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Siesta Village property owners have been waiting for months on county maintenance staff to address problems, including the removal of dead palm trees in front of the Michael Saunders office on Ocean Boulevard.
Siesta Key Thursday, Jul. 21, 2011 10 years ago

Village property owners demand upkeep oversight

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

The members of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. were surprised last week to learn that Sarasota County staff had suggested the county take over Siesta Village upkeep instead of allowing the SKVMC to continue to handle it.

One member has threatened a lawsuit if the county pursues that action.

And a Village property owner who already has brought suit over Maintenance Corp. operations says he was surprised to learn he had been elected to the organization’s board last week.

A more immediate concern, though, SKVMC board Chairman Mark Smith told the Pelican Press, is finding out who the organization’s point of contact with the county will be in the wake of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Seward’s resignation on Monday. Seward tendered his resignation two business days after being put on administrative leave, and that leave was forced upon him just a day after he broached to the County Commission the idea of changing the maintenance control.

“I called and left a message for (Interim County Administrator) Terry Lewis” on July 14, Smith said. “Time is running out for the 26th of July.”

That date is the next time the Maintenance Corp. issue is to come before the County Commission.

On July 15, Commission Chair Nora Patterson told the Pelican she did not know whom Smith should speak with about issues left to be resolved before July 26. “Certainly (the situation) is going to have to get untangled quickly,” she said, “and I will get (Smith) an answer.”

Smith and other board members addressed the latest round of issues with the county, when the corporation held its annual meeting July 13 at Sun Garden Cafe in the Village.

“It was the first time we had heard it,” Smith told them, referring to Seward’s suggestion about the county’s bringing the maintenance in-house.

“That would be a real problem for us,” said board member Randy Arnaud of McGillicuddy Properties. “That changes the whole philosophy of what we’re trying to do out here. ... “If (taking over the maintenance) is the way the county is going with it, they can expect a lawsuit from us.”

“They have been taken to task at every (County Commission) meeting” about oversight of the payments for the work, Smith said.

Village property owners had asked the county to allow them to oversee the Village upkeep after a major beautification project was completed in March 2009. Many were fearful, they said, that if the county handled the upkeep, the new look would fade rapidly. In response, the county created the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District to assess a special tax of Village properties to pay for a higher level of maintenance than the county could provide.

The SKVMC was created to oversee the upkeep. All the Village property owners, according to county ordinance, are considered members of that corporation.

However, one of those property owners, Chris Brown, filed a lawsuit against the county Jan. 31, claiming in part that he should not be assessed extra taxes for the upkeep. The lawsuit also alleged the Maintenance Corp. had not complied with facets of the ordinance that created the PID. Since then, the commission has had several discussions with staff about the matter.

Smith told his board that he had called Seward after the July 13 County Commission meeting to tell him the higher level of Village upkeep remains a critical concern for the property owners.

“I would have a real difficult time accepting that the county could do anything even remotely as close as good as you guys,” Arnaud said.

Board member Troy Syprett, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck and Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, regularly walks the Village to determine problems that need addressing, Smith said during the meeting. Smith reviews the invoices from the contractor hired to handle the upkeep — JWM Management — and Roz Hyman, of McGillicuddy Properties, deals with the county’s payments for the contractor out of the special tax collection. In an average month, Smith said the three of them spend six to eight hours on Maintenance Corp. work. They are not reimbursed for their time, he added.

If the county revises the ordinance to take away the property owners’ control, Arnaud reiterated, “it’s going to be an issue. You drive over (county) bridges. Look at how sloppy the county is at everything.”

In other business, the corporation members voted to increase the number of board members from five to seven. Syprett nominated Chris Brown as the new board member. Hyman seconded the motion; all voted in favor of it.

Smith notified Brown that he had been elected to the board, but Brown told the Pelican he had had no notice that he was going to be nominated. “It was a big surprise to me,” he said.

“There are a few liability issues pertaining to the maintenance organization and the management that would need to be addressed before I would consider participating,” he said on July 20. “ I can’t accept that nomination or election without addressing (them),” he added, though he declined to specify the issues.

In examining Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. issues since mid-March, the County Commission has focused on three issues: the payments to vendor JWM Management for its Village upkeep; the level of the tax assessments parcels are paying for that upkeep; and whether all the properties that should be assessed are getting tax bills.

During their most recent discussion July 13, county commissioners said they would meet independently with staff to go over bills for such work as pressure washing and irrigation in the Village. Morgan Bentley, of WilliamsParker, the attorney for Village property owner Chris Brown, has contended on Brown’s behalf that the county should not have been paying bills without looking at what other companies would charge for the same work, to determine whether JWM has been overcharging the Maintenance Corp.

Bentley also has questioned whether the property assessments in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District are too high. By his accounting, Bentley has said, the county raised $339,521.33 from the property owners in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but the maintenance bills totaled only $33,181.98.

Finally, Mark Smith, chairman of the Maintenance Corp. board, said his research showed that six parcels in the district are not being assessed for the PID tax. They are all on the same property, he wrote the Pelican in an email, but they are six separate condominiums. When the improvement district was established, he added, the property owners decided that all commercially zoned parcels in the Village would be included in the district, regardless of their current use, because that use could change in the future.

Contact Rachel Brown Hackney at [email protected].

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