Friday, April 27, 2018

SNL: Bed Tax revenue up in County

‘Bed tax’ revenue up more than $1 million in the county year-over-year through February

Each month has seen an increase since fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2017
While some visitors make their way toward the parking lot, many others gather at Siesta Public Beach for sunset in late February. Rachel Hackney photo
During a March presentation to the Sarasota County Tourist Development Council, Assistant Sarasota County Tax Collector Sherri Smith remarked that the latest Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue report showed collections already “up almost $750,000” compared to the figure for the same period of the 2017 fiscal year.
Make that a difference of more than $1 million in “bed tax” money year-over-year, according to the most recent Tax Collector’s Office report.
Through February, collections marked an increase of $1,049,576.68, compared to the revenue reported from October 2016 through February 2017. The February total of $2,858,212.83 was the highest thus far of the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2017. Each month during the period reflected in the report has seen a higher figure than the previous month.
The past two years, the county set records for the total amount of bed tax it collected. The money is divided among a number of “pots,” with revenue going to cover initiatives such as beach maintenance and renourishment, as well as debt service on the bonds the county issued to help pay for the Atlanta Braves’ new Spring Training complex underway in the West Villages near North Port.
And the numbers could change. Audits and other revisions of the figures submitted to the Tax Collector’s Office each month by the entities that collect the tax can produce changes, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has explained.
In fact, the latest report shows an increase of more than $39,000 for the January TDT figure. The numbers released last month showed total revenue was $163,499.19. However, the new report puts the figure at $201,956.66.
Conversely, the figure for October 2017 dropped a bit, from $139,379.87 in the report issued at the end of February to $138,779.87 in the March Tax Collector’s Office report.
Overall, TDT revenue totals $9,691,173.77 for the first five months of this fiscal year.
A chart shows Tourist Development Tax collections through February. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office
The location with the accommodations that have collected the highest percentage of that amount through the end of February is the city of Sarasota, with 29.25%. Siesta Key was in second place with 28.19%.
Included in the figures are Airbnb collections from hosts who work through the internet-based accommodations service. The March 31 Tax Collector’s report says that, for current fiscal year, Airbnb revenue totals $454,285.21.
In an April 3 press release, Airbnb announced that all of its hosts in the 12 Florida cities with teams in Major League Baseball’s Grapefruit League saw “significant spikes in Airbnb guest arrivals during the preseason baseball training as compared to the prior 5-week stretch.” For this year, that Spring Training period ran from Feb. 21 through March 27, the release pointed out.
Among the data for specific cities, the release noted, Sarasota saw a “100% spike” in the number of Airbnb guests, compared to the figure for the 2017 period.
A chart shows TDT revenue collections by location through February. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office
The press release added that Sarasota Airbnb hosts welcomed 12,000 guests for Spring Training and earned $1.1 million from them.
The Baltimore Orioles conduct Spring Training in Sarasota.
Fifteen Major League Baseball teams hold Spring Training games in 12 Florida cities, primarily in Central and Southwest Florida, the release added.

News Leader 4.26.18: County Budget in good shape

County budget in good shape at midpoint of fiscal year

Major revenues up 9.1% compared to same period of 2017 fiscal year and expenditures staying in check

A chart shows the status of specific Sarasota County revenue sources at the midpoint of the current fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Major Sarasota County revenues were up 9.1% compared to staff’s projection for the midpoint of the current fiscal year, and overall expenditures were at the 37% mark, county staff reported to the County Commission this week.
Those numbers were part of a review of the status of the budget for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2017.
“We’re glad we’re in the black and doing better than we expected,” Chair Nancy Detert said.
During their regular meeting on April 25, the board also approved an amendment to their 2018 fiscal year budget to reflect spending reductions they approved on Jan. 31. Formally, those changes will save the county $1,974,885 for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year.
Altogether, the Jan. 31 decisions represented $5.3 million in annual recurring expenses that will be reflected in the 2019 and subsequent fiscal year budgets, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reminded the board members on April 25. Those included plans to leave vacant positions unfilled.
Among specific funds Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, reviewed this week, she noted that revenue from the county’s 1-cent sales tax — approved by voter referendum in 2009 for infrastructure projects — was 8.9% higher than expected; revenue from the county’s five separate gas taxes was up 8.8% compared to the budget projection; and the combined county utility revenues were 8.1% higher.
Revenue from the 5% Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — the “bed tax” — was 17% above the staff projection for the midpoint, Radtke said.
However, the figure staff used for its April 25 presentation did not encompass the latest report from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office, which reflected revenue collected through the end of February. That report showed the TDT revenue was up $1,049,576.68 compared to the same period of the 2017 fiscal year. (See the related article in this issue.)

