Issues with homelessness on the Key appear to have diminished greatly; trolley initiative takes steps forward; Hermine fosters a quiet Labor Day weekend at the beach and leads to cancellation of SKA meeting; county staff tries to resolve a vibration issue with laying of new sewer and water force mains to the Key; and Maintenance Corp. liaison has all sorts of issues to handle
A month after the Village gazebo was the focal point for homelessness issues on Siesta Key, the situation has improved significantly, Michael Shay, the liaison between the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) and the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., told Lt. Donny Kennard and Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office this week.
“I don’t know what the Sheriff’s Office did,” Shay began during the Sept. 6 SKVA meeting, but “all I want to say is, ‘Thank you.’”
The discovery was made on the morning of Aug. 4 that someone had defecated at the gazebo, Shay continued, “and [the Maintenance Corp.] had to spend money to have the whole gazebo steam-cleaned.”
Sheriff’s Office personnel also addressed what was becoming a regular situation of homeless people sleeping in the gazebo, Shay added. “We have not had a problem since [early August] that I have seen. I’m in the Village every morning around 5:15,” Shay pointed out.
One person was sleeping in the gazebo the night before last, Shay said, but not that morning. “I don’t see them in the morning in the Village at all,” Shay told the approximately 20 people present for the meeting.
SKVA Vice President Mark Smith — who also is on the Maintenance Corp. board — explained that the Sheriff’s Office sent representatives to the Village “to administer what help they could to these folks.” The Salvation Army also was planning to send some of its staff to talk with the individuals, Smith added. Nothing nefarious was done, Smith said.
He hoped he had not implied anything of that sort, Shay responded quickly.
“I believe that the folks that wanted help got help and those that wanted to avoid help are doing so,” Smith noted.
Issues with the homeless were being reported on the Key prior to the gazebo incident, Kennard explained. The Sheriff’s Office representatives offer resources to help individuals, he added.
With funding support from the County Commission, the Sheriff’s Office operates a program called SHIFTS to assist the homeless. Its case workers can help individuals with behavioral health issues get into programs to address their needs, and the program provides beds so people do not have to sleep on the streets.
Siesta property owner Paul Parr also commended Kennard and Mruczek for handling a growing concern of condominium owners across from Siesta Public Beach: Homeless people were lingering around the picnic tables next to Beach Road.
“Your efforts there have been stellar,” Parr said. Some homeless individuals are still seen in that area, Parr continued, but they do not stay for long.
Kennard pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office’s personnel treat all people the same in Sarasota County. Some people will not accept help when it first is extended to them, Kennard said, “but that doesn’t mean they won’t change their minds tomorrow.”
Since the SKVA held its meeting in August, board member Russell Matthes explained during the Sept. 6 session, he and former Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley had met with the CEO of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Brad Miller.
That organization operates a Jolley Trolley system, Matthes added.
“We got some valuable information,” Matthes continued. Miller talked with them about the successful facets of trolley operations in that county, Matthes noted. “They have a huge group up there who work on this [system],” he said. Altogether, about 25 trolleys operate in Pinellas County, Matthes pointed out. “It’s a different beast up there.”
Matthes said he is continuing to encourage Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff “to go to other communities to see what does work.” He remains hopeful, he continued, that the SKVA and county staff can pick and choose among features of those trolley systems to create one that will offer good service for Siesta Key.
Additionally, Matthes noted, Miller told him and Ley that Pinellas Suncoast Transit soon will be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the continuation of its trolley service, because the Jolley Trolley company has “gotten some competition, finally.” Miller promised to send Matthes and Ley a copy of the RFP, with the hope that that might be helpful, as well.
Representatives of a Sarasota trolley company have been interested in bidding on a service for Siesta, Matthes pointed out, but “they’re having trouble with the financing of it when they put the numbers together, so the county’s definitely going to have to participate in some capacity [in funding an operation] for the first two, three, five years.”
After he receives the RFP, Matthes continued, he plans to set up a meeting with County Commission Chair Al Maio “to at least start a dialogue” about the county’s involvement in the trolley service. He is hopeful the County Commission will provide formal direction to the SCAT staff to work on a trolley proposal.
“Something needs to happen,” Matthes added.
Stephanie Brown, general manager of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, then asked whether it would be possible to sell advertising displays for use on the trolleys to help cover the cost of their operation.
That is exactly the type of option about which the county needs information, Matthes told her.
A quiet Labor Day weekend
With the Florida Department of Health having issued a “no swim” advisory for Siesta Public Beach in the aftermath of Hermine’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico last week, Labor Day weekend proved much quieter than the Sheriff’s Office had anticipated, Sgt. Jason Mruczek reported to SKVA members this week.
The “no swim” advisory was put into effect on Sept. 1 and lifted on Sept. 5. Heavy rain events — as the county experienced last week — can lead to higher bacterial levels in the water that are unsafe for people, health experts have said.
The weather itself, needless to say, also was a factor in lighter crowds at Siesta Beach, Mruczek noted.
Speaking of Hermine …
Amid periodic squalls on Aug. 31, as Hermine began gathering herself into a full-blown tropical storm, Siesta Key Association Second Vice President Catherine Luckner announced that because of concern about safety issues related to weather and road conditions, the board members had decided “regretfully [to] cancel our monthly meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 1, at 4:30 p.m.”
The next SKA meeting will be held on Oct. 6 at 4:30 p.m. at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Midnight Pass Road.
In the coming weeks, Luckner added, “we’ll post [on the SKA website, www.siestakeyassociation.com] updates to ongoing projects, issues and concerns you’ve shared ….”
A holdup with the force main work
Jack Gibson, a county project manager overseeing the construction of the new sewer main and water main to Siesta from the mainland, notified island residents last week that staff has been trying to figure out an issue in the project area on the Siesta Cove Drive cul-de-sac. It appeared settlement of the material may be leading to vibrations in the neighborhood, he indicated.
Therefore, he wrote in a Sept. 2 email, the installation of pipes that will be part of the temporary force main system was on hold last week.
This week, he announced in a regular update to affected residents, delivery of pipes and other materials to the Phillippi Estate Park staging area and the cul-de-sac on Siesta Cove Drive would continue, but the installation would remain on hold.
“Noise and settlement monitoring shall continue,” he concluded his email.
The ‘joys’ of Village maintenance
As the liaison between the SKVA and the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which is responsible for funding the Village upkeep — Michael Shay has to deal with more than just making sure everything looks good.
One example of ancillary matters arose during a recent SKVA meeting.
Shay explained that he received a letter from a woman who had hit one of the bollards on Ocean Boulevard that provides light at Village crosswalks. The incident occurred in May, he noted. It was the second time the bollard near the Coldwell Banker real estate office had suffered that fate, he added.
The woman wrote that her car had sustained $2,500 in damage from the collision. “She claims that she didn’t knock it over,” Shay said. “She said the bollard hit her.”
“Of course. It jumped out,” Peter van Roekens, the Terrace East Condominium Association representative to the SKVA, replied with a smile.
When Shay talked with the woman, he continued, he told her he was going to pass along her information to the county department that handles such issues. Then she told Shay, “‘well, maybe I don’t need to get paid for [the damage].’”
County staff works with Shay and the Maintenance Corp. on the Village upkeep. The county paid for the bollards a couple of years ago. Two new ones were on order, Shay noted.