Within five years, the city will be responsible for millions of dollars in park operations costs that it had not previously funded.
Sarasota County currently funds parks within the city limits, but due to its own budget constraints, it plans to withdraw most of the money it has traditionally devoted to the city’s park operations.
Annually, the county contributes $2.9 million to run city parks.
City commissioners approved May 16 a new 10-year parks agreement between the two government bodies.
The previous agreement expired last year but had been extended six times while the county and city negotiated a new deal.
Terms called for the city to take over all funding for 16 smaller “neighborhood” parks.
The county will phase out funding of those parks with $500,000 contributed in the first year, $350,000 in the second year and $200,000 in the third year.
In years four through 10, the city will fully fund the neighborhood parks and Bayfront Park, which the county had spent $550,000 each year to operate.
The county will continue to fund “regional” parks, which are defined as those that attract people from the city and county.
City commissioners and city management had fought to include the Robert L. Taylor Community Center as one of those regional parks, but the county refused.
The North Sarasota park is currently being renovated, and its operating costs are expected to balloon from $400,000 to more than $1 million.
The new agreement calls for Robert L. Taylor funding to be phased out over five years, with the county contributing $320,000 per year during that timeframe.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell said she hoped that the city will be able to collect data during the next five years that shows the park has regional users, and that could be used to resurrect county funding.
City commissioners did notice a part of the contract that they are insisting is changed — a termination provision that would technically allow the county to stop those phased payments before the five years are up.
“It is clear the current County Commission intends to make those payments,” said Vice Mayor Terry Turner, “but the contract is 10 years, and future commissioners (may not).”
The city plans to add a clause that requires the five-year funding, before the County Commission approves the contract May 24.
The county will continue to fund and operate the following “regional” parks:
Arlington Park and pool
Ken Thompson Park
Sarasota Lawn Bowling Club facilities
Lido Beach, excluding pool, medians and everything east of dune line
North Lido Beach
Payne Park tennis complex
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].