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Three projects tax beach renourishment funds

Tourist development taxes help the county pay for projects, but the funds could run short.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 16, 2015
Sunset-watchers gather on Turtle Beach.
Sunset-watchers gather on Turtle Beach.
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Graphic by Nicole Thompson
Graphic by Nicole Thompson

Three projects are eroding Sarasota County’s beach renourishment coffer.

Fund 186, the Tourist Development Tax fund that must allocate 50% of its dollars toward beach renourishment projects, began the 2015 fiscal year in October with a balance of $16.6 million. By the end of the fiscal year, however, the fund could wither down to $4.6 million due to projects in the cities of Sarasota and Venice and on Siesta Key.

At the March 31 Sarasota County Commission meeting, commissioners approved a $1 million allocation from Fund 186 to help Venice pay for its regular beach renourishment. Venice’s beach was scheduled for renourishment this year, but the costs of completing the project were higher than expected.

In December, the board approved $1 million to the city of Sarasota’s Lido Beach interim renourishment project. 

The cities already have TDT funds available for their use in a different fund: Fund 103 contains allocations for both municipalities and is 50% reserved for beach maintenance. At the end of fiscal year 2014, the cities had $3.9 million collectively at their disposal, and both dipped into that money this year.

Unlike Fund 103, Fund 186 does not have funds designated specifically for either city, but both Sarasota and Venice have tapped the source for an extra $2 million.

But the $2 million the county agreed to spend on those two projects is just a drop in the ocean compared to the funding needed for the South Siesta Key renourishment project. 

The beach was supposed to begin its renourishment in January, but it was delayed by a federal permitting issue. Now, it won’t get sand for its shores until later this year. The estimated cost for the project is $21.5 million, and county staff has already budgeted for $10 million to be drawn from Fund 186. A commercial loan will fund the remainder if the county does not receive any state or federal grant money. To pay off the remaining balance, the county will make $1.2 million payments annually for seven years using Fund 186. 

County staff estimates conservatively based on last year’s TDT revenues that Fund 186 will generate $1.8 million in revenue in fiscal year 2016. If revenues increase by 3% each year, the fund will bring in $2.2 million by fiscal year 2023, said Jason Bartolone, county spokesman. 

But the Venice, Lido and South Siesta projects aren’t the only beach projects that could be in need of Fund 186 dollars. The fund would be a primary funding source for any future beach nourishments in unincorporated county areas, such as Caspersen Beach. 

As such, ensuring Fund 186 is healthy to accommodate these projects into the future is a priority, the report stated. 

“We’re trying to figure out how to forecast and how to deal with this in the future. We want to make sure we create a best-case scenario for 186,” said Matt Osterhoudt, manager of the county’s environmental protection division.

Osterhoudt said there is no language in the TDT ordinance for the fund that prohibits the county from using it on municipal projects, so long as they are for renourishment.

Although commissioners approved $1 million for Venice, they directed staff to investigate tightening the language of the TDT ordinance. Commissioners agreed that staff needs to address the lack of specific language in the ordinance, because the money is not restricted to county projects at this time.

“We need to have a conversation and clearly include the cities in this,” Commissioner Charles Hines said. “The timing is good on this before it gets out of control.”

Commissioner Christine Robinson said it’s important for the county to set up standards for 186 and set guidelines to specify under what circumstances this money can be used.

When the county decided to give money to Sarasota in December, Robinson said she didn’t think there was enough thought involved. She said at the meeting that she had warned the rest of the board that Venice may ask for money, too.

“It’s comparing apples to oranges to decide how to allocate it fairly,” she said.


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