent by the commissioners. The report has given us invaluable information to consider in our community planning process. However, it is somewhat unsettling now to realize how many decisions were made in the past without the benefit of this knowledge.

Thaxton update 2006

Tax base needs to be built upon a balance of various land uses

I believe that the Tischler report has influenced both nongovernmental initiatives and numerous, though not all, County Commission development decisions.

In 1999 the County Commission and the Economic Development Board hired Tischler & Associates to conduct an economic and fiscal impact analysis for 19 prototypical Sarasota County land uses. The economic analysis measured broad impacts to the general economy, and the fiscal impact analysis determined the cost and revenues from new development on the county budget.

The report concluded that most forms of residential development are likely to generate budget deficits. The findings suggested that developing residential homes from vacant land produced a net tax loss, despite an increase in gross tax revenues. Ultimately, the cost of infrastructure and services required by the new residential development exceeds the increased tax revenues generated. The report also concluded that many forms of commercial development, high-end residential development and agriculture produced a net tax benefit to the county budget.

When the report was issued in February 2000, many in the residential development industry feared the Tischler report would be misinterpreted and misused by government officials and anti-growth advocates as a means to stop growth. In response to these fears, I wrote a guest column, published in the Herald-Tribune, that suggested the report’s conclusions should not be used as a single factor to determine whether development should be approved or what kind of development should be approved. Instead, I argued, the information should be used as a tool, along with many other tools available to the community, to support an appropriate rate, form and amount of new development.

Last week two groups with completely different positions asked me: What has been done with the Tischler report? Has the county used the report’s findings to influence development decisions? Or has the report found a comfortable place on that notorious government shelf where it will forever remain dormant and unused?

I believe that the Tischler report has influenced both nongovernmental initiatives and numerous, though not all, County Commission development decisions.

While the Tischler report and many other studies have demonstrated a potential net negative fiscal impact for many forms of residential development, a decision to approve only “profitable” forms of development isn’t that simple. Unlike a for-profit corporation, government’s role often is to provide services that are not profit centers, such as indigent health care and education.

One of the main reasons that many forms of residential development don’t “pay their own way” is schools. Residential development that doesn’t generate school-age children was found to produce a net tax benefit. Conversely, most homes priced in the affordable and work-force ranges produce net tax revenue losses. Then are we to approve only childless and million-dollar homes? That is not the kind of community that I want to live in, and it certainly isn’t the standard that has made Sarasota the community that it is today.

Managing a viable community involves a great deal more than one economic measurement of profit and loss. A tax base built upon a balance of various land uses is essential to a stable economy and a livable community. This often requires using revenue from one land use to support another.

That is not to say the Tischler report has been ignored -- it has not. The report provided additional evidence that the county needs to diversify its ad valorem tax base, to reduce dependence on residential properties. The county also refocused its economic development strategies based upon this finding. Nonpolluting “export” industries with high-paying jobs have become the target for economic development policies, replacing a priority on tourism and housing development.

Additionally most elected officials now realize that growth, simply for the sake of adding properties to the tax rolls is not a sound reason to approve development. It may have been valid at one time, or under different funding scenarios, but not anymore. Today’s development should be scrutinized at a higher level that includes a comprehensive balance of benefits and responsibilities.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton (District 5) served on the state’s Impact Fee Task Force.

Robinson vs. Robinson

In a recent opinion piece in the Herald-Tribune, Christine Robinson, former County Commissioner and executive director of the Argus Foundation, argued that the future of properties zoned for ILW -- Industrial, Light Manufacturing, Warehouse -- is threatened by residential and recreational development.

Citing the Legacy Trail and the community's efforts to protect the Celery Fields as examples of land use initiatives that "hamper" ILW-zoned properties, Robinson wrote:

"Every year, we lose industrial light warehouse properties, both currently designated and those planned to be designated. Residential dwellings are being approved on or next to industrial lands. This is hampering owners’ ability to use those industrial properties for what they have been intended." May 14, 2018 HT guest column.

