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Sarasota Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 7 months ago

Sarasota panel finalizing project list for penny tax money

Commissioners will meet with group on Jan. 31 to hear advisory committee's recommendations.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

A city advisory panel is working its way through projects that could be financed, at least in part, by Sarasota’s share of a countywide penny sales tax if voters reapprove the measure next fall.

The five-member Surtax IV Ad Hoc Committee has been at work for months, first gathering ideas from city staff and the public, scoring and prioritizing the dozens of ideas and now putting dollar estimates alongside them to see what can be paid for by the estimated $191 million the tax would bring to the city over the next 15 years.

Once committee members finish by the end of the month, they will deliver their recommendations to the City Commission in a special meeting planned for Jan. 31. City Commissioners can accept all, some or none of the recommendations or could reallocate the revenue attached by panelists to the projects before passing the finalized list and suggested expenditures to the County Commission.

It’s the County Commission’s responsibility to decide to put the measure, estimated in value at $2 billion between 2024 and 2039, on the ballot for November’s general election.

Although the lists of projects developed by Sarasota, the county and other municipalities within the county aren’t binding, deviations must go through a public hearing and be reviewed by an oversight group.  

Green canopy is one of the potential projects to draw funding.

At a meeting last week, the committee began winnowing the dollar figures to build into its recommendation to the commission, acknowledging that the city staff’s estimated costs for the 20 highest-ranked projects exceeds what’s expected to be collected by at least $200 million.

Committee member Lou Costa recommended reducing the contribution to each item by at least half, adding the penny sales tax revenue doesn’t have to cover the entire cost of each because other funding sources are often available.  The next time the panel meets, from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Jan. 21, city Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat will present a revised list with reductions in proposed expenditures.

Beyond Costa’s call for cutting line items in half, the committee recommended reducing the penny tax share of the city’s Bay Park project from the full $60 million estimate to $10 million. Likewise, the committee suggested cutting to $10 million a line item for the further expansion of the Legacy Trail from Fruitville Road north to University Parkway.

Multi-modal trail expansion is one of the potential projects to draw funding.

Informally, a 50% cut in all the recommendations, paired with larger reductions for the Bay and the Legacy Trail, adds up to about $130 million.

“I would like to share with you that whatever you vote on today might change," City Manager Marlon Brown said. “The Commission obviously has the final say. Obviously there is a limited amount of money, it’s not infinite."

Many of the projects still on the list are recurring costs, such as road resurfacing and sidewalk work and received money from the last batch of surtax money approved in 2009.

The Bay is one of the potential projects to draw funding.

Some of the items removed from the committee's highest priorities include some projects that could likely be funded through other means, such as a proposed park in the Rosemary District and a crosswalk at U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts, that will likely be funded by the state. Additional money could come from federal sources, such as the recently passed infrastructure bill.


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