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Manatee County Commissioners approve $6 million for animal shelter, $14.9 million for Lakewood Ranch library

Manatee County Commissioners note they can change their mind down the road if the funding seems inappropriate.

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So do you get the feeling that if we could get the proposed East County Library to bark, our Manatee County Commissioners wouldn't have minded spending $19.9 million on it?

OK, a little humor before starting serious topics.

When Commissioner Carol Whitmore pleaded last week that she only wanted "a lousy $6 million" for a new animal shelter — despite the county having an existing one in Palmetto along with the pending donation of the Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton — fellow Commissioner James Satcher changed his position and said, "Let's do it."

Boy do we love our animals.

Commissioner George Kruse, who has been the voice of reason lately, noted that he simply wanted to wait until the Bishop Animal Shelter was indeed a county resource up and running before deciding whether to support an East County animal shelter. Far too logical to me.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

Going into Tuesday night's commission meeting to approve the millage, 5-year capital improvement plan and budget, I figured the $6 million for an East County animal shelter would remain in the capital improvement plan while I expected some resistance to $19.9 million for an East County library.

Yeah pets. Boo people.

I certainly applaud our District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, a staunch supporter of a new library in Lakewood Ranch, for putting on the brakes and saying she wanted to see all the facts and figures associated with building a $19.9 million library. Certainly, I am all for fiscal responsibility.

I am also for transparency.

I would imagine the fate of our library eventually will have a lot to do with the way the spending is itemized. When county officials talk of a "$20 million" library, people take notice. In June of 2020, the county announced plans to add a second floor to the library design, moving the cost from $10 million to $14.9 million.

Sue Ann Miller, president of the Friends of the East Manatee Library at Lakewood Ranch, spoke at the budget meeting Sept. 14 to plead with commissioners to realize they were voting on a $14.9 million project and not the $19.9 million that was announced by Administrator Scott Hopes in June. Hopes noted at the time the extra $5 million had to do with expenditures which was needed by the entire Premier Park campus, and not just the library.

It's all how you spin it.

Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge has noted he would support a $7 million library in Lakewood Ranch, and that's it. Perhaps he and a few buddies will build it. Otherwise, his statement is out of touch with reality.

In this particular case, the county should go big. It's only another — what's the phrase? — lousy $5 million.

The center of Manatee County quickly is becoming the Lakewood Ranch area. When the East County Library was a $10 million project, it was scheduled to be 24,000 square feet as compared to the Central Library in Bradenton which was 51,700 square feet. The East County Library was not intended to be a satellite. Growth had exploded and a Central-like library made sense.

Logically, the plan expanded to almost 50,000 square feet with the addition of a second floor. It wasn't just about the library, either. It was about adding public meeting space that was needed. Everything seemed to be on point.

Until last week.

Manatee County purchased the land for park amenities and the library in 2017-18. It's time to move forward and put a shovel in the ground.

Building an undersized library would be a mistake. The lot size of 2 acres means expansion would be vertical in the future, and that, for sure, will be expensive.

The commissioners, somewhat surprisingly, looked at new figures for the library on Tuesday night, which pointed toward an $14.9 million East County Library budget, and unanimously approved the 5-year capital improvement plan. That doesn't mean they can't change their mind in the future as they are asked to approve the construction. However, it appears the library, like the animal shelter, is a go.

Of course, the animal shelter has been on the 5-year capital improvement plan and has gone nowhere. I understand Whitmore's frustration with not being able to get this going. But, in fairness, the Bishop donation is new, and Kruse once again said he simply wants to see if the shelter is needed before building it.

For the record, I am for an East County animal shelter, if needed. Like Kruse, I suggested we see the effect of the Bishop animal shelter, along with looking into the renovation of the existing shelter. Once that is done, if you need it, build it.

I also suggested a public-partnership with non-profits might be a better way to go. Some of the pro shelter people went bonkers, saying the nonprofits couldn't possibly handle the pets when Manatee County shelters are overloaded. But I never suggested the nonprofits handle the load as they stand. Instead of paying for maintenance of county run facilities, funds could be paid to nonprofits that wanted to expand and add additional staffing to handle those animals. That was lost in translation.




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