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East County Wednesday, May 1, 2019 2 years ago

Future Lakewood Ranch library gets infuse of funding

More sales tax revenue may mean bigger library in East County.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

When Lakewood Ranch resident and retired educator Sue Ann Miller thinks about a future library in Lakewood Ranch, she gets excited.

She hopes the facility will have a “Maker’s Space,” like that at Manatee’s Central Library. It has items like a 3D printer, a sewing machine and audio and video equipment students can use.

“We need things for our teens to do,” said Miller, president of the Friends of the East Manatee Library at Lakewood Ranch, the future volunteer fundraising arm for library. “I really feel it’s important the children here in the eastern part of the county have equal access

to the children in the western part of the county.”

It’s one of the reasons she supported the half-cent infrastructure sales tax initiative, which was approved by voters in fall 2016. It generates an estimated $25 million annually in unincorporated Manatee County for transportation, public safety and law enforcement and parks and community facilities.

On April 23, Manatee County commissioners voted to dedicate more revenues from the tax to the future library. It increased funding for libraries and communities from .8% to 2.4% of total revenues, or $6.6 million. That increases total funding for the future library, tentatively to be constructed on county-owned land near Premier Sports Campus, from $5.14 million to $10 million. Sales tax dollars will replace about $1.7 million in planned debt for the project.

“It’s going to support what we’ve been asking for in the Lakewood Ranch area,” Miller said.

Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department Director Ava Ehde said conceptual plans are for a 24,000-square-foot, two-story library with room for expansion. Initially, the building may share space with other government departments, such as veterans services and building and development services.

Commissioners also dedicated $2.9 million for pickleball courts at G.T. Bray District Park, $2 million for the Lincoln Park Pool in Palmetto, $4 million toward improvements on Factory Shop Boulevard by the Ellenton Prime Outlets and $8 million for a new animals services facility, likely to be at a location in east Manatee.

Those changes resulted in other modifications to how sales tax dollars are being allocated. Public safety and law enforcement’s total allocations went from 15.2% to 17% with the extra dollars — $8 million — going toward a new animal services facility.

The overall parks and community facilities category saw a decrease with subcategories of district parks and aquatic facilities dropping from 3.9% to 3.5%, athletic fields from 3.3% to 2.1%, recreation buildings and playgrounds from 4.2% to 2%. It increased environmental preserves and boat ramps from 1.9% to 2.4%.

District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said funding for an animal shelter should come from another funding source. She said the proposed increase was too drastic and should not impact parks’ funding.

Other commissioners disagreed.

“To set a plan and not change it, to me doesn’t make sense,” Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said, noting modifications were approved by the Citizens Oversight Committee for the Infrastructure Sales Tax Advisory Board. “I’m fine with this.”

Manatee County spokesman Nicholas Azzara said no projects were removed from the previously approved spending plan.

“Each of the major funding categories had wiggle room, cushion, in case costs fluctuate or priorities change,” Azzara said. “The board had approved a spending plan in 2016. Priorities change and costs shift. This was in response to that.

“No projects were removed,” he said. “We are talking about the cushion areas that had not been budgeted before.”

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