City of Sarasota seeking close to $1 million from county to help fund Robert L. Taylor Community Complex operations in the 2017 fiscal year

County administrator has asked staff to research and report on the county’s history of financial support for the facility

The Robert L. Taylor Complex is in north Sarasota. File photo
The Robert L. Taylor Complex is in north Sarasota. File photo

Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer has asked staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department to review a City of Sarasota request for the county to contribute close to $1 million to assist in operating the city’s Robert L. Taylor Community Complex (RLTCC) in the 2017 fiscal year.

He also has asked that department’s staff to compile a history of the county’s funding for the Taylor Complex, noting that he would provide an update to the County Commission after the information has been “pulled together.”

The direction to county staff followed Harmer’s receipt of a May 13 letter from Mayor Willie Shaw and City Manager Tom Barwin, which included the formal request for $984,600, as well as a follow-up email from Barwin on May 18.

Harmer notified the county commissioners of his actions on May 18, when he also provided them with a copy of the city letter — which was addressed to County Commission Chair Al Maio as well — and Barwin’s email.

Shaw’s letter says that in 1989, the City and County of Sarasota entered into an interlocal agreement regarding parks and recreation services that included a county commitment to pay $320,000 per year toward the Taylor Complex’s operations, starting no later than Dec. 31, 2011. “As part of the discussion, reflected in meeting minutes,” the letter goes on, the boards agreed that continuation of the funding after five years would be based on city documentation regarding how many residents of the unincorporated part of the county used the Taylor Complex over the 2011-2016 period.

The concession stand at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex multipurpose field is under construction. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota
The concession stand at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex multipurpose field is under construction. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

Shaw reported in his letter, “We now have ample data” showing that 60 percent of the registered regular users of the facility over the past five years “have resided in the non-incorporated portion of Sarasota County.” The letter adds, “We expect that with the upcoming fall opening of the new artificial turf, multi-use athletic field at the RLTCC, featuring night play,” regional use of the facility will expand.

The letter notes that the new field will have state-of-the-art features for youth football, soccer and lacrosse.

The annual operating budget for “the expansive recreational complex is $1,641,000,” the letter points out. Given the expectation that even more county residents will use the complex after the multipurpose field has been completed, the letter says, “we are requesting that county payments to operate this critical and acclaimed city-county used asset continue based upon usage.”

An attachment to the letter includes statistics showing that of the 1,895 Sarasota County addresses city staff had compiled from people who had registered to use the RLTCC — with no duplicates — 756 were within the city and 1,139 were from outside the city limits — 39.89 percent and 60.11 percent, respectively. Further detail shows that 6.65 percent of those who used the complex were from Manatee County.

Curbing around the multipurpose field was poured last week, city staff says. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota
Curbing around the multipurpose field was poured last week, city staff says. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

Shaw added that city “staff would welcome the opportunity to provide tours, share future plans, and review usage documentation with anyone from the county” Harmer or the County Commission assigned to review the matter.

More city comments

In his last weekly newsletter, dated May 20, Barwin wrote about the work underway on the RLTCC multipurpose field:

“The shell of the building which will hold the concession stand and restrooms is now constructed adjacent to the field, where soccer, lacrosse, football and other sporting events will take place.

“The project is on schedule and we expect it will be ready for the Fall 2016 sports season.”

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown. File photo
Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown. File photo

During the May 2 City Commission meeting, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown also brought up county usage of the Taylor Complex in explaining that county staff had turned down a city application for funding for the new multipurpose field through the county’s Community Reinvestment Program (CRP). The County Commission revived the CRP in 2015 as it prepared for what it said would be its last payment to the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund. (The City and County commissions also have conflicting views about that final CRA payment, with staff on each side providing documentation to support its position.)

In his May 18 email to Harmer, Barwin referenced both the CRP and CRA issues: “We were very disappointed a recent county grant application toward the construction of the amazing new multi-use, outdoor athletic field was not approved for funding.” Barwin added that the County Commission’s decision not to renew the Downtown CRA also makes it critical for the two local governments to share the funding of the Taylor Complex, because it is used by city and county residents.

“With our budgets now under development,” Barwin continued, “we should address this issue [as soon as possible].”

The County Commission held its most recent budget workshop on May 18. Others are scheduled in late June, with the final one planned in August, prior to the board’s holding of two public hearings before it votes on the 2017 fiscal year budget.

In his email response to Barwin on May 18, Harmer wrote, “Not sure I understand the relationship to the planned sun-setting of the CRA.”

City Finance Director John Lege told The Sarasota News Leader in early April that he had calculated the county would owe one last payment of about $4.5 million to the Downtown Sarasota CRA Trust Fund, which the county disputed.

County staff reported in April that the county “will have deposited approximately $65.7 million” into the trust fund after the sun-setting of the CRA this fiscal year.