- February 1, 2023
As Town Manager Tom Harmer moves out of his office after five years serving the town, he identified the top five issues facing Howard Tipton as he gears up to his first day.
"He has to focus on his first six months to a year to really understand what is going on here," Harmer said. "With the staff, the community and how he can add value and support the commission's initiatives."
Tipton’s first day with the town is scheduled to be Jan. 30. Harmer’s final day helping with the transition between managers is Feb. 6.
"I am looking forward to doing a number of great things; I am excited about the opportunity to follow in my friend Tom's footsteps,” Tipton had said following the approval of his contract Sept. 12.
Tipton is coming from St. Lucie County, where he served as the county administrator.
Harmer’s list of top priorities for Tipton in his new role were provided in no particular order.
“One of the things that the commission mentioned when they asked me to help look for my replacement was someone who could work with two counties,” Harmer said.
While in the past a one-county initiative was discussed, the town's approach has changed.
The town is now working to establish solid relationships with the counties to ensure that residents are seeing the value of the taxes they pay to the counties.
Harmer added that Tipton has worked in county government for years and will have the opportunity to connect with both Sarasota and Manatee officials on potential partnerships.
Town-specific issues that benefit from solid relationships between the town, Sarasota County and Manatee County include transportation, funding for the Broadway Street roundabout and drainage studies like the ones conducted in the Buttonwood Harbour and Sleepy Lagoon neighborhoods.
The town has also been working with Sarasota County on the possibility of establishing a public library on the island. It's the only Sarasota County town or city without a public library.
As the project nears completion, Harmer said it is important that Tipton continue working to accelerate the planned completion and keep the project under budget in partnership with Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.
The project is coming in under the original budget for the project by about $5 million. The original budget for all four phases and work with Comcast and Frontier was estimated to total about $28.23 million.
Close out of the project is anticipated by mid-2023.
Brownman expressed hope that energizing of the whole of the new underground system will be complete by spring 2023. Remaining work, including removing poles and wires, is the responsibility of the FPL. Once FPL work is complete, the project will be finished.
A priority for Tipton should be to focus on ensuring the start up of the town’s canal navigation program.
The town has been working to develop a canal navigation dredge program to maintain the town’s 81 canals, alleviating the need for major dredge projects every few years.
The last major dredge the town completed in canals was in 2003.
"That's a big project," Harmer said. "We haven't dredged canals in about 20 years and need to get a program in place. We've started the process from a planning standpoint. It's going to be about a year or two of work to get that in place."
Fourteen priority canals have been identified, but it is likely that the list will grow since the original study was conducted in 2016. Priority canals were categorized as such due to the state of the canal and its ability to meet its designed intent: navigability.
The town has scheduled an update of the program Jan. 23, which is exactly one week before Tipton’s scheduled start date. Also needing to be finalized: a financing plan for the work. Among the considerations, a system similar to the beach-nourishment system in which property owners with direct benefits pay more than others.
Tipton must also ensure that the town’s beach nourishment projects are kept moving to maintain the beaches, not only from an aesthetic perspective but also from a storm-surge mitigation perspective.
The town has a track record for keeping its beaches in tip top shape, even after major storms.
The town was able to see minimal impacts to the town's beaches following Hurricane Ian. The town was able to obtain a clear and accurate measurement of the changes made due to a recent nourishment project, Public Works Department Programs Manager Charlie Mopps had said following the storm.
During Harmer's tenure, the town continued to receive a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence from the Government Finance Officers Association on financial reporting.
Harmer says such a certification, which the town has received annually for the last 40 years, is important for Tipton to ensure he helps maintain.
The certificate awards the town for going beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles, showing evidence of transparency.
"Being thoughtful on the financial impacts of a potential recession and prioritizing what resources we have" is important for Tipton to keep in mind when helping the commission identify priorities, Harmer said.
Maintaining a general fund reserve that continues to exceed the policy put in place under Harmer’s management is key to not only Tipton's success as manager, but for the town as well.
The policy, which was changed in March 2021, requires that the “desired combined unrestricted available fund balances should not be less than three months or 25% of general fund operating expenditures.”
For the 2023 budget, that number would equal just under $9 million.
The three month minimum is said to be based on the caveat that there is sufficient cash available for borrowing in other funds in case of a natural disaster.