Robinson correctly notes that the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners has voted to approve locating residential near industrial, and that it has also approved converting existing ILW properties to residential. She strongly contends that existing ILW uses need to be "protected" from the "mission creep" of housing, parks and open space amenities.

What's striking about Robinson's championing of ILW properties is that as a Sarasota County Commissioner, she was at the forefront of the movement to convert ILW to residential use. In some cases, the conversion was approved over the objections of the neighbors.

In short, Argus director Robinson's concerns about issues of land use infringement did not prevent County Commissioner Robinson from voting for the precise rezoning changes she says have damaged the public trust.

The public record shows that Commissioner Robinson voted to approve converting commercial, office, and industrial uses to residential. In warning of the dangers to industry and to public trust, Robinson is taking issue with her own voting record. Here are three public hearings at which Commissioner Robinson voted to rezone ILW to residential:

25 May 2016: Adopted Rezone No. 15-23
On May 25, 2016, Robinson voted to adopt Rezone No. 15-23 "to redesignate approximately 21 acres of the Palmer Ranch Increment IV Development of Regional Impact (DRI), Parcels A8 and A9, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 140 multi-family dwelling units."
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 21 acres of ILW to residential.

27 Oct 2015: Adopted Rezone No. 14-36.

Robinson voted on October 27, 2015 to adopt Rezone No. 14-36 "to redesignate an approximate 20 acre portion of Parcel A7 within the Palmer Park of Commerce, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 260 multi-family dwelling units." see page 1 of staff report.
  • see page 13 for the definitive redesignation statement. 
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 20 acres of ILW to residential over the neighbors' objections. See 27 August 2015 hearing for additional information.

9 July 2014: Adopted Rezone Petition 13-27
On July 9, 2014, Robinson voted to adopt Rezone Petition 13-27 "to redesignate approximately 68 acres, known as Parcels A2 and A6 within the Palmer Park of Commerce, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 180 single-family residential dwelling units." 
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 68 acres of ILW to residential over the neighbors' objections.

Summing up: In three votes, Commissioner Robinson voted to remove over 100 acres from lands set aside for light industrial, office, and warehouse use and let developers build houses and apartments there instead. Robinson's record on the Commission is at odds with her posture as director of the county's influential Argus lobby.

The public conversation about planning and land use is important and complex, and it needs the perspective of business leaders as well as voices from the whole spectrum of the community. But to truly benefit our community, every perspective deserves to be presented with informed transparency.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Organic rising: A planner's take on land use & planning

Work with Legacy Trail and Celery Fields, not against them

Herald Tribune, 6.7.18
By Daniel Herriges, Guest Columnist

In a May 14 guest column, Argus Foundation Executive Director (and former Sarasota County commissioner) Christine Robinson wrote that industrial businesses near the planned extension of the Legacy Trail could see their future jeopardized by the trail’s completion. Robinson urges that the county act pre-emptively to protect these properties from “mission creep.”

Robinson’s warning is misguided. The question she fails to answer is: What mission?

The mission of the Legacy Trail is, presumably, to create a major new amenity for Sarasota County residents — one which will simultaneously become one of the region’s largest parks and a vital corridor for non-motorized transportation.

The potential benefits are tremendous, as similar endeavors around the country illustrate.

Why not embrace the happy accident that this rail corridor — whose builders certainly never envisioned the Legacy Trail — represents? Once-industrial and derelict waterfronts in Portland, Baltimore, Chicago and more are now parks and tourist attractions.. . . 

Another local happy accident is the Celery Fields. Robinson spent much of her column discussing last summer’s contentious decision not to allow a recycling facility on surplus, county-owned land adjacent to the beloved birding destination. But she draws precisely the wrong lessons from it.

Robinson’s premise that an injustice was done in the Celery Fields case rests on decades-old planning documents which describe the area as future industrial and a “major employment center.”

