During a joint meeting between city and county commissioners June 4, Mayor Dick Clapp asked the county to help fund the Newtown Community Reinvestment Agency (CRA).
When County Commissioner Carolyn Mason, whose district includes Newtown, said she supported the city’s request, but questioned if the time was right because of the economy, City Commissioner Fredd Atkins said it was time the county did something for a part of Sarasota that it has ignored for years.
“The county can look at this and say, ‘You know, we can stimulate the economy of the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County by investing in the community that has been the most neglected by Sarasota County throughout the years,’” Atkins said.
That statement started a long and passionate debate about what responsibility the county had to blighted areas.
“The characterization of neglect is inappropriate,” said County Commission Chairman Jon Thaxton. “We have in Sarasota County other Newtown-like areas.”
“Where?” asked Atkins.
“Osprey, Laurel, Nokomis,” said Thaxton. “It’s very much an area in need.”
The county has taken a position against CRAs, but when the city requested that its downtown Sarasota CRA be expanded to include Newtown, the commission gave its approval.
County Commissioner Shannon Staub, whose district is in southern Sarasota County, said she had to defend herself to those in Englewood and North Port who had unsuccessfully asked the county to create CRAs for them.
“We didn’t want to take money from other parts of the county and put them toward one area,” she said. “So we created the Community Reinvestment Trust, where we write a check for the project.”
Staub said the county has allocated about $29 million to Newtown through various programs, but Atkins said that money is coming late in the game.
“We are so grateful for the county to contribute to the greater Newtown area for the last two or three years,” Atkins said. “I’ve been living in Newtown for 51 years now, and we didn’t have a lot of contributions those first 45 I lived in Newtown, so there’s some catching up the county has to do. The reality is Sarasota County could have stepped to the plate a long time ago. So, we thank you all for coming in the last three years, but the reality is we are in pain. Laurel, Nokomis, Englewood, we’re all in pain, and you all need to give us the opportunity to improve our conditions.”
City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner said he wanted the county’s priorities to be more aligned with the city’s.
“The city’s top priority is Newtown, and I’d like to see the county say the same thing,” he said.
JOINT MEETING NOTES
• Wayne Appleby, county criminal justice coordinator, said the search for a new jail site continues, with serious consideration being given to five sites around the county, including the Osprey Inn and the Jewish Community Center. The Community Corrections Center would be a minimum-security facility that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation, rather than incarceration. If it has to be built from the ground up, it’s expected to be ready to accept inmates in 2014. If the corrections center goes into an existing building, that timeframe could be quicker.
• At the request of the City Commission, county commissioners voted to look into funding for a downtown transit-circulator system.
• Anthony Beckford, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) general manager, said SCAT was prepared to send the federal government the one final document required before the bus system can begin design work on a $79 million rapid-transit system.
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