David Merrill was unmoved after receiving a warning message from the County Commission, which suggested he avoid talking about new community redevelopment areas in Sarasota County.
Merrill, the chairman of the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area Extension Study Committee, had a philosophical response to the commissioners’ letter, which told him to devote his attention solely to the downtown CRA.
“I’ve always enjoyed the naturalist John Muir’s quote,” Merrill wrote in an email. “‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’”
Merrill believes CRAs in other areas are inexorably linked to the downtown CRA. The extension committee will file a report in January with the city and county about whether the downtown CRA, set to sunset in 2016, should be extended.
CRAs, put in place to revitalize blighted areas, are funded via Tax Increment Financing. TIF dollars come from city and county property taxes within the CRA, money that’s set aside for redevelopment projects in the area.
To consider a possible extension from the county’s perspective, Merrill said the committee has to factor in the aftermath of that decision.
“There is a glaring equity issue,” Merrill said. “If downtown Sarasota is extended in its current area, getting $3 million a year, why doesn’t it open it up to the other areas?”
Merrill, a former Sarasota mayor, lives in Osprey. He said if the county decided to continue to fund the downtown CRA, he would immediately seek a CRA for Osprey. He figured he’s not alone, and the county would have to account for that when making a decision.
County Commissioner Christine Robinson sees Merrill’s approach differently. She thinks it’s a shortcut — instead of justifying the downtown CRA, he’s telling commissioners to approve all CRAs.
Robinson said the discord could cast the final extension report in a questionable light, because she believed the committee was trying to take the easy way out.
“I hope the committee can get a hold of what’s going on and start to steer this in a direction that will be helpful to us, rather than taking a position that’s creating animosity in the rest of the county,” Robinson said.
At first, Merrill was unflinching in the face of criticism, saying he would continue to discuss matters he thought were relevant. Now, however, Merrill is willing to acquiesce to the commission, even if he’s not thrilled. In the end, he says, it just makes his job easier.
“It’s going to be their problem, not mine,” Merrill said.