Dec. 9 vote allocates $1 million for more detailed planning for the November 2016 ballot measure
Taking a pass on a presentation, as allowed under a new policy, the Sarasota County Commission recently spent only moments on a unanimous vote that formally allocated $1 million to detailed planning of the approximately $191 million Public Safety Referendum scheduled for next year.
The 5-0 decision included approval of plans for construction of a Public Safety Campus on county-owned property on Cattlemen Road, adjacent to the Emergency Operations Center.
No members of the public had come to the Dec. 9 meeting to address the matter.
Vice Chair Al Maio made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Charles Hines.
A memo provided to the board in advance of the regular meeting pointed out that the county “is in the planning stages for a November 2016 referendum on general obligation bonds to finance several public safety related projects.”
Those are a new administration building, training facility, parking structure and Forensics Lab and related offices for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office; remodeling of the R.L. Anderson Center’s 12th Judicial Circuit courtrooms and offices in Venice; and a co-location of a fleet maintenance facility for Sheriff’s Office and county vehicles, including those of the Fire Department and EMS equipment.
The last time the board discussed the referendum was in early November, when commissioners asked staff to be clear in communications with the public that no jail expansion is included in the planning.
In a Jan. 8, 2013 letter to the County Commission, Sheriff Tom Knight wrote, “As the board is aware I have expressed concern over the state of our facilities with regard to space allocation, hurricane protection, security, asset protection and operational inefficiency. In 2011, we discussed the fact that the Sheriff’s Office spends nearly $300,000 in rent for facilities countywide.”
He added that while the national trend in law enforcement is to consolidate services, to save money and “to ensure that facilities are adequately secure from both man-made and natural incidents,” the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has to rely on a number of “private sector establishments” to make certain his staff and part of the office’s equipment will be secure and available when needed.
However, he continued in that 2013 letter, in the past 24 months, “we have experienced roof collapses, mold degradation, rodent infestation, major interior renovations to ease overcrowding and air quality issues in several of the facilities we currently lease.”
Knight has not been the only public official to seek help from the County Commission in addressing such needs. Representatives of the 12th Judicial Circuit — including Chief Judge Andrew D. Owens Jr. — have sought the expansion of the R.L. Anderson Center facilities to help alleviate the need of South County residents to travel to Sarasota for court cases.
The Dec. 9 memo to the County Commission noted that the Harvard Jolly architectural firm, working as a consultant to county staff, has provided conceptual plans and cost estimates for the Public Safety Campus and that those “have been reviewed and compiled into preliminary budgets for early planning purposes.”
The memo explained that the $1 million is needed for staff to proceed with the next stage of preparation, including site analysis. The resolution the board approved said the funding will enable staff and the consultant “to establish the not-to-exceed budget for the referendum.”
“Upon [the Dec. 9 vote of] approval of the project and funding,” the memo continued, “staff will move forward with securing professional consulting services ….”
The $1 million was available in the county’s Capital Improvement Fund, the memo added. According to the resolution, $300,000 will go toward project management, with the remaining $700,000 allocated to design and engineering.