$1 million grant secured for new county EOC

On May 8, the Sarasota County Commission approved plans to construct the new Emergency Operations Center on county property along Porter Road. Illustration courtesy Sarasota County

On May 22, the Sarasota County Commission heard a presentation about funding options for the new 911/Emergency Operations Center that will be built on county property at the intersection of Porter Road and Cattlemen Road.

During that presentation, Steve Botelho, the county’s interim chief financial planning officer, pointed out that $1.3 million in grant funding the county had received for the project “is not 100% solidified.”

Exactly a week later, on May 29, Sarasota County Fire Chief and Interim Emergency Services Director Mike Tobias emailed the commissioners and County Administrator Randall Reid to let them know good news.

“We received word today that we were successful in obtaining the extension” for the $1 million grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Tobias wrote.

Some administrative paperwork would be necessary, because Commissioner Nora Patterson was the board chairwoman when the grant initially was secured, Tobias noted, and Commissioner Christine Robinson is the current chairwoman.

“We will begin processing the form [for signatures] today,” he added.

“I’m pleased that we’re going to be able to keep this grant,” Robinson told The Sarasota News Leader May 30. “It’s important in our county budget situation,” she added, “to be able to rely on that grant.”

Because of the Great Recession’s impact on county property tax revenue and other funding sources, the commissioners have expressed concerns in recent discussions with staff about how they can fund major capital projects, including the new EOC.

On Sept. 13, 2011, the County Commission approved use of the $1 million state emergency management grant “for the design and construction of the EOC,” James K. Harriott Jr., director of public works, had pointed out in a May 22 staff memo for the board.

That grant was set to expire May 31, he added. Therefore, the commission had authorized staff on Dec. 14, 2011, “to proceed with a time extension request” to secure the grant.

After completing the site selection process for the EOC on May 8, the commissioners had asked staff to report back on how the county could pay for the new facility, whose cost has been estimated at $14,269,279.

During the May 22 presentation, Botelho had noted that, if the grant funds could be secured, the county would be looking at long-term borrowing of $12,369,279 for the EOC; without the grant, that figure would jump to $13,669,279.

Richard Gleitsman of the Office of Financial Planning told the commissioners that, based on several factors, he felt the county would be able to get a “pretty high rating” for 30-year bonds it could issue for the project.

Nonetheless, Gleitsman said, because of the Florida Legislature’s action this year to force counties to pay disputed Medicaid bill claims, “we haven’t seen what the long-term impact will be on [bond] ratings …”

He pointed out that staff would have to come back before the commissioners in about a year to seek a vote on the final funding plans.

Regarding construction of the facility, Reid told the board, “We believe it’s totally financially feasible to proceed with the EOC.”

Commissioner Jon Thaxton extended his appreciation to the staff members for returning so soon for the funding-option presentation. “That was pretty fast,” he said, “so thank you.”

A Sarasota County Financial Planning Office chart shows funding plans for the new Emergency Operations Center.