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County budget fixes aren’t in action yet

The county is still working to market surplus land identified in November, while the decision to cut the Longboat Key bus route has prompted a search for another public transit solution.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. March 29, 2018
  • Sarasota
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As Sarasota County picks up speed on another budget cycle, some of the cuts and choices made earlier this year to offset an impending deficit are still in the works.

Although the decisions to take action on certain things were made months ago — like selling surplus lands and cutting the bus route that runs between downtown and  Longboat Key — the changes still haven’t been completed, and won’t for many months to come.

The property at Washington Boulevard and Main Street is one of five the county decided to sell last year.
The property at Washington Boulevard and Main Street is one of five the county decided to sell last year.

The county decided in November to sell some of its surplus land to add about $5 million back into the economic uncertainty fund, which was drained to balance the fiscal year 2018 budget.

As a result, the County Commission voted to put five parcels on the market. So far, a March 23 update shows that only one property has been sold, at less than originally expected. Two more of the parcels are on the market, and two are not.

The county-owned land at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Main Street, currently an 86-space parking lot, was appraised in 2017 at a value of $3.95 million. It will be listed for $3.1 million based on a commercial broker recommendation, with the idea that the property will be better positioned for a successful sale. 

County staff is still identifying other parcels that could be sold.

After choosing to sell some surplus lands in November, the county in January cut more than $5 million in recurring expenses to avoid a deficit in future years. One cut in particular has residents worried.

Commissioners approved the elimination of three SCAT routes in January, including Route 18 — the one that serves Longboat Key. Getting rid of this route will save the county about $140,000 annually, but the service must first be analyzed by an outside party and go through a public hearings process before it’s cut permanently.

An average of 62 people ride the bus to Longboat Key daily, but the county still plans to cut the route.
An average of 62 people ride the bus to Longboat Key daily, but the county still plans to cut the route.

Even as that process begins, residents on Longboat Key have been outspoken about the need for the service, which runs between downtown Sarasota and Bay Isles on the Key, near the Publix.

“[This route] is the only source of public transit in the Sarasota County portion of the Key,” former Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans told commissioners.

An average of 62 people ride Route 18 each day, many of whom work on the island.

Read: Bus route suspension threatens Longboat worker access

“It will affect me a lot,” said 23-year-old Nhesel Zarat, an intern at the Harbourside Resort at the Longboat Key Club who takes the bus almost every day to work because she doesn’t have a car. “If I take Uber, it’s expensive.”

At the March 23 meeting, Interim Director of SCAT Rob Lewis said there are “lots of ideas on the table,” and the county and town are working together to develop some kind of solution to maintain a form of public transportation for the island.

“Those 62 riders are important. They need that ride,” Lewis said. “How that ride is delivered is what we’re looking for.”

Before officially eliminating the route, the county must submit an Equity Analysis to the Federal Transit Administration, since the elimination of this route would be a “major service change.” The analysis must be conducted by an outside firm, and is expected to be completed in December of this year. Then, the FTA will review it, which could take another few months.

Ultimately, the bus service reductions aren’t expected to take place until August 2019.

Although some cuts were applied to the budget immediately in January, many of the cuts to recurring expenses in the county won’t go into effect until fiscal year 2019.

Staff writer Bret Hauff contributed to this report.


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