Sarasota County commissioners will discuss some weighty spending topics during a budget workshop tomorrow.
Should the county move the downtown Sarasota County Area Transit bus transfer station? Would commissioners — and possibly voters — support a referendum aimed at supporting borrowing efforts for new and improved public safety and other government facilities? How should the county continue funding tourism assets, such as a downtown aquarium or conference center?
Though commissioners likely won't take any formal action, their support could put staff on a trajectory toward such changes.
Supporters of moving the SCAT station, mostly downtown merchants, say the structure splinters the local shopping district and could be designated for higher value uses, such as a mixed-use high-rise, which would generate all-new tax revenues. Opponents of the plan claim that moving the transfer station to the corner of Ringling Boulevard and School Avenue would be inconvenient for regular riders.
"You look around the city and you start seeing all of this non income-producing property owned by the county or the city,” said Downtown Improvement District Chairman Ernie Ritz in an earlier interview with the Sarasota Observer. “My idea was to start selling off some of the property that they own that’s not income-producing.”
A conceptual drawing of the relocated SCAT station, estimated to cost $2.2 million, shows room for 10 buses and 1,180 car parking spaces, without a proposed expansion of an already-existing parking garage. The parking garage expansion would accommodate 1,307 cars and 10 buses, costing an estimated $7.6 million, according to the staff presentation.
Commissioners will also will consider a proposal to put a cap on the growth rate of spending to promote the region as a tourist destination. The plan would allow advertising spending to grow at a specific percentage, with any additional revenues collected above that percentage going toward capital projects.
"All I'm saying is that if (tourist taxes) continue to grow rapidly, let's use some of that money while the sun's shining to build some assets," said Commissioner Joe Barbetta.
An alternative plan would tap local stadium revenues to pay the expansion or improvement of tourism assets.
Tourism officials held an emergency meeting this month to rally opposition to the former proposal, while builders have expressed support for the plan.
"We appreciate that this proposal, as put forth, keeps the budget for (Visit Sarasota County) whole and envisions annual increases for the important promotional services it provides," wrote Gulf Coast Builders Exchange Executive Director Mary Dougherty-Slapp in a May 15 email to commissioners. "We support the proposal to consider additional revenue be allocated to tourism related capital investment."
IF YOU GO
What: Sarasota County Commission budget workshop
When: 9 a.m. Friday, May 16
Where: Third Floor Think Tank, Administration Building, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota