On Thursday, the Sarasota City Commission will discuss the county’s sudden decision to end the downtown Community Redevelopment Area — and how to adjust for the loss of what officials viewed as a crucial funding mechanism.
The City Commission will convene for a special meeting Thursday to discuss the city’s plans in the wake of the County Commission’s decision to let the downtown Community Redevelopment Area expire in 2016.
City leaders were strong proponents for extending the downtown CRA, calling it a crucial economic engine for the heart of the city. The CRA was designed to use property tax revenue from within its boundaries on capital projects in that same area, with a goal of eliminating slum and blight conditions.
Thursday’s special meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m., came at the request of Mayor Willie Shaw. The board will also discuss the broader city-county relationship in advance of a November joint meeting between the two commissions regarding homelessness.
“It is evident from the latest reaction that this discussion has to take place before any such meeting can bear a fruitful (result) for those that we represent as the elected governing body of the city of Sarasota,” Shaw wrote in an email Sunday.
The city was in the process of lobbying the county regarding the extension of the downtown CRA, possibly with different parameters to appease county critics. Last year, an advisory committee jointly appointed by the city and county commissions recommended the extension of the CRA, albeit with some adjustments.
City officials were caught by surprise when the County Commission unanimously voted to let the CRA end after its 2016 sunset date Tuesday. The decision came at the final public hearing to approve the new county budget and millage rate.
In an email to City Manager Tom Barwin, County Manager Tom Harmer did refer to the vote in passing. The email, which bore the subject line “Final Public Hearing,” was sent four days before the vote was held. Most of the email pertains to an update on a city-county dispute regarding emergency assessments on city-owned land, but Harmer mentions other agenda items as well.
“It also includes the resolutions setting the final millage rates, the notice of final appropriate (sic) for the downtown redevelopment district, and the adoption of the 5 year CIP,” Harmer wrote.
Although the timing of county’s move to end the CRA may have surprised the city, the decision itself wasn’t shocking for several officials. Commissioner Susan Chapman said she viewed the recent efforts to engage with the county regarding an extension as a waste of time, as she believed the County Commission’s mind was already made up.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” Chapman said. “I didn’t 100% know for sure when it would come up, but it’s been telegraphed — I would say for months, if not years.”