But to insist that the ideal fate, the highest and best use, for public land abutting the Celery Fields in 2017 was to fulfill its destiny as “industrial” evinces a remarkable lack of imagination. Or perhaps just mistaking land-use planning, which is the means to a variety of ends, for an end in itself.

This is a common malady: an overly prescriptive, “SimCity” approach to planning. In 1938, the American Institute of Planners stated as the purpose of the discipline “determination of the comprehensive arrangement of land uses and land occupancy and the regulation thereof.” In other words, “We’re gonna tell you what goes where.”

Most modern-day planners don’t view that as an ideal. Instead, we recognize the value of happy accidents. Nearly all great places arise organically, because someone did something on their land that made others want to be near. That has happened with the Celery Fields. And it is happening in the Packinghouse District, a cluster of very successful, distinctive local businesses just across I-75 from the Celery Fields.

Robinson is correct that industry, a source of living-wage jobs not tied to tourism, is important to our economic health. The County Commission could direct staff to study barriers to industrial development: Are we losing these jobs for lack of suitable land? If so, we should tackle this problem head-on. Modern manufacturing is often quiet and non-polluting, and potentially compatible in many locations from which it is currently excluded.

The role of land-use planning is to promote the public interest, not to insulate incumbent land owners and businesses from change. 
Daniel Herriges is an urban planner and a regular contributor to Strong Towns, a nonprofit organization which supports a model of development that allows cities to become financially strong and resilient. He lives in Sarasota.

-- Further Reading -- 

Robinson: Industrial and commercial properties need protection from Legacy Trail mission creep

Jono Miller: Miller: Argus concerns over Legacy Trail not based on facts

Bob Clark: Irony in Argus executive warning of ‘mission creep’ 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

FDOT Diamond could "destroy" Fruitville Initiative

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has released a Notice to the public of a Public Hearing on June 21:
The Florida Department of Transportation District One will hold a public hearing for the l-75 / Fruitville Road Interchange project. The meeting will be held on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at the Selby Public Library located at 1331 1st Street, Sarasota, Florida from 5 p.m. in the Jack J. Geldbardt Auditorium.
FDOT's project calls for a Diverging Diamond at I-75 and Fruitville Road (see detailed excerpt below). 

The plan as currently configured would destroy the basic premise of the Fruitville Initiative, say  those close to that project. The Fruitville Initiative came about in 2010 as an innovative compromise between landowners, the community, and planners. It was adopted by the County in 2014 to create a walkable, mixed-use area on a tradition grid of streets.

One planner/engineer familiar with the Fruitville Initiative sees major negative impact from the FDOT proposal:
this is probably the one single action that will can destroy the Fruitville Initiative in that it undermines the Interconnectivity Plan intent to disperse traffic and promote walkability.  It will force/funnel almost all traffic onto Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and through its single mega signalized intersection at Fruitville Road. 

FDOT image of scope of Diverging Diamond at Fruitville Rd and I-75

Excerpt from FDOT Notice:
. . . this project will now propose to reconstruct the existing interchange with a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI). This project proposes to widen about 2 miles of I-75, from Palmer Boulevard to north of Fruitville Road, to an eight-lane highway with four through lanes per direction and proposes to replace the existing bridges over Fruitville Road and proposes to widen 1.6 miles of Fruitville Road from Honore Avenue to east of Coburn Road to provide for a six-lane to eight-lane highway with three to four through lanes per direction as well as bike lanes. Minor right-of-way acquisition is required at the southwest corner of Fruitville Road at Cattlemen Road. The existing median opening at the eastern entrance to the Southgate Shopping Plaza proposes to be closed, as well as the existing median opening at Old Coburn Road.
Along with the Notice, FDOT released a tentative project schedule that calls for planning and acquisition in 2019-2020. Construction is as of yet unfunded and not scheduled.