A chart shows the status of expenditures by Sarasota County departments at the midpoint of the fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

No department operating under the aegis of the County Commission had spent 50% of its budget by the midpoint, Radtke added. Twelve of them were more than 10% below the 50% level, she pointed out. “County staff did a really good job of being conservative,” she said, before the County Commission took measures during its Jan. 31 budget workshop.
In regard to other facets of the midyear budget, Radtke noted that the Sarasota County Fire Department/EMS fund had spent 42% of its projected expenses for the 2018 fiscal year; and the Medical Benefits Fund had paid out 47% of its projected expenses.
The General Fund expenses were at the 44% level.
The Solid Waste Fund had the smallest outlay of any major county fund at the midpoint of the fiscal year, according to a chart provided to the board: 27%. The Utilities Fund was at the 29% mark.
Among other trends worth noting, County Administrator Lewis pointed out that the number of building permits the county had issued by the middle of the fiscal year was up 18% compared to the same point in the prior fiscal year. The total was 19,273, he said. “I think that’s a significant number …”
The count of commercial permits was 78% higher than the figure at the midpoint of the 2017 fiscal year, he added, with 64 having been approved.

A chart provides county statistics for the midpoint of the current fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

For single-family residential construction, a 4% decrease had been recorded through March, compared to the figure as of the end of March 2017, according to a chart Lewis showed the commission. Of those permits, 54% were issued in North County; the remaining 46%, in South County.
However, the total number of permits for multi-family units was up 62% through the midpoint of the current fiscal year, compared to the figure for the midpoint of FY17.
Yet another statistic Lewis cited was the 3% increase in calls to the county’s Contact Center as of the middle of the current fiscal year. That total was 90,724, a chart said. “That’s a huge volume,” he told the board.
Residents call the center for a variety of reasons, he explained. For example, some need general information, he said, while others check on the status of work permits.
Social media contacts also are on the rise on a monthly basis, he pointed out. So far this fiscal year, county government’s Facebook page has seen the number of “likes” rise each month, reflecting a 10.5% uptick compared to the same period of the 2017 fiscal year.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Fresh Start Presentation and Waste Transfer Update April 25, 2018

The Fresh Start group presented to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners an update on community-based proposals and for public lands at the Celery Fields, a broader vision for the Celery Fields Area that came out of five months of discussions, panels, interviews, and a round table process (all documented on this blog).

Below a slide shows possible enhancements to the area, including a footbridge linking the public parcel #1 with the Celery Fields wetlands. Also a tourist center and a parking area, all from the April 25 power point presentation to the Board.

Also on April 25, 2018, James Gabbert resubmitted his proposal for a waste transfer station on 6 acres adjacent to public parcel #2, at Porter Rd. and Palmer Blvd.

Waste transfer station stock image

Gabbert's proposed demolition waste facility for the whole of parcel #2 last year triggered an uproar among Sarasota residents and visitors who opposed placing a dump on public land near the Celery Fields. (Timeline)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Media on Fresh Start and the Celery Fields

The Observer

Group to give ideas for land by Celery Fields April 18, 2018 Fresh Start took five months to narrow down four proposals for county-owned land outside the Celery Fields. Now it's time for the County Commission to weigh in.

WGCU (NPR Fort Myers-Naples-Sarasota) + WUSF (NPR Tampa)


WTSP 10 Tampa

WSLR Sarasota

Celery Fields in the News - 16 news stories about the Celery Fields

Jan 20, 2017 - Tom Matrullo
Feb. 10, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
Feb. 24, 2017 - Rob Wright
March 3, 2017 - Wade Matthews
April 7, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
May 26, 2017 - Glenna Blomquist, Brian Lichterman, Jono Miller, Tom Matrullo
June 9, 2017 - Carlos Correa & Luigi Verace
Aug. 18, 2017 - Adrien Lucas
Aug. 25, 2017 - Adrien Lucas & Tom Matrullo
Dec. 1, 2017 - Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo, Dan Kriwitzky & Tom Matrullo
April 20, 2018 - Carlos Correa & Gary Walsh 

Herald Tribune Letters to the Editor

NEXT . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Visioning: A walk through the Fruitville Initiative

Here's an image of the NW sector of the Fruitville Initiative seen at night -- I-75 is visible upper left:

The buildings and streets aren't yet actually there - they exist as a detailed plan and vision experienced thanks to a remarkable planning tool developed by Sarasota-based Hoyt Architects.

In the video clips below, Gary Hoyt offers a tour this portion of the coming Fruitville Initiative - through his firm's proprietary software.

