Plan would allow Longboat to coordinate only with Sarasota County before and during a storm.
Longboat Key is taking action on the one-county question. Well, kind of.
One repeated theme when discussing whether Longboat should be consolidated into one county – either Manatee or Sarasota – rather than being split between both, as is the case currently, is emergency preparedness. Town Manager Tom Harmer has engineered a plan to coordinate states of emergency under one roof. And in this case, Longboat’s preferred roof belongs to Sarasota.
At the Town Commission meeting Monday, the first since June, Commissioners unanimously approved the move to bring all of Longboat under Sarasota County's jurisdiction during states of emergency. The interlocal agreement is supported by Sarasota County and Manatee County administrators and sheriffs, but it has to be approved by both county commissions.
Town Commissioners are uncertain of how those elected bodies will react. Mayor George Spoll said it will be interesting to see how cooperative they’ll be. Commissioner Ken Schneier expressed frustration with Manatee County, saying they’ve been “pretty cooperative with concessions that don’t cost them anything.”
Commissioners saw a memo sent from Fire Chief Paul Dezzi to Harmer before the Monday meeting, as well as the agreement itself.
“Since Longboat Key falls within two counties it can create a practical challenge to take direction from two different counties on issues such as evacuations, curfew, and re-entry,” the memo reads. “In addition, some of the terminology is different in each county related to evacuation areas and how they open and manage shelters. Another challenge is that with the Town’s small staff, it is difficult to fully staff two Emergency Operation Centers, as those limited personnel resources are best used deployed to prepare and respond to the event.”
In an interview, Harmer explained how this idea originally took shape. He said, in reference to issues brought about by the one-county question, “This is the first one we took on on the practical side.” He said it’s a common-sense action to align Longboat with one county instead of two in case of emergency. He said it doesn’t make sense that people from the same town could possibly be told two different things as a hurricane approaches or in its aftermath.
“It seems to reinforce what we’ve been saying in the larger picture of which county we’re related to most.” – George Spoll
So the town approached the Florida Division of Emergency Management for its take on the idea. FDEM was on board, but it indicated it didn’t need to be party to the agreement. If the two counties were with the town on this, the state would ultimately recognize the pact.
This is when the town went to the two county administrators seeking their support. After gaining their backing, the town also sought and secured approval from the county emergency managers and sheriffs.
“The Agreement provides that when Sarasota County declares a state of emergency, the Town will accept direction under the provisions of Florida Statutes 252 related to disaster and related operations response,” the memo read. “Recovery and Disaster Assessment will continue to be coordinated with both counties and the agreement provides for an annual meeting between the Town Manager and the Emergency Management Officials of both counties to confirm the process for this agreement.”
The agreement contains several provisions with regard to emergency protocol:
- Reentry, post-storm coordination, curfew and evacuation will be directed by Sarasota County;
- “Recovery and Disaster Assessment will continue to be coordinated with both Sarasota County and Manatee County,” the agreement reads;
- Longboat’s leadership will be located in the Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center “with liaisons located in the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center,” the agreement reads, and;
- Longboat’s Town Manager will hold a yearly meeting with Sarasota and Manatee County emergency management heads “to confirm the process for this operational agreement and make any other necessary coordination.”
During the Commission meeting, Dezzi said in answer to a question from Vice Mayor Ed Zunz that the interlocal agreement pertains strictly to “pre- and during-storm activities.” Harmer said the state wanted coordination with both counties for issues like dealing with FEMA reimbursement.
Spoll brought the conversation back to the one-county question before the unanimous vote.
“Given the fact that this is related to the two-county issue, was there any pushback from Manatee, and is it an indication of anything else?” Spoll asked. “It seems to reinforce what we’ve been saying in the larger picture of which county we’re related to most.”