The June 21 hearing at Selby Library will feature a presentation followed by public comments, which can be spoken or submitted in writing:
The hearing begins with an open house at 5 pm and follows with a formal presentation and public comment period at 6 pm. People attending the hearing can review project displays and speak one-on-one with project team members. Written statements or exhibits submitted at the hearing, emailed, or mailed and postmarked by Tuesday, July 3, 2018, will become part of the official hearing transcript. 
Additional information may be obtained by contacting the FDOT Project Manager, Ryan Weeks at 863-519-2837, by e-mail to

Naples-based Stock Development, which recently purchased a tract of the Fruitville Initiative, is said to be opposed to the FDOT plan.

Rendering of one segment of the Fruitville Initiative
 showing mixed uses on a walkable street grid

A 2014 letter from the district secretary of FDOT explicitly states that the Dept. of Transportation is committed to working with the Fruitville Initiative's plan:
FDOT, in partnership with FHWA, is currently developing design plans for the ultimate l-75 interchange configuration at Fruitville Road. Our goal is to design an interchange within the existing LA line that is not only safe and operationally efficient but contextual to the planned Fruitville multi-way boulevard and surrounding compact, walkable, mixed-use development. We welcome the opportunity to continue working with the County and stakeholders in achieving that objective.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The future of Lido Pavilion

Lido Casino, designed by Ralph Twitchell, became Lido Pavilion.

What will Lido Pavilion in turn become? Cathy Antunes offers a penetrating look at what the city of Sarasota has planned, and asks what will happen to public beach access with the plan for a new, larger restaurant and tiki bar.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Grand Lake Hearing Interrupted by document submittal

A recent Sarasota County hearing of a Pat Neal proposal to alter certain features of Village plans met with disruption when one witness brought 400 pages of notes and documents into the record at the last minute.

For video, see the five-minute testimony of R.N. Collins that begins at the 3:01 mark.

Mr. Collins raised a series of policies and considerations of county code which appear relevant to the issues of the May 23, 2018 hearing - Pat Neal's "Grand Lake" project on Ibis Rd.

Mr. Collins introduced 400 pages of allegedly supporting documents, to the dismay of Mr. Neal's lawyer, Dan Bailey, and of some on the Board, who felt it was a bit late to bring such evidence into the process. 

But if the documents speak to the very issues at stake, it's fair to ask why these considerations were not brought to the Board's attention - by the Petitioner, or by staff - well before the final minutes of testimony. The hearing will be continued on July 11, 1:30 pm.

Post-lunch meeting audio 1 (16:43)

Post-lunch meeting audio 2 (00:21)

Graphics show the planned location of Grand Lakes. Courtesy SNL from Sarasota County

A map shows the location of Ibis Street and the planned extension, east of the site where Grand Lakes is proposed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Thanks to the Sarasota News Leader for permission to use this story.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Confusing Ballot Amendments - CONA Sarasota, Monday June 11

   - monthly meeting -
      Monday 7 p.m.   June 11, 2018
understand the confusing
proposed ballot amendments

