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Longboat deserves better

Longboat’s mayor says the Key faces ‘an uphill struggle’ obtaining funds from Sarasota County for a community center. How is that for gratitude?

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“This is an uphill struggle for us to get the county to participate with us. They’ve made it pretty clear that it’s got to have the word ‘library’ in it. Maybe they change their mind, but they don’t seem inclined to, and we want to get on their agenda for design. … This is what we have available to us, potentially, but we have to fight for it.” — Ken Schneier, Mayor, Longboat Key



Those are stunning words: “Uphill struggle …  We have to fight for it.”

Mayor Schneier made those comments April 18 at a Longboat Key Town Commission strategic planning meeting in the context of the town wanting to build a long-sought community center — with financial support from Sarasota County.

His words were stunning when you consider how much money Longboat Key taxpayers send each year to Sarasota County government versus how much Longboat taxpayers receive in return.

Here’s the number for fiscal 2021: $14,361,752 in property taxes alone.

That doesn’t include the $2.5 million collected for the tourist development tax from the Sarasota side of the Key or sales tax revenue.

To compound the “uphill struggle,” Sarasota County officials apparently are telling the town that any funding for a community center would come as long as the new facility contained a public library branch.

It has always been thus. Seldom — more like rarely — do you see or hear Sarasota and Manatee county commissioners and administrators treating Longboat Key and its commissioners the way corporate boards and CEOs show respect and gratitude to their biggest investors and shareholders.

So here we go again.

For the past 25 years, Longboat Key commissioners and residents have talked and talked and talked about developing a desperately needed community gathering place. At one time about 20 years ago, the issue progressed to the point of town voters considering a $6 million multipurpose community and recreation center at Bayfront Park. But back then, a $6 million center was considered outrageously extravagant. The project died.

Most residents probably would take that deal today.

For the past four years, discussions have continued in various iterations, some of which included raising $13 million to $17 million in private funding for an arts, education and cultural center, complete with a black box theater.

Enough of all that.

The way a community center is going to be built is with a combination of town and county funds.

And it should not be an “uphill struggle” or “fight” with the county’s portion of the funding. Nor should there be county demands that funding be contingent on a library.

Rather than the county issuing demands for what it wants and what it believes it knows best, its posture should be more gracious: How can we help?

Let Longboaters figure out what they want and need in a community center, with Sarasota County standing by Longboat’s side willing to give Longboaters a commensurate return on the tax dollars they send to the county.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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