A walk in the Fruitville Initiative

Fruitville Initiative NW

This segment of the special planning area at the Fruitville Interchange (I-75 exit 209) contains approximately 40 acres bounded by the Interstate on the West, Fruitville Rd. on the south, Coburn Rd. to the east, and Richardson Road to the north.

The plan illustrated in the video exhibits a mixed-use area free of big box stores and the usual highway franchise restaurants. The master plan brings local employers, residences, a market area featuring a variety of local food vendors, open areas for parks and recreation, all situated within in a grid of streets promoting small town walkability and ease of access.

Hoyt's software is built on a gaming platform that enables users to navigate an area that is digitally constructed according to actual land configurations and architectural designs. One can vary the light, weather, traffic, density of foot traffic, type of vehicles, building structures and much more at the touch of a button, exploring like a drone, or even entering buildings and taking an elevator to a particular floor.

This powerful tool will eventually enable communities to explore various scenarios for public lands, parks and conservation areas, and to experience various contingencies of traffic, lighting, and weather.

Hoyt made the presentation to members of the executive council of Fresh Start, a citizens' effort to develop a community-based plan for public lands near the Celery Fields, a priceless natural birding and recreation area in Sarasota County.

The proponents of Fresh Start learned much from the efforts of all involved in the Fruitville Initiative, and will make their presentation to the County Commission for a public vision of uses near the Celery Fields on Wednesday April 25 at 9 a.m.

Looking west from the Celery Fields mound

Trees on the mound were planted with funds raised
by Sarasota Audubon

The Fruitville Initiative was developed in 2010-2011 through a collaborative process that brought together residents of the Fruitville area, County staff from planning and other departments, and owners of undeveloped property at the northeast and southeast quadrants of Fruitville Rd. at the Interstate.

A special area plan (SPA3) came out of the Fruitville Initiative process, and was formalized by County Ordinance 2014-057 in 2014.

While some landowners within the Initiative area are moving ahead, other portions have lagged behind. The county sold 42 acres of land east and south of the Fruitville Library to Benderson Development in 2015. Benderson has yet to break ground, and recently obtained an extension that apparently released it from a contractual obligation to aim for a high end (class A) level of tenants.

Street with fountain and landscaping from the Future Fruitville Initiative

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Road to Nowhere

The Ibis Street Thoroughfare Comprehensive Plan Amendment No. 2017-F comes before the County on Wednesday, April 25 -- it will be found under item 7 on the Board agenda.

Comment by R.N. Collins:

The Sarasota Board of County Commissioners will take the first step towards building a road to nowhere if it approves the Ibis Street Thoroughfare Comprehensive Plan Amendment during an April 25 public hearing.

The county transportation planning department believes that the traffic congestion south of Twin Lakes Park will be so severe in the year 2040 that we need a new thoroughfare to connect Clark Road to a full interchange at State Road 681 and I-75 via another north–south roadway.

But neither the full interchange nor the north-south roadway exist today, and neither is considered financially feasible by the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

If the interchange is built, FDOT will design and fund it, but FDOT hasn’t even looked into the need for the interchange yet.

And while the north-south roadway is part of a plan to provide an alternate route from Venice to Manatee County, the project is unfunded.  The project recently suffered a setback when the commission rescinded an important funding request for the segment connecting Lorraine Road to Bee Ridge Road Extension.  That segment is a sorely needed connection needed to support development already under construction at the 5000-unit Waterside Village, the 600-unit Artistry community and the 3,500-unit LT Ranch Village.

So it is highly unlikely the proposed thoroughfare will have anything to connect to for many years or decades to come.  Instead of providing connectivity, it will be a road to nowhere.

Actually, that’s not an entirely accurate statement.

The new thoroughfare will go somewhere.  It will dead end at Manatee County-based developer Pat Neal’s 533-acre sod farm where he wants to build 1,100-home subdivision on land zoned for only 258 homes.

Unfortunately for Neal, county regulations prohibit him from building a large development unless the property has direct access to a major road—one that is part of the county thoroughfare plan.

Normally thoroughfare plan additions are considered after the county prepares an in-depth analysis and after the public has multiple opportunities to weigh-in on the proposal.  In fact, the transportation planning department had wanted to consider several changes to our thoroughfare plan during the 2016 comprehensive plan update.  But those changes could not be processed because the county had not held the required public input sessions.

With the county’s holistic thoroughfare evaluation on hold due to a lack of department resources, Neal convinced the county to let him “adopt” Ibis Street and pursue a privately-initiated amendment.

The private process enables Neal to fast track the proposal to designate his access road as a major road.  It bypasses almost all the public engagement that must occur when the county initiates such a change.  And this case, avoiding a lengthy series of feedback sessions and workshops allows the developer to quickly overcome the prohibition on rezoning his property.

