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SRQ Daily Mar 16, 2019

Saturday Perspectives Edition

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Saturday Perspectives Edition

"SCAT remains a problem and is a growing expense; this year it is expected that SCAT will eclipse Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources in terms of general fund expenses."

- Christine Robinson, The Argus Foundation
 

[The Detail]  Bayfront 20Money
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

When it comes to achieving a big goal, good intentions are not enough. Commitment is essential. Commitment is what separates doers from dreamers. Planning for the City of Sarasota’s future Bayfront Park—the public’s 53 waterfront acres including the greening of the Van Wezel parking lot—has now moved beyond the “vision” stage into the “make it happen” stage.

Historically, this is where big plans in Sarasota can go very wrong.

We’ve seen big promises when it comes to public-private partnerships before. 

The Benderson Rowing Park nonprofit, SANCA (Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates), said they would raise $22 million to construct a boathouse, grandstand and finish tower in time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships at the rowing park. Instead of SANCA raising that $22 million, a second nonprofit, the Benderson Foundation, funded the $5 million finish tower just in time for the event. The rowing park still lacks a boathouse and grandstand.

Public money—over $50 million—has been the main source for the rowing park’s construction. Sarasota County is the ongoing source of funds for park maintenance. SANCA has not brought the funding it promised.

In 2009, as part of their stadium deal, the Orioles promised to raise $10 million to construct a Cal Ripken Youth Academy out at Twin Lakes Park. This was the sweetener, the game-changing project that was going to “re-invent spring training.” Kids playing with the pros, a great economic engine that would fuel our local economy! Today there is no Cal Ripken Youth Academy. Taxpayers funded the stadium but didn’t get the baseball academy they were promised in return.

Tangible commitments are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Both the rowing park and Cal Ripken Youth Academy were promises, not commitments. The associated contracts between the County and SANCA, and between the County and the Orioles were effective at compelling the County to spend public money, but worthless regarding ensuring the promised private sector financial support. 

Enter the Bayfront Park Conservancy agreement. 

Everyone agrees a 53-acre bayfront park is a great idea. The park vision includes a softened shoreline, transformation of the Van Wezel parking lot into green space and a new performing arts hall. Estimates for the cost of the envisioned Bayfront Park are up to $500 million.  The contract currently being hammered out between the BPC and the City of Sarasota should answer a fundamental question: Why does the City need the BPC? What tangible value does the conservancy bring to the table? Among other problems, there is no dollar amount specified that the BPC will raise and no associated deadline. 

Funding the ongoing costs of operation and maintenance of this new park will be critical to its financial sustainability and the financial health of the City of Sarasota. The annual operations and maintenance costs for the proposed park has been estimated at $5 million to $6 million. The draft agreement says the BPC will develop an operating and maintenance plan for each phase of the park, but there is no requirement that the BPC plan actually be successful. 

This park plan began with an emphasis on private money. However, it has become clear that the lion’s share of the project financing will come from public coffers. The current contract obligates the City financially, but fails to spell out the financial commitment of the private sector. Come on people. We’ve been down this road before. Show us the money 

The more specific the contract is about the City’s obligations, and the more vague the contract is about the conservancy’s obligations, the more reason there is to for City residents to be concerned.  The City Commission must get this right.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail on WSLR.  

[Argus]  Government Budget Season Upon Us
Christine Robinson, Christine@argusfoundation.org

Budget season for governments is upon us and we are about to embark on a process that will end in September with final hearings for a budget starting Oct. 1 of this year.

Before we begin to look forward, it is just as important to look backwards and evaluate how we did for the budget year ending September 30, 2018. Luckily, we can do that with the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which can be found on the Clerk of Court website. It is a look back at 2018 and how the county did with its financials. 

Karen Rushing, our elected Clerk of Court and Comptroller for the county, and her staff put a lot of work into this 374-page document. It is easy to read and there are great bullet point highlights in the “Management’s Discussion and Analysis” section.

The good news is that revenues are up and we even have some left over to tuck into the rainy day fund. Even the Tourist Development Tax, which was up against one of the worst bouts of red tide in our history, was up 6.9 percent. 

