In November, voters in Sarasota County will decide if they want to pay $65 million to extend and construct the Legacy Trail over the next 20 years.
Voters will decide in November whether to pay up to $65 million to extend the Legacy Trail into the north county area.
The Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously last week to put the next step in extending and constructing the Legacy Trail in the hands of voters Nov. 6.
“We’re about to find out how much support this idea has, because it’s not really our decision, it’s the decision of the people of Sarasota County,” Commission Chairwoman Nancy Detert said.
Commissioners approved a bond referendum that voters will consider in the general election that will allow the county to borrow up to $65 million for the purchase of another section of the trail and construction of connections and amenities.
The county purchased one segment of the trail, between Culverhouse Park and Ashton Road, in December for $7.9 million. The purchase of the next stretch, to extend the trail to Fruitville Road, will cost about $35 million and would close by 2020, if voters approve the $65 million price tag.
Essentially, to fund the Legacy Trail, voters must agree to 20-year annual hikes in property taxes of $7-16 for every $200,000 of taxable value, which would vary based on the year.
“This is true democracy. We put the question out there and now it’s up to the public to say yes or no,” Commissioner Charles Hines said. “It’s a large number.”
Roger Normand, one of the directors of the advocacy group Friends of the Legacy Trail, said he’s “ecstatic” to see this go on the November ballot. The group has been pushing for this kind of step in getting the trail extended for five years.
Normand is hopeful that with the proper legislation, voters will approve the funding request.
“Most of them are like we were,” he said. “It’s a chunk of change, but when you go and explain what it buys the community, I think by and large we encounter very few people who don’t say [it’s a good idea].”
Aside from the land acquisition, the $65 million price tag will fund connectors to North Port and Venice, overpasses over some roads and bridges over water, as well as paving the corridor and adding rest stops and water fountains.
The construction would be finished by 2024, but residents would pay through 2040.
Normand said the trail and its proposed extension provide a safe place for walkers and bikers to travel, while improving safety for cars.
He points to the estimated 250,000 people who use the trail annually, and said the $65 million is an investment in the future of the county.
“This is not to say that the county doesn’t have other needs,” Normand said. “Certainly the county does have other needs. In our view, this provides an amazing return on investment for a multitude of people.”
Normand also stresses that the county and Friends of Legacy Trail have been searching for other funding means to reduce the stress on taxpayers. Earlier this year, the county was awarded a $7.5 million grant from the state to pay for land acquisition for the first phase of the extension that already happened.
Additionally, Friends of the Legacy Trail has raised $40,000 through its Square Foot Campaign, where people can pay $20 to “buy” a square foot of the trail. It’s a program in which 330 people have participated.
“There’s a bunch of avenues that we are working to try to bring other money to this,” Normand said.
This story has been updated with the correct date of completed construction for the trail extension.