I wouldn’t object if putting a line on a map and saying a dead-end country road is a major road was the only effect of Neal’s proposal,

But it does much more.

It allows Neal to divert impact fees away from curing today’s traffic jams and use them instead to improve a dead-end country road that will be used only by his subdivision for years to come.

We believe road improvement priorities should be determined with more, not less, public input.  And we believe impact fees should be spent on real traffic problems we face today, not on ones that are imagined to occur more than 20 years in the future.

Call or email the Sarasota County Commission today and ask them to vote against the Ibis Street Thoroughfare Comprehensive Plan Amendment on April 25.

-- R. N. Collins

Documents relating to the Ibis Street Amendment are here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sarasota News Leader: Benderson breaks contract (again) Also: Englewood real estate fiasco

Two remarkable stories from the April 20 Sarasota News Leader (SNL):

Benderson Development, which acquired 42 acres in 2015 at the Fruitville / I-75 exchange at a paltry price, has just received not only another year's extension on a contract going back to 2015 (it now needs do nothing until 2019), but it also seems to have gotten a FREE PASS to degrade the market it was supposed to attract. According to the SNL:
The latest amendment also deletes language in the original contract that said, “Benderson shall use its best commercially reasonable efforts to market and lease the Property to Class A Building tenants.” 
The original commitment, renewed with both previous extensions, was described in 2015 by the Observer:
The prolific developer aims to build a multibuilding light industrial Class A campus totaling between 400,000 and 500,000 square feet of industrial, manufacturing and office space.
Now apparently that's no longer part of the plan.

Is Benderson going to come back after three contractual delays to disclose what it has planned for the Fruitville Initiative is warehouses and a truck depot?

Benderson Development affiliate granted another delay

Benderson Frutiville initiative
According to the Building Owners and Managers Association International, Class A space refers to the “[m]ost prestigious buildings competing for premier office space users with rents above average for the area. Buildings have high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence.”

Class B structures: “Buildings competing for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area. … Building finishes are fair to good for the area and systems are adequate, but the building does not compete with Class A at the same price.”

Class C buildings: Compete for tenants that require “functional space at rents below the average for the area.”

Englewood property purchased for a park sold at $1.5 million loss

A second SNL story finds that the County purchased land in Englewood, and is now selling it for $1.5 million less than it paid in 2007:

“When it comes to the management of our county properties … the way it’s been done in the past is at least not acceptable to this commissioner."
Add caption

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Thaxton on the Comp Plan - CONA

Former county commissioner Jon Thaxton presented a fine, thoughtful overview of comprehensive planning from the late 70s to the present time at CONA Sarasota on April 9.

It's a story of a giant pendulum swing from an era that foresaw the dangers of unregulated growth (sprawl, traffic, uncoordinated planning and pervasive dysfunctionality) and put agencies and rules in place to address those dangers, to the present time in which layers of prudent oversight at the regional and state levels have been dismantled.

That leaves local government -- and citizens -- to work out the difficult implications and impacts of large scale planning. Who provides the vision if citizens feel local governance is inadequate, who has their back?

In the Q & A after his talk, Thaxton addresses questions arising from current planning issues in the city and county.

The first segment begins with Ben Cannon talking about residents' concerns with a plan at the Raquet Club behind Trader Joe's. Thaxton begins at about the 16-minute mark:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Thaxton at CONA: Our Comp Plan

CONA logo graphic 
Sarasota County Council of 
Neighborhood Associations - CONA

      - monthly meeting -
  April 92018
     at 7 p .m.  
importance of our
comprehensive plan

and a report on the Bath and Racquet Club application
On Monday, April 9, 2018 please join CONA for a thorough discussion by Jon Thaxton regarding our county comprehensive plan.Learn how this document expresses our vision of what we want our community to be and how it drives the decisions made by our local government regarding development and redevelopment. That our plan for smart growth was carefully-crafted by citizens participating in a long process that resulted in a vision that garnered national recognition and awards will be covered. The examination will reveal the devolution of our comprehensive plan through gradual changes that failed to adhere to the inherent vision expressed by the community.
  Understanding and participating in this process is essential to reviving our vision in time to avoid the Browardization of Sarasota through compromise of the smart growth goals of our vision that include protecting neighborhood compatibility and the environment, limiting traffic congestion, constraining urban sprawl, and making growth pay its own way rather than being subsidized by existing taxpayers and degrading our quality of life.
   Following our traditional half-hour social beforehand, the meeting will open with Ben Cannon bringing us up to date on the redevelopment application for the Bath and Racquet Club.
  Q A will follow both discussions.  

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