and updates on Arbor Lake Preserve, Bath and Racquet Club, Siesta, Promenade, Celery Fields 
   On June 11, 2018 please join CONA to hear Barbara Ford-CoatesDennis Maley, and Lourdes Ramirez discuss the proposed state constitutional review committee (CRC) ballot amendments that voters will need to understand in order to determine which ones they will approve. Sixty percent approval is required for each to pass.        
   This year, decisions about the many changes proposed for the state constitution have been complicated further by the CRC grouping their proposed changes rather than using the traditional single-issue amendments that are more familiar to voters. 
   Every twenty years, a committee is appointed to review the state constitution and to draft changes they alone recommend. Contrary to the typical procedures for state constitutional amendments, these are not citizen-initiated through a process that requires the consent of a significant percentage of the voters just to get proposed amendments onto the ballot and, grouping has been used to obscure the large number of the 2018 committee's proposed changes. 
   The grouping device seems designed to require voters to adopt unpopular changes in order to approve popular changes. Careful scrutiny and understanding will be needed this year in order to avoid approval of changes to the state constitution that are not desired--just because they are tied to a change that voters do desire.
   Historical and contemporary perspectives of the amendments proposed by this constitutional review committee will be presented to assist voters in making their decisions. Q & A will follow.
   Following a traditional half-hour social beforehand, the meeting will open with neighborhood updates about their current issues from Chris Bales on Arbor Lake PreserveBen Cannon on Bath and Racquet ClubSura Kochman on Siesta Promenade, and Tom Matrullo on the Celery Fields.
  See for more information.
social 6:30 p.m. -  meeting 7:00 p.m.
at the Sarasota Garden Club
neighbors helping neighborhoods since 1961
save the date  -  our anniversary party  -  November 5, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bringing an umbrella to a hurricane: Update

On Friday May 25, 2018, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners will hold a fiscal workshop in the "Think Tank" on the third floor of the County Administration building. The workshop is open to the public, begins at 9 a.m., and will examine all facets of the Sarasota County budget, including a recent inventory of all public lands. The Board will consider selling public lands as one strategy to offset budget shortfalls.*

A detailed article from the Sarasota News Leader: Plans call for about 200 surplus Sarasota County parcels to be turned over to one or more brokers in July for sale as soon as possible 
The Board identified more than 200 parcels of public land that could be sold immediately. Observer

The Board's review comes in the wake of prior Board decisions to take key revenue options off the table.

On June 22, 2017, the Board voted against raising millage rates for 2018.
That decision was predicated on the understanding that the Board had a better solution: A public service tax of up to 8% on electricity, natural gas, liquid petroleum and water.
On September 21, 2017, the Board voted against instituting a public service tax.
That decision was predicated on the understanding that the Board would use $5.4 million from its Economic Uncertainty Fund to balance the budget. The Board agreed it could later find ways to pare expenses, making cuts in services if necessary. 
Despite improving tourist taxes and other added revenue from new construction, and despite $5.4 million in recurring budget cuts, the County is not off the hook.

Two new state revenue referenda on the November ballot virtually guarantee that the County will be looking at large budget shortfalls in the near future. The Sarasota News Leader states:
If those pass — the result commissioners have indicated they expect — then the board would be looking at finding money to eliminate a shortfall of $8,970,406 in its FY20 budget and an even larger hole — about $10.3 million — in the FY21 budget.
One referendum increases the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000, which is estimated will cost Broward County $32 million in annual revenue. The other referendum makes permanent a cap on increases on non-homestead property assessments. Both involve amending the state Constitution, so both are on the ballot.

As property values have risen, the county's ad valorem revenues have risen as well:

Graphic courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

Despite the ad valorem increase and the cuts made to parks, libraries, other public services, Friday's workshop focus is on selling public lands. This is like opening an umbrella before a hurricane.

The county needs a realistic strategy, given the extraordinary shortfalls looming:

The Board is facing a new fiscal reality, yet it appears not to have begun to address it. It is looking to sell public lands -- a one-time, market-sensitive, relatively small-revenue option -- rather than examining systemic, recurring revenue options such as millage or impact fee increases, or through a public service fee.

At a public talk he gave recently, former Commissioner Jon Thaxton said that the sale of public lands is not the first thing a Board does -- indeed it should be the last. The bar in the public interest should be "extraordinarily high" before public land should be sold, he added.

Now might be a good time for our officials to close their cocktail umbrellas and take an honest look at current growth patterns and what's coming down the road. With the state's egregious electoral giveaway, local governments are looking at serious budget pain. Examine realistic provisions now and bite the bullet.
*Note: Friday's workshop is a review of all public lands with an eye toward selling those which staff identifies as neither necessary nor significant for possible future use. So far, the public lands known as "the Quads" near the Celery Fields are not part of this review. They are on hold as a citizens group (The Fresh Start Initiative) works with the County on constructive, community-friendly proposals for at least two of those parcels.
The Think Tank Workshop should be available for viewing online.

All accessible links to the Sarasota News Leader courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, May 18, 2018

County’s ‘bed tax’ revenue up close to $1.5 million for first six months of fiscal year

County’s ‘bed tax’ revenue up close to $1.5 million for first six months of fiscal year
March collections came close to the $4-million mark, Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office reports
Visitors make their way by Big Olaf’s in Siesta Village. Rachel Hackney photo

Through February, the county’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue was up more than $1 million year-over-year. Thanks to the traditional big boost in March, the total “bed tax” collections so far this fiscal year are almost $1.5 million higher than they were by the end of March 2017, the latest figures show.

March typically is the month during which collections exceed the $3-million mark, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff have told members of Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Council. This year, the March figure came its closest yet to the $4-million mark.

The entities that report the revenue to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office collected $3,935,699.06 in March, the Tax Collector’s Office has announced. That was an increase of $401,622.98 compared to the March 2017 TDT figure, the report says.

Overall, through the first six months of this fiscal year, bed tax revenue is up $1,483,768.28, the Tax Collector’s Office data show.

Audits and other revisions of the figures can lead to refined numbers Ford-Coates and her staff also have cautioned. Generally, over the past several years, those changes have been reflected in slight upticks of figures. For example, the numbers for TDT revenue for November and December 2017, as well as for January and February, are higher in the latest report from the Tax Collector’s Office. The February number rose from $249,363,85, as shown in the data reported through March 31, to $276,064, as noted in the report dated April 30.

Yet, the October 2017 number has dipped slightly in the most recent report. Last month, it was listed as $138,779.87. The latest data show it to be $138,777.72.

Oct. 1 marks the start of each county fiscal year.
A chart compares the latest TDT revenue figures to those for preceding fiscal years. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

Overall, the county has collected $13,661,068.08 in TDT revenue so far this fiscal year. Of that total, $565,606.05 was reported by residents who rent accommodations through the Airbnb internet service, the Tax Collector’s Office pointed out.

The previous two fiscal years, the county set records in the amount of TDT it collected. The funds are used for a variety of projects, including beach maintenance and renourishment, as well as to cover the debt service on bonds the county issued to assist with the construction of the new Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex in the West Villages community outside North Port.

The March report also shows Siesta Key passing the city of Sarasota as the location for the highest total of collections. Siesta Key entities that collect the bed tax contributed 30.08% of the total thus far this fiscal year, compared to 28.49% for the city of Sarasota. Siesta typically wins recognition for the highest amount of TDT revenue hosts report each year in specific areas of the county.

In its report on the second quarter of the 2018 fiscal year — provided for the Tourist Development Council meeting scheduled for May 17 — Visit Sarasota County noted that the number of tourists visiting the county from January through March was up 2.7% compared to the same three months of 2017. The March figure was 3.5% higher than the figure for March 2017, the report said, with a total of 169,800.

Moreover, those visitors’ direct spending increased 4% for that quarter, compared to the second quarter of the 2017 fiscal year, the figures showed. The total for the three months, based on research undertaken for Visit Sarasota County, was $413,300,400, the report noted.

January saw the highest year-over-year change: 4.4%, followed by March with 4.1% and February with 3.4%. Direct spending in January was $100,809,700.

A Visit Sarasota County report shows data from the second quarter of the fiscal year. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

However, the occupancy rate for hotels/motels/condominiums was down 1.3% for February and 0.8% for both January and March, compared to the figures for the same months in 2017, the report said. The average daily rate charged was up 4.9% in March to $256.94; in February, it was higher by 3.2% year-over-year, at $219.47. For January, the increase was 3%, compared to the figure for January 2017. The figure for this January was $178.57, the report said.