Sheriff’s Office leaders propose revival of Public Safety Campus plans at 1301 Cattlemen Road, which county owns and commission is entertaining as site of new administration center
On Jan. 8, 2013, then-Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight appeared before the County Commission to lay out the results of a facilities assessment for his department that he and his staff had commissioned.
Architects Design Group Inc. of Winter Park had produced a 265-page report that made it clear that the Sheriff’s Office was “operating out of what equates to approximately 52% of the space it needs to provide adequate law enforcement services to our community (104,000 occupied square feet vs. 200,895 square feet required.)”
Prompting numerous subsequent discussions, that presentation eventually resulted in planning for a Public Safety Campus on property the county owns at 1301 Cattlemen Road, next to the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
Yet, as the price tag for all the new construction grew close to the $200-million mark, Knight announced in May 2016 that he was withdrawing his support for a referendum the commissioners had planned to conduct in November of that year. Because the proposed Public Safety Campus would cost more than the funding cap imposed by the Sarasota County Charter, the board members had no choice but to seek voter approval for exceeding that level.
“We need the buildings really, really, really bad,” Knight told The Sarasota News Leader. However, he added that he believed the timing was not right for the ballot measure, given the fact that the City of Venice already was working on two referenda of its own for that fall. (The Venice City Council was contemplating an $18-million road bond referendum, and it also was working on a $25-million bond referendum for its own new public safety complex.)
Following Knight’s lead, the commissioners nixed the idea of holding the referendum. They agreed to consider other alternatives.
Not quite a year later — on Feb. 7, 2017 — the County Commission authorized spending $15,765,280 for a new Sheriff’s Office headquarters in a building located at 6010 Cattleridge Blvd. in Sarasota. The department could move its administrative offices, its forensics lab and its evidence storage into that structure after renovations.
Yet, slightly more than four years after the Sheriff’s Office moved personnel into that building — in December 2017 — the potential of the Public Safety Campus has been revived. Newly elected Sheriff Kurt Hoffman sat before the latest group of county commissioners during a March 24 budget workshop to talk about the continuing pressing facilities needs of his department.
Hoffman showed the board members a timeline that started with Knight’s 2013 presentation and continued to this month. Two other studies the county authorized — one in May 2013 and another in April 2016 — underscored the necessity of a public safety complex, Hoffman pointed out.
A 2016 analysis undertaken by Schenkel Shultz Architecture of Sarasota, at the county’s expense, showed the Sheriff’s Office at that time required 193,981 square feet for all its operations, Hoffman said. The Cattleridge structure, he added, is “just shy of 72,000 square feet.”
Only one vacant office is left in the Cattleridge Boulevard building, Hoffman pointed out, other than the space he used to occupy as chief deputy and general counsel to Sheriff Knight. He has yet to fill that position, he added.
Although the county purchased two parcels adjacent to the new headquarters, Hoffman continued, he had been informed that the stormwater retention pond in that area lacked sufficient capacity to enable expansion of the Sheriff’s Office complex.
Chair Alan Maio pointed out that he had envisioned those parcels would be used for a second building of similar size that could be connected to the 6010 Cattleridge Blvd. headquarters, plus an additional parking area.
Pointing to the former plans for the Public Safety Campus at 1301 Cattlemen Road, Hoffman said, “You already have a study that has been completed for this footprint for a Sheriff’s Office headquarters,” referencing the Schenkel Shultz analysis.
Hoffman offered three recommendations for the board members to consider that afternoon:
- Adopting a resolution to add the Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Complex as a project within the county’s 2021 fiscal year Capital Improvement Program.
- Directing county staff to work with the Sheriff’s Office on updating the programming for a public safety complex.
- Including $2 million in the county’s 2022 fiscal year Capital Improvement Program for the design and permitting work necessary for the complex.
Commissioner Nancy Detert responded that Hoffman was making his request on the same day that the board members had begun to entertain the idea of a new county Administration Center at 1301 Cattlemen Road. “So we might have to arm wrestle you for the property.”
Later, she added, “Your plan is probably well over $100 million [in expense], and I think it’s the wrong year for that plan.” She was alluding to decisions the board members already had had to make to control spending during the last fiscal year, as well as this fiscal year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throwing ideas out there
Finally, after approximately 75 minutes of discussion, no commission consensus was reached on how to proceed, even though board members suggested various options, including a voter referendum in November 2022, when they could ask for approval to exceed the Charter cap for new Sheriff’s Office facilities.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler did express worries about putting such a question on that ballot because the board members already have planned a November 2022 referendum to seek citizen support for another “Surtax” — penny sales tax — program to fund construction projects countywide.
The Surtax III program expires on Dec. 31, 2024, but, in an effort to ensure the funding stream remains in place, the commissioners agreed to conduct the next referendum well ahead of time, in the event a second attempt would be needed if the first one failed.
Ziegler asked whether Hoffman would worry about what Ziegler characterized as “tax exhaustion” in 2022.
“Of course,” Hoffman replied. “As a fiscal conservative, I’m always worried about that.”
Still, Ziegler told Hoffman, “I think law enforcement’s an easy sell, normally, when you go to voters, especially with the job that you guys have done.” He referenced Hoffman’s earlier comment that serious crime is down 52% in the county.
Commissioner Michael Moran also raised the prospect that the Sheriff’s Office could use the 17,483 square feet of unfinished space planned in a second floor on the administrative offices section of the new District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office at 4480 Fruitville Road. That facility is expected to be completed in January 2023.
