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Commissioners talk internet program, medical examiner's office

Commissioners agreed to use federal relief dollars to provide internet support to low-income families who chose a remote learning option.

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  • | 5:29 p.m. September 1, 2020
The medical examiner's office would be a one-story facility to host offices and autopsy equipment.
The medical examiner's office would be a one-story facility to host offices and autopsy equipment.
  • Sarasota
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With questions still unsettled about how best to distribute federal coronavirus relief money, county commissioners held a budget workshop Aug. 31 to discuss projects and how the 2020 budget was affected by the pandemic.

Despite a growth in property tax collections, the county this year lost revenue because of a drop in sales tax and gas tax collections. County leaders project a loss of $9.4 million to the general fund and about $16 million in dedicated gas, sales and tourist development funds.

So far, the county has received $18.9 million in federal funds to distribute throughout the county for pandemic relief and expects to receive up to $75.7 million by the end of the year. The funds must be spent by Dec. 30 and can only be used on costs already incurred due to the pandemic.

In previous meetings, the County Commission created a distribution plan for those funds, including a $10 million allocation for business grants and a $6 million allocation for food, water and shelter grants for individuals affected by the pandemic.

In the new workshop, however, commissioners discussed the allocation of federal funds to help low-income remote learners and the possibility of borrowing money to construct a medical examiner’s facility near Celery Fields.

Internet services for children

Commissioners approved a program to provide internet assistance to low-income families with children participating in Sarasota County School District’s remote learning.

The county will use a portion of its federal relief funding to provide access to 5,800 county students through an agreement with Comcast.

Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said the program would cost the county $343,000 to provide service for six months. He said $229,000 would be eligible for federal reimbursement while the county would pay the remaining $114,000.

The six-month program would expire Feb. 28, which left commission Chair Mike Moran questioning what would happen after the deadline is up. If commissioners choose to renew the program, school would end before the second six-month period is up, leaving the county on the hook for a program without users.

Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Alan Maio, however, said Comcast would more than likely offer a shorter contract should the county still see a need for the program in February.

“Spending $114,000 to get 5,800 students online is a no-brainer to me,” Ziegler said.

Although she questioned why the county and not the school district should be responsible for the program, Commissioner Nancy Detert approved the program, saying she can’t vote against kids.

Medical examiner’s office

Commissioners also began discussions to construct a facility for the District 12 Medical Examiner’s office.

Manatee County built an autopsy facility for its cases, but Sarasota County pays Sarasota Memorial Hospital to use its facilities.

County officials are now considering a plan to build a single-story facility that would host administrative offices and facilities for autopsies. Medical examiner Russell Vega has been requesting such a facility for three years.

The facility would need to be placed on a minimum of 3 acres and within 3 miles of Interstate 75 to allow easy access to Manatee and DeSoto counties, which Vega and his staff also serve.

Commissioners considered placing the facility on county owned land near Celery Fields. Last year, commissioners placed a conservation easement over three of four parcels, but seven acres on Palmer Boulevard remains available for development. 

Other sites were considered, including land the county owns near the Sheriff’s Office building off Cattlemen Road.

Funding for the facility has not been set aside in the county’s fiscal year 2020 budget, though the county could potentially borrow $24 million for the project.


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