At a workshop today, Sarasota County officials took an early look at more than $221 million in planned new facilities and began to discuss how to fund the substantial undertaking.
One of the most significant proposed additions is a new public safety campus, which would house the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office administration, a forensics lab, the medical examiner’s office and lab, the emergency operations center, a classroom training center and structured parking. A concept site plan shows the campus located just west of I-75 in the northern part of the county, at Cattlemen Road and Porter Way.
The total cost of the project is currently estimated at more than $71 million. That total does not include a field training facility and a fleet facility for county vehicles, elements the county is interested in including but unable to price at this time.
Along Ringling Boulevard, the county is interested in pursuing four other sizable projects. A 10-story judicial facility and an 11-story jail expansion carry projected costs of $84.875 million and $48.785 million, respectively. The relocation of the county’s Central Energy Plant to a surface parking lot at Ringling and School Avenue would cost an additional $8.8 million, and building a five-floor parking structure on that lot to recoup lost spaces would cost $7.6 million.
Altogether, the projected costs are more than $221 million. County Manager Tom Harmer said these projects were still several years out, but instructed commissioners to think about whether or not to pursue a referendum to fund the projects. With no countywide election being held next year, any potential referendum wouldn’t come up until 2016, Harmer said.
County staff provided a chart detailing the cost of bonding between $175 and $225 million over a 15- and 20-year period. Funding the bonds would require an annual collection between .227 and .411 mills, which would cost the owner of a house valued at $200,000 between $45 and $82 each year until the bond was paid off.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said that a referendum should be a last resort for funding the construction of the projects. He suggested the county should pursue a private-public partnership where possible, leasing facilities constructed by a private developer. Barbetta said he believed the government shouldn’t be in the building business.
“We need to engage the private sector a lot more in helping us build these facilities in this day and age,” Barbetta said.
Commissioner Christine Robinson said it was too early in the process to know what the county’s next step should be, funding-wise. She said she wanted to talk with residents and other municipalities so that the context of the proposal could be better understood before moving forward.
“I would not even remotely feel comfortable talking about a referendum without having a whole lot of public information sessions,” Robinson said.
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