Local government sales tax was up $8.5 million and our property tax revenues were up due to taxable value increases of 8.3 percent or $16.1 million.

Luckily our expenses increased less than our revenues. Expenses were up 4.1 percent in governmental activities. All of us will have to keep an eye on the expenses this year and make a concerted effort to push them down. It is a tough goal considering health insurance, gas and other uncontrollable variables, but we can’t have higher increases.

The real fund that most pay the closest attention to is the general fund. Last year, while budgeting, the county budgeted $21.9 million of fund balance. None of it was used by the county. The taxes collected in the general fund for 2018 exceeded the budget by $3.5 million. 

A more troubling expense is Sarasota County Area Transit. It received a huge amount of general fund monies, $18.3 million. SCAT remains a problem and is a growing expense; this year it is expected that SCAT will eclipse Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources in terms of general fund expenses and become the second biggest general fund department expense under the county commission. An examination of alternative forms of service delivery is very warranted.

Major capital expenditures included River Road at $27.9 million, the Siesta Key Master Pump Station at $15.7 million and improvements to expand and upgrade the Central County wastewater reclamation facility at $14.2 million.

Total debt for the county went down by 3 percent or $18.8 million. The county has a total debt of $368.8 million.

The snapshot of 2018 is pretty positive. We had a great year and the commission is well positioned for 2019 and budgeting for 2020. As we begin workshopping this budget, let’s remember that we need to plan for the next recession and prioritize. The county should fund health, safety, and welfare first, infrastructure second, and amenities last with an eye towards controlling expenses, especially in SCAT and putting money away for that rainy day.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation. 

Graphic from Sarasota County CAFR Report



[SCOOP]  Goodwill partners with area schools on program for exceptional students

A partnership between Sarasota County Schools and Goodwill Manasota has enabled Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students from Booker High School to enjoy in-service training and job preparation skills at the Goodwill Mecca location in northern Sarasota. Seven students are learning on the job – five at a time, five days a week, for up to two hours each day – while earning school credit.  Booker High School is just one of the schools participating in the Vocational Instructional Program, which is currently serving 34 ESE students, ages 16-22 / grades 10-12, with varying exceptionalities.  

[SCOOP]  Music Compound needs your votes!

The Music Compound (MC) is vying for a FedEx small business grant and is asking for votes from the community. Florida budget cuts have reduced music programs in public schools.. To alleviate this problem, MC provides music education to all ages. Its mission: to inspire, collaborate and educate, providing access to a wide array of learning opportunities intended to not only build music skills but also enhance confidence, communication and social interaction abilities. It offers its students one-on-one private instrument lessons, group lessons, performance ensembles and workshops. MC intends to use the FedEx grant money to continue to grow. This grant would be key to MC’s expansion, and its ability to continue serving the needs of the community. 

[KUDOS]  PECKY gives back formed to help the All Star Children's Foundation

Patricia and Peter Estes of PECKY interiors have begun a campaign called "PECKY gives back." This campaign will help the All Star Children's Foundation raise awareness and funds for their cause. Pecky is working with their vendors who are generously donating items. When these speific items are sold in the Pecky store, 100% of the proceeds from the sale will go to the All Star Children's Foundation. Items above are currently part of the Campaign, new items continually will be added. 

[SCOOP]  Free Fast Track Training Into An Automotive Tech Career

For those looking for an on-ramp to a career with upward mobility, CareerEdge Funders Collaborative has partnered with a consortium of four local automotive dealerships to provide a fast-track pathway to becoming an automotive technician.  To address the shortage of auto technicians, CareerEdge partnered with Suncoast Technical College (STC) to create a Fast Track training program in the evenings so that entry-level employees can receive both on-the-job as well as classroom training. 

[SCOOP]  Join the Team That is Changing the World

Selah Freedom is adding three full time positions to their team. They are seeking individuals in three roles, the outreach program, human resources, and an Accounting Assistant If you have a passion for working with survivors on the street and in the jail system, check out our opportunities below 

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine and edited by Senior Editor Phil LedererNote: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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