In the city of Sarasota, the mayor’s role is essentially ceremonial. Overall, the five elected city commissioners have the same authority and leadership role.
That can be challenging when trying to set an agenda and move the city forward. And, that’s why the City Commission recently took a critical and unprecedented step. It unanimously established five top priorities for the next two years, along with measurable goals for each priority.
None of the priorities is ranked. Each is important, and all are intertwined in creating a vibrant, livable Sarasota community. Here are the five priorities:
Economic development and recovery
As a commission, we agree that a prosperous Sarasota is necessarily linked to economic development and recovery.
Starting next month, you will see something in downtown that we haven’t seen for a while: extensive construction. The city is investing $13 million in significant construction projects that will enhance the downtown, including the Palm Avenue parking garage, which will include retail space; a roundabout at Five Points; and bulbouts at Palm Avenue and Main Street.
These projects will create local jobs, provide economic impact to downtown and build a better Sarasota.
Construction on the Robert L. Taylor Community Center also will get under way this spring.
But this priority doesn’t just focus on bricks and mortar. We’ve set other measurable goals, such as creating an incubator program for small businesses in the Greater Newtown community; implementing the first phase of a wayfinding system so visitors can locate business and historic districts; positioning Sarasota for a new Institutes for the Ages; and continuing efforts to stimulate commercial growth along the North Trail.
In all, there are 21 measurable objectives for this priority.
Transportation and mobility
Over the next two years, we also will focus on transportation and mobility issues, including studying the feasibility of a downtown circulator; designing and constructing an Alderman bicycle/pedestrian trail, which ultimately would connect with the Legacy Trail; and developing a financially feasible plan to construct roundabouts at U.S. 41 and 10th Street and U.S. 41 and 14th Street.
Budget and finance
We anticipate the next two years will remain financially challenging, so we are continuing to hone in on areas where the city can reduce expenses.
It will be a difficult endeavor; however, we will review the organization’s benefits and compensation.
One measurable goal we’ve set is to design and implement a competitive sustainable compensation plan that reduces long-term compensation liabilities. This will not be easy for staff, retirees or the City Commission, but the issue must be addressed for the city to stay afloat financially.
The subsidy to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has been reduced significantly this year, and we will continue to study other alternatives to keep this community jewel while cutting costs.
Environmental sustainability is now incorporated into every aspect of City Hall business. A staff task force is analyzing what each city department can do to reduce its carbon footprint.
Over the next two years, we will use a $598,000 Federal Energy Grant for a residential audit and rebate program; retro-fit on-street lighting; continue a green jobs corps; and purchase solar water heaters for municipal buildings.
The administration also will explore possibly partnering with a public or private agency on a high visibility renewable-energy project.
We will expand the use of Florida friendly landscape and the city’s environmental specialist will continue to educate the public on the need for a sustainable Sarasota.
Quality of life
We cherish Sarasota because of the incomparable quality of life, whether it’s our pristine beaches, the arts or our safe, livable surroundings.
We want to build upon what we cherish. Plans are in place to transform Five Points Park into a community gathering place. Simultaneously, the administration will identify innovative strategies to address compassionately the transient issue in downtown Sarasota.
Measurable objectives also are in place to bolster the city’s social infrastructure for teenagers and adults, particularly in the Greater Newtown area. The administration also will review where more waterfront public-access points can be created.
This is the first time a Sarasota City Commission has set an agenda for the future of the city by mapping out priorities in conjunction with measurable objectives. By taking this first step, already we’re moving forward. Please visit www.sarasotagov.com to learn more about the priorities including every measurable objective.
Richard Clapp is the mayor of Sarasota and District 2 city commissioner.