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Siesta Key Thursday, Jul. 14, 2011 6 years ago

County holds off on approving upkeep bills

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Sarasota County commissioners Tuesday decided by consensus not to approve the latest payments to a contractor hired by the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. until they can review earlier bills.

It was the latest chapter in a saga that began in January, when Siesta Village business owner Chris Brown challenged his 2010 tax bill, which contained $9,136.28 in taxes assessed against his three properties in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District. Brown asserted that the county should be handling the Village upkeep itself, instead of forcing property owners to pay extra for it.

The improvement district was designed to raise funds from Village property owners to make sure a major renovation project in the Village continued to be maintained after it was completed in March 2009.

On March 15, in response to a lawsuit Brown filed, the commission directed staff to draft an ordinance that would keep the village upkeep a county function. After an April meeting of board members from the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which oversees the village upkeep ­— and county staff, staff subsequently informed the commission that it had insufficient information when the commissioners voted in March.

The commission then decided June 8 to keep the Maintenance Corp. as the body overseeing the Village upkeep. Nonetheless, Brown’s attorney, Morgan Bentley, of Williams Parker, has continued to question the validity of numerous expenses charged by JWM Management, the firm hired by the Maintenance Corp. to perform some of the upkeep and to contract with other firms for work it could not handle itself.

Chief County Financial Planning Officer Jeff Seward told the commissioners Tuesday that staff had met with Bentley and reviewed all the invoices covering county and JWM expenditures. He added that, based on what had been budgeted for the Village upkeep and what had been paid, he felt the expenses incurred had been reasonable. No duplication of expenses had been discovered, Seward said. Therefore, staff recommended the county pay the latest bills.

However, Seward said, because the idea behind creating the Maintenance Corp. was to keep the county at arm’s-length from the Village upkeep — and that has not been the case — it wouldn’t make any difference if the commission decided to have the county handle future maintenance matters; the staffing involvement would be about the same.

When County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson asked about Bentley’s assertion, on behalf of Brown, that some properties that should have been assessed for the Village upkeep have not seen any bills, Bentley said he had hired a surveyor to try to determine all the properties that should be included in the Public Improvement District. His research, Bentley added, showed that 18 condos that should have been assessed have not been getting bills.

Patterson replied, “It’s not the commission’s job to check over invoices. You are telling us staff has not done their job.”

Seward said the contract with JWM expires next month.“What we want to do is tighten up the ordinance (establishing the Maintenance Corp.) and the contract the corporation signs with a maintenance company,” Seward said.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

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