A split City Commission Monday voted down a program that would have set aside thousands for alternative energy in the city, with three commissioners heeding warnings that the initiative was too costly at a time of cutbacks and projected deficits.
Commissioners Terry Turner and Shannon Snyder said approving the program would contribute to future deficits. Mayor Suzanne Atwell cast the third vote against the initiative, saying she wanted the city to consider other partnerships with the county and local corporations that would promote alternative energy at less of a cost to the city.
Former Mayor Kelly Kirschner served on the City Commission in 2010 that first approved the program, and was one of more than 10 advocates who spoke Monday to try to convince city commissioners to move the program forward as part of this year's budget. Kirscher said the program would have set aside an estimated $150,000 next year for solar water heaters and other alternative energy.
The city had not yet determined how it operate or manager such a program.
Resident Susan Nilon also spoke in favor of the clean energy program, saying it could help provide grants to homeowners for retrofitting old homes with energy-efficient appliances.
The program would have used a portion of a tax paid by Florida Power & Light customers on their electric bill. The portion of that tax that would have funded the energy program will now be funneled into the city's general budget fund.
Commissioner Caragiulo said he originally was opposed to the program but changed his mind. “If we stop thinking like dinosaurs maybe have a better chance of not becoming extinct,” Caragiulo said. “A little progressive thinking can't hurt.”
Turner said with a potential $20-million deficit looming in 2022, the city cannot afford to fund the alternative-energy program.
In other action, commissioners:
• Heard an update from Sarasota Police Lt. Randy Boyd about the ongoing effort to deal with problems associated with transients downtown. Boyd told commissioners that 14 transients were arrested for lodging out-of-doors and another 14 for possession of open containers in the zones bordering Five Points Park. Commissioners had requested that police officials provide an update every two weeks on police operations dealing with the transient population downtown.
• Approved adoption of the second reading of proposed Ordinance No. 12-5001, to conditionally vacate that certain portion of the 50-foot wide Floral Lane right-of-way at the intersection of Osprey Avenue and US 41, where a P.F. Chang's Restaurant is to be constructed. The developer of the stand-alone 6,900 square-foot restaurant will now seek a building permit, and construction could begin within two months.
• Approved an increase in late fines for those who fail to pay parking tickets on time. Under the change, parking ticket violators would pay a $15 late fee each for each month a parking ticket is unpaid, for a maximum late fine of $45. The previous parking program applied only a one-time late fee of $15. As an incentive to get parking violators to pay fines early, those who pay their tickets within 24 hours will receive a $5 discount on their ticket.
• Listened to a presentation from Sarasota Chalk Festival founder and chair Denise Kowal about the upcoming chalk festival, planned for Oct. 28 to Nov. 6. Organizers of the event also requested that they be allowed to leave the chalk on the road after the festival, and let the chalk compositions fade with weather over time, instead of having the artwork pressure washed clean the day after the event. Last year, the artwork was removed the day after the ending of the festival. Commissioners agreed to consider the request at their next meeting.