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 www.conasarasota.org/meetings.html 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.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

For a change

John Garcia’s mission was simple. He wanted to make it less likely that people in his neighborhood would suffer from the environmentally-caused cancers that had plagued so many of his friends . . . - Dennis Maley.

UPDATE: Beruff drops Million-dollar Lawsuit against Activist - Dennis Maley.

To a former commissioner who holds the Celery Fields responsible for infringing on heavy industry.

Letters regarding a sweet, senseless deal
 A former Planning Commissioner asks why 100 acres of county land wasn't good enough for a new Sheriff's truck garage.

Feel a little dumped on? Tired of 50 years of toxic same-party, same-gene-pool rule? 

There are alternatives -- take a moment to get to know them:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Letter to the Editor responds to Argus Celery Fields Editorial

On May 14, 2018, he Herald Tribune ran an editorial by former Sarasota Commissioner and current Argus Foundation executive Christine Robinson in which she appears to hold the Celery Fields -- not those in the community who love them, but the Fields themselves -- responsible for causing a "businessman" to lose "a lot of money." That would be James Gabbert, who with his eyes open sought to put a heavy industrial waste processing plant on public lands quite near an eco-tourist masterpiece of nature. The area also includes schools, more than 1,600 homes and businesses, and a fragile road system, but:
We recently saw a problem with a park and a property that cost a reputable local businessman a lot of money and shook the business community’s trust in county government.. . . The Celery Fields were created as a stormwater system to alleviate flooding and to filter water. It has turned into a park, with birds and other wildlife.. . . Typical comments were: “How can you put an industrial use next to a park?”

The faith of the business community was shaken.  
                                         Robinson's statement is here in full.

This letter to the editor by Bob Clark of Venice appeared in the Herald Tribune on May 16, 2018:

Irony in Argus executive warning of ‘mission creep'

Did anyone else catch the irony in Argus Foundation Executive Director Christine Robinson’s opinion piece (Herald-Tribune, Business Weekly, May 14), cautioning about Legacy Trail “mission creep?”

Ms. Robinson argued that further extension of the Legacy Trail should not be considered without putting in place guarantees that there would not be any “mission creep” that might impact industrial and commercial properties abutting the trail.

She cited, as an example, the “mission creep” the Celery Fields posed on a landowner who wanted to build an industrial-materials recycling facility on land adjacent to the nature park.

Was it not the recycling businessman, in asking for an exception to the allowed zoning use of the land, who was guilty of mission creep, pure and simple?

And talk about mission creep: Ms. Robinson states that “every year, we lose industrial light warehouse properties,” in part apparently due to “residential dwellings ... being approved on or next to industrial lands.”

Well, Argus Foundation, perhaps the big problem is the mission creep of developers, who are granted exceptions to comprehensive plans right and left to take over all the available land in our county and state for whatever use they’d like.

You say that “the faith of the business community was shaken” by the zoning decision at Celery Fields? Well, the faith of the entire community is shaken every time we have to decipher another rezoning request and consider going up against developers, their lawyers and lobbyists to protect the rest of us from their mission creep.

Bob Clark, Venice

(Hyperlinks added to original text)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

2018 Hurricane Season Preparation Updates for Sarasota County

Sarasota County has updated preparations for hurricane evacuations, alerts, and procedures for public protection.

See full version of this important Sarasota News Leader story here.

The Sarasota County Government website (www.scgov.net) has details about the new transportation plan on its Emergency Services webpages.

The transportation plan lists rally points from Englewood to Longboat Key. North Port has three rally points: the George Mullen Activity Center at 1602 Kramer Way; the North Port Library at 13800 Tamiami Trail; and the new Suncoast Technical College on North Cranberry Boulevard. Venice also has three: Garden Elementary School at 700 Center Road; Taylor Ranch Elementary at 2500 Taylor Ranch Trail; and the Venice Community Center at 326 Nokomis Ave. South.

Rally Points:

Friday, May 4, 2018

What next for Fresh Start

As you might be aware, on April 25, 2018 Fresh Start presented the results of its community-based proposals to the County, and that same day TST Ventures, (owner James Gabbert) resubmitted its plan for a waste transfer facility to the County.

Fresh Start was aware that TST Ventures had received approval for the Waste Transfer Facility (WTF) in 2015, but then had scrapped it in favor of a more ambitious waste processing plant, which did not receive county approval. 

It had been our hope that the prospect of uses on public lands more compatible with the area's diverse assets - the Celery Fields, neighborhoods, restaurants, kayaking, hiking, birding, schools, new residential housing and offices - might prompt TST Ventures to consider a different sort of development on its six-acre tract on Porter Rd. - perhaps a hotel or restaurant in keeping with the eco-tourism of the area.

In fact we ended our April 25 presentation to the Board with this:

The creative input of our community and advisers has convinced us there’s a larger opportunity here. With good-faith cooperation of County and Community, these public parcels will be a catalyst for a broader transformation of this crucial area that combines history, commerce, nature, recreation, and daily life.  

Over the next few weeks, Fresh Start will be meeting with county staff and the commissioners in hopes of getting a shared vision formalized by the Board. It won't change anything for the six acres on Porter, but perhaps we can find a place for the community's wishes on the 23 acres of Public Land there now.

Thank you for caring about what is done with our public lands.

Tom Matrullo
Fresh Start Executive Council