At least that could help in the short term, Chair Maio indicated.
Maio also talked about the potential of relocating the county’s administrative offices from the 1660 Ringling Blvd. complex in downtown Sarasota to the 6010 Cattleridge Blvd. property and then letting the Sheriff’s Office move into new facilities at 1301 Cattlemen Road.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger offered support for that idea.
“We have too many thoughts,” Commissioner Detert pointed out. “Has anybody looked at giving you this building?” she asked Hoffman, referring to the Ringling Boulevard structure. “It might be worth the maintenance fees,” she added.
Staff has estimated that the county building in downtown Sarasota will need maintenance and renovations costing $49 million over the next 20 years.
Since the county has about three times more employees than the Sheriff’s Office, Detert indicated that the downtown Sarasota property could accommodate the department’s needs.
When Maio inquired about the next time the Sheriff’s Office leaders are scheduled to appear before the commissioners, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis replied that they are welcome to speak to the board members during any regular meeting. The Sheriff’s Office presentation of its proposed 2022 fiscal year budget is scheduled for late June, Lewis noted.
Nonetheless, Lewis continued, the commissioners could discuss Hoffman’s proposal again during their May budget workshop, when they will focus on the Capital Improvement Program for FY 2022.
Maio pointed out that local government regulations forbid the commissioners from making motions during workshops, so Maio suggested Hoffman work with Lewis about coming back before the board during a regular meeting.
Hoffman responded that he did not believe the information he had given the commissioners that afternoon would change in the short term. “We’re at the mercy of the board at this point to try to get some movement [on the issue of new facilities].”
Maio then said that if he were the sheriff, he would ask the Schenkel Shultz firm to update its 2016 study for the Public Safety Campus at 1301 Cattlemen Road as his next step.
“I would not support you coming back at a regular meeting,” Detert told Hoffman. However, she continued, she would support his refining his plans for new facilities and then addressing the issue during his June budget presentation.
“I think it’s clear for any reasonable person,” Commissioner Moran said, that what Hoffman had laid out is a need not a want. “This is a math exercise,” Moran added, not a matter of whether the commissioners support the Sheriff’s Office.
Hoffman indicated that his primary goal that afternoon was to alert the commissioners to the Sheriff’s Office’s situation.
“This starts the process,” Commissioner Ziegler said.
Delving into details
With Major Jon Goetluck, the Sheriff’s Office’s Administrative Division commander, and the department’s chief financial officer, Lisa Kiesel, on opposite sides of him at a table facing the commissioners, Hoffman provided a series of slides to underscore his March 24 requests.
Within the Cattleridge Boulevard building, Hoffman explained, staff had tried “to move things around” to make better use of the space available.
One slide showed stacks of boxes containing supplies department personnel need to use as the CPOVID-19 pandemic goes on, including personal protective equipment. The goal is to keep the materials conveniently available to the employees, Hoffman said.
Another slide showed filing cabinets that contain fingerprint records, photographs and other items, which need to be utilized regularly during investigations, he noted. “But they do take up a lot of space.”
Other slides depicted the Sheriff’s Office’s training facilities in South County, including the Physical Agility Test (PAT) Course. Every applicant for a position with the department, some recruits and “all of our nearly 700 sworn members come to do their annual physical abilities test there,” Hoffman pointed out. “It’s been problematic for a variety of reasons,” he noted — including the department’s need to work with Venice Area Audubon Society leaders on measures to buffer the site from the rookery adjacent to it, and flooding.
The property is located southwest of the county’s R.L. Anderson Administration Center, which stands at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.
“It just doesn’t present a very good image,” Hoffman added of the site, especially when the department is trying to recruit new personnel.
If he could move the Physical Agility Test Course to 1301 Cattlemen Road, Hoffman told the commissioners, “We could build a proper [site].”
Additionally, parking is a big problem at the nearby South County Safety Building, Hoffman continued. “When we come out of COVID,” Hoffman pointed out, “that training site is going to have hundreds of deputies coming in and out of there for their training.”
Moreover, he said, the FBI and other law enforcement-related entities have asked about hosting training opportunities in Sarasota County, but the Sheriff’s Office has no facility large enough for such events.
Hoffman also talked about the growth in the county’s population, which will necessitate the hiring of more deputies in the future, especially to handle traffic details. In recent years, he reminded the commissioners, they have approved Sheriff’s Office budgets with more personnel for traffic patrol. If not for the 2022 fiscal year, Hoffman said, then likely for the 2023 fiscal year, “We’ll be looking at additional traffic deputies.”
Hoffman showed the board a slide that noted the climb in the count of county residents from 373,928 in 2007 to 436,820 this year. The number of Sheriff’s Office positions has declined from 1,050 in 2007 to 1,000 in 2021, the slide noted.
Altogether, Hoffman pointed out, the units and sections of the department that are not based at the Cattleridge Boulevard site comprise 60% of the Sheriff’s Office’s footprint.
Hoffman told the commissioners that he and his staff are “very appreciative of what the county has done for us thus far.” However, he added, “In the grand scheme of things, we’re still in dire circumstances as it relates to space.”
“We’ve done all that we can do from a public safety standpoint,” he said. “I think it’s time … that there be a focus on our facilities and the synergies of having everyone on one public safety campus.”