Sarasota Enters Dispute Process Over CRA Funds

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY MAR 7, 2017

Sarasota City Commissioners say they are done trying to politely reach an agreement over whether county officials owe them some $5 million in revenue from the expired downtown community redevelopment area (CRA). The commission voted unanimously on Monday to enter a state-governed conflict resolution process. “We need the city to be in a position of power,” says City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell.

The two government jurisdictions have been in disagreement over whether the county owes the city a 30th and final dispersement of funds raised through the Downtown Sarasota CRA. The community redevelopment area was created for a 30-year period, with 1986 set as the base year for calculating tax increment financing. That meant the first revenues raised were assessed in 1987. But a county resolution adopted the same year established that "the last year during which the County shall appropriate the increment revenues to the Redevelopment Trust Fund shall be Fiscal Year 2016.”

After county commissioners elected to allow the CRA to expire instead of being renewed, city leaders noted that ending reimbursements last year meant the county had issued just 29 reimbursements, not 30. City Manager Tom Barwin argues that the city, which administered spending for the CRA, still has project obligations and wants a 30th and final installment. That would have been $4.8 million, though Barwin says with interest that amount has already grown to $5 million. Conversations between city and county officials have not resulted in any sort of agreement between the governments.

County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo would not speak to the actual financial dispute because the matter could end up in litigation. “I guess we are going to have to put everything on the table,” he says. “I still hope we can get stuff worked out. Otherwise, it doesn’t help the relationship.” But city officials maintain the city, which provides more than 17 percent of property tax revenues for the county, has little choice than to pursue the funds.

The state-governed dispute resolution process, intended to allow a final opportunity to resolve differences before the city sues the county and lands the dispute in court, calls for a publicly advertised meeting between staff representatives for the governments, then potentially a meeting between city and county commissioners, then mediation. County officials suggested the city waive the right to a state process and instead have two more staff meetings in private instead of in meetings open to the public. But city leaders say such a process would be pointless, as communications between the governments up until now have not led to any resolution. “We’ve already done an informal process,” says City Commissioner Susan Chapman. “Why waive a formal process?”

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