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East County Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2022 6 days ago

Manatee County borrows money to move up infrastructure projects

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The County Commission will borrow $232 million to accelerate 19 infrastructure projects, including nine in East County, with the $1.2 billion Capital Improvement Plan.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Major road projects in East County and some facility additions to Premier Park will be happening earlier than planned as a result of the Manatee County commissioners borrowing $232 million for capital improvement projects.

The commissioners approved the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan on Sept. 13. The $232 million the county will borrow through bonds, which will be paid back at a 4.09% interest rate over the next 30 years, will accelerate 19 infrastructure projects in the plan.

In East County, road projects that will be accelerated include improvements at the intersection of Players Drive and Lorraine Road, a project on Lorraine Road between State Road 64 and 59th Avenue East, a Lena Road extension, a 44th Avenue East extension and a project on Upper Manatee River Road.

The Players Drive at Lorraine Road intersection improvements and work on the advanced traffic management system is planned to begin in October 2023 and end in December 2024.

The Lorraine Road project between S.R. 64 and 59th Avenue East, which will bring the road to four lanes as well as widen a bridge and add sidewalks, will begin in October 2023 and is expected to end in October 2025.

The widening of Lorraine Road is among the projects on the county's capital improvement plan. (FIle photo)

The Lena Road extension from S.R. 64 and State Road 70 will connect roadways south of 44th Avenue East to Landfill Road. It is undergoing design, permitting and land acquisition and is planned to begin in October 2023 and end in October 2025.

The 44th Avenue East extension, which will be from 44th Avenue Plaza East to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, is part of the ongoing work to connect 44th Avenue East to Cortez Road in west Bradenton. Construction on the extension is ongoing and is planned to be completed in December 2025.

Upper Manatee River Road between State Road 64 and Fort Hamer Bridge will be widened and undergo intersection improvements. The project is planned to begin in October 2023 and end in October 2025.

Other projects in East County that will be accelerated are facility additions to Premier Park.

Premier Park will have a soccer multipurpose building, stadium parking, locker rooms and an Olympic-sized pool.

Construction on the soccer multipurpose building is planned to begin in October and be completed in December 2023, while work on the stadium parking and locker rooms are ongoing and planned to be completed in February 2023.

The 10-lane lap pool will have a shallow area for swim lessons and other fitness activities as well as starting blocks, lane lines, in-pool and deck lighting, deck seating, shade structures and water heating, cooling and filtration systems. The project is planned to begin in May 2023 and be completed in May 2024.

Commissioner James Satcher said he was not concerned that bonds for capital projects could result in an increased cost to taxpayers, because of inflation driving up the debt that would be owed.

“I’m not a big fan of bonds, but when we have a 4% bond during 9%, inflation, and these are roads that we’re going to be driving on for the next 20 or 30 years, I think in this limited situation; bonds were the right move for the county,” Satcher said. “We can’t afford to sit back and wait another five to 10 years to start these projects. Our people need traffic relief now.”

At-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore also said she is “always fearful” about constant inflation and was concerned about going into debt through bonds for the Capital Improvement Plan. She said the board was adamant about funding these projects, and she wanted to work with other members.

She said the growth in the county was unprecedented and citizens expected action by commissioners.

“We would have many, many disappointed citizens if we didn’t fund the infrastructure because of how hard it is to get around the county,” she said. “You kind of don’t have a choice.”

She said when the county took out the loans, the low rates were “unbelievable,” and the decision was made at the right time.

The $1.2 billion Capital Improvement Plan allocates $435 million to transportation projects, $132 million to parks and $48 million to public safety projects.

The plan also includes amenities at Premier Park, which include a county service center, Lakewood Ranch Library, remote parking, pickleball and racquetball courts and a maintenance building.

The 50,000-square-foot Lakewood Ranch Library is under construction and expected to be completed in September 2023.

The budget for fiscal year 2023, also passed on Sept. 13, and set aside high levels of funds for infrastructure.

Commissioners unanimously approved a net budget of $1.07 billion for fiscal year 2023, an increase from last fiscal year’s $932 million budget.

The budget invests prominently in capital assets at $279.6 million, with public safety second in priority at $242.4 million.

“I just want to say, and I think the majority of commissioners would agree, that you all have done a fabulous job on the budget this year,” District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh told county staff, including Interim Chief Financial Officer Sheila McLean.

The budget seeks to fulfill a greater workforce demand by funding 55 newly created positions, which include 17 library staff positions for the Lakewood Ranch Library, five emergency telecommunicators, six positions in the Development Services Department and two guardian ad litem positions including a case manager and an attorney.

Also included in the budget is an addition $3 million for cybersecurity initiatives and the full funding of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office $172 million budget.

“We can’t do everything everybody wants, but when you look at where the money goes, one of the most important, if not the most important, is our sheriff,” Baugh said. “With the population growth we’ve seen, it’s been very important to make sure they are funded.”

Satcher applauded the range of services and projects included in the budget.

“We haven’t had any significant drop in services, and we’re still able to get the roads moving and still able to fund the sheriff,” he said. “So that absolutely is a huge accomplishment.”

Some commissioners expressed concerns that the reduction in property tax rates of 0.30 mills, which brings the countywide operating milage rate to 6.2326.

One mill is equal to $1 in property tax per each $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. With the decrease of 0.30 mills, a household assessed value of $350,000 would result in $105 in annual savings.

District 4 Commissioner Misty Servia said while the use of some reserves gave her “heartburn,” based on her conversations with staff, it was expected that funds rolling into the current budget would provide a comfortable level of surplus.

Whitmore said she would have preferred a millage decrease of 0.20 over 0.30. She said too many funds were being removed from reserves, and she hopes the reduction in reserves would not prove problematic in the case of an unforeseen disaster next hurricane season.

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