Emergency funds, contract amendments and changes to SCAT topped the Sarasota County Commission's agenda Tuesday.
At a board meeting Tuesday, the Sarasota County Commission approved a measure to reduce the county's emergency-reserve fund from a 90-day reserve to 75 days — freeing $8 million to use on other projects on a one-time basis.
"We're well within good practices to do this," said County Commissioner Charles Hines, speaking about the move. "I feel 75 days is sufficient; let's put that money to work in our community."
County Commissioner Nora Patterson opposed the measure, calling it shortsighted.
"I don't agree at this point that this is the time to do this," Patterson said. "I understand the principle of putting dollars to work. But, to spend this money now and not to have any potential for it in the future, I don't think it's prudent."
The county approved a measure in May lowering the emergency fund from a 90-day reserve to 75. The 75-day mark still puts Sarasota well ahead of the average emergency-fund reserve of 60 days among Florida counties, Hines said. There are no specific plans for allocating the one-time, $8 million payout.
Commissioners also pushed back Tuesday against multiple contract amendments brought before the board, including a $993,403 request for upgrades at the Carlton Water Treatment Facility.
"Every time you up the cost of one of these contracts, it throws our overall budget out of whack," Hines said.
County staff advocated for the multiple amendments, mostly for utilities upgrades, claiming the increased spending was necessary to match utilities capacity with projected area growth, saving the county money in the long haul. Some commissioners expressed concern that engineering firms the county hired to run the projects were taking advantage of the system, and the projects were dragging on unnecessarily.
"Time is money," Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. "Staff needs to realize that the longer we draw these projects out, the costlier they get. We need to set an end date and stick to it."
County commissioners also heard public comments Tuesday regarding a proposal to privatize Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) services. Citizens who spoke during public comments expressed concern about possible fare increases, concerns about the use of public transit in an emergency evacuation and hidden costs to the county that might come from privatization.
"SCAT provides reliable transportation for people in Sarasota County with no other options," one resident said at Tuesday's meeting. "The effects of the privatization of public transpiration on the elderly and the poor would be devastating."
The Sarasota County Commission said it will proceed with soliciting public opinion on the potential privatization of SCAT services.
Other topics discussed at Tuesday’s meeting included:
• The need to revamp the bidding process for countywide mowing programs. Commissioner Joe Barbetta called the current program a “fiasco,” in the wake of two mowing contractors stopping work because they could no longer afford to provide services at the low bids they used to win their contracts.
• A proposal to apply for federal funding for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program to link downtown Sarasota to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and New College.
• The board voted to give priority to a Siesta Key trolley over a trolley linking downtown Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch. Barbetta said that the Lakewood Ranch trolley needed to be ready before the 2017 World Rowing Championships that could take place at Nathan Benderson Park.
• The board approved a one-year renewal of the Siesta Key Farmers Market permit.
The next Sarasota County Commission meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug.28, at the County Administration Center, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.
Residents can call 861-5000 for more information.
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