Sarasota County is considering a dramatically revved-up schedule for the renovations of Siesta Key Beach, but needs to be cautious about entering into anything that could be financially constricting.
The idea, brought up by County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, is to take advantage of low construction costs and low interest rates and condense the 12-year plan into 18 months.
It is 12 years mostly because that is how long it would take the county’s surtax to generate enough money — $17 million at the last estimate — to pay for the improvements. The final $9 million needed for the project is not expected to be available until 2024.
Barbetta’s proposal has merit. Costs for construction and capital are indeed low. And the improvements, from drainage to parking to facilities, are needed. There really could be monetary savings on the improvements, including the reality that costs grow with time.
But there are potential dangers. When commissioners hear from the staff Oct. 25 on the possibilities, they need answers to some serious questions.
First, how might borrowing the money upfront affect the county’s financial rating using a worst-case scenario? The economic worst case is a real possibility, and the assumptions cannot be Pollyanna-like. If there is a risk that the debt would affect other projects or cause a downgrade in the county’s borrowing capacity, the commission should stick with pay-as-you-go.
Second, how will parking and the general use of the beach be affected if all of the work is being done at about the same time? The beach was just named the best beach in the country by Dr. Beach, and there has been a boom in tourism on the Key that appears to be linked to that ranking.
Parking is already a problem at the beach, and the plan could actually remove parking spaces. The idea that a trolley to the beach will solve that problem just has no basis in reality. It would be nice, but it is a cross-fingered, eyes-closed hope right now. Not exactly what planning should be based upon.
The last thing the county should do is throw a huge roadblock in front of the momentum that the beach ranking has given the island.
Give Barbetta credit for bringing up the option, but it is fraught with risk. Only if those issues can be confidently overcome should the county move forward with the expedited process.
+ Good news on beach signs
Getting an earful from the community on the dreariness of the signs that Sarasota County made proclaiming Siesta Key Beach’s No. 1 status, the county is getting ready to scrap white on mud-brown.
Anything would be better.
County staff is gathering organizations interested in real signage, such as the Siesta Key Chamber, the Siesta Key Association and the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with individuals.
We hope serious consideration will be given to banners, which apparently do not fit current county code. That problem is eminently fixable. But whether banners or not, some sort of fun, big-splash signage is in order.
The only qualm we have is directing Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis to coordinate the redesign. Surely he has much weightier issues to deal with.
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