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Sarasota Monday, Apr. 7, 2014 3 years ago

City Commission considers budget cap amendment

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Searching for a solution to what he feels is a looming issue in the city of Sarasota, Mayor Shannon Snyder drew inspiration from the south.

Snyder, who believes tax increases will eventually drive people away from the city, asked commissioners today to consider a possible charter amendment similar to one that was passed in Venice last month. Voters in Venice, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, approved an amendment that places a 3% cap on the general fund budget submitted by the city manager, unless an exception is granted by the City Council in advance.

The proposal was popular among Venice voters, but the Sarasota City Commission had a more mixed reaction. The idea has life beyond today’s commission meeting, as Vice Mayor Willie Shaw and Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Suzanne Atwell showed a willingness to entertain the proposal — to varying degrees.

Caragiulo said he wanted to speak with the Sarasota County Property Appraiser and account for the differences between Venice and Sarasota’s budgetary process before moving forward with any amendment. Still, he was the most receptive commissioner to the proposal, arguing that it should be up to the citizens to decide what to do.

“It's a big, big issue, but I think it would be pretty hard to convince me not to put it on the ballot,” Caragiulo said.

Atwell and Shaw showed a greater hesitance to cap the city’s spending, particularly with looming expenditures such as a potential forthcoming homeless shelter. With the 2014-15 budgetary process set to begin next week, both commissioners wanted to take a deeper, more methodical look at any changes.

“In the past, we have come up with ideas — without properly brainstorming them — that have come back to bite us,” Shaw said.

Commissioner Susan Chapman was staunchly opposed to the idea, which she said was seeking to make budget cuts without actually saying where those cuts would be made. She also balked at the idea of revising the city’s charter to include such a provision, arguing that a much more deliberate approach was necessary to amend the guiding document.

“We're not supposed to mess with our charter every time we get a whim,” Chapman said. “That's happening more and more.”

Commissioners voted 3-2 to include hypothetical 2014-15 budget figures, were such an amendment passed, as part of the upcoming budget process to use a point of reference. Chapman and Shaw cast the dissenting votes. Fiscal year 2013-14 general fund expenditures totaled $59,175,203; limiting that budget to a 3% increase would cap the 2014-15 total at about $60.95 million.

Although the board expressed a desire to move slowly on this issue, commissioners agreed that the proposal would soon become a hot topic among their constituents.

“It's very hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Caragiulo said.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

• Commissioners voted to redraft an ordinance establishing the Independent Police Advisory Panel. The revised ordinance is a response to allegations from the group Citizens for Sunshine that the Independent Police Advisory Panel is in violation of the state’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. The city will revise what it feels is a clerical error that identified staff support as ex officio members of the panel.

• Commissioners amended the city’s Bayfront Connectivity Plan to include a proposed roundabout at U.S. 41 and Ringling Boulevard, a proposal that will now be studied by the Florida Department of Transportation.

• The Parking Advisory Committee provided an update on its work toward developing a comprehensive parking master plan, which Parking Manager Mark Lyons said should be ready for staff review within 60 to 90 days.

Contact David Conway at [email protected].

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