Unanimous vote keeps citywide rate at current level
The Sarasota City Commission this week unanimously approved advertisement of the proposed millage rates for the 2018 fiscal year, with the total for the citywide rate remaining the same as this year: 3.1728 mills.
As Finance Director Kelly Strickland pointed out, the board can lower the rates when it holds its public hearings on the FY18 budget on Sept. 5 and Sept. 18, but it will not be able to raise them, following the July 17 vote.
By law, she explained, the city had to provide the proposed millage rates to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office by Aug. 4, so they could be included in the Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices that that office will mail out to property owners in August.
Along with the citywide rate, the commission set the preliminary rates this week for the St. Armands Business Improvement District, the Golden Gate Point Special District and the Downtown Improvement District.
Only one member of the public addressed the board before its vote. Peter Fanning, president emeritus and chair of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association and the city’s Homeless Committee, spoke for the association, he said, in “strongly urging you to support Chief of Police Bernadette DiPino” in her request for four new positions in the department for the next fiscal year. Two of them would be foot patrol officers; one, a street crimes officer; and the final one, a patrol officer.
The Police Department, Fanning continued, “has for several years now been understaffed and overworked.” The four new positions, he added, are “just barely adequate.”
The expense of the new foot patrol officers is $194,889 per year; the cost of the extra street crimes officer is $97,420; and the expense for the new patrol officer is $97,444, according to figures Strickland provided the board during its July 10 budget session.
DiPino told the commission earlier this summer that she needs the new foot patrol officers to enhance safety in downtown neighborhoods; they would work on a shift that would run from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. She pointed out that the department has been able to provide only two foot patrol officers in the downtown area on a shift running from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. They not only assist the public and respond to calls for service, she said, but they also help with issues related to homelessness.
The Street Crimes Unit operates with just a sergeant and three officers, she explained. That unit works directly with the department’s Narcotics Unit, detectives and uniformed patrol officers, as needed.
As for the extra patrol officer: DiPino told the board in June that the Patrol Division responds to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the department logging about 87,000 calls for service each year. The division has approximately 70 officers assigned to patrol zone duties, she said, but — at any given time, for a variety of reasons — 10% of the officers are unavailable for duty.
Fanning also urged the commission to proceed with the hiring of a new coordinator of efforts to aid the homeless, as City Manager Tom Barwin had requested. The expense of that position is $92,547, although Strickland pointed out on July 10 that — with no one hired this year to replace the original person in the job, Doug Logan — money will be rolled over from the 2017 budget to cover the cost of the position for FY18.
“We are seeing real progress [with homelessness issues],” Fanning told the commission on July 17.
“To think we can wait a year or more for this increase [in personnel] is not realistic,” he added, referring to a plea Commissioner Hagen Brody made during the July 10 budget session.
Brody told his colleagues that he felt they should work to contain expenses for the coming two fiscal years. After the city’s tax base has grown more, he said, the city would be in a better financial situation to afford the 19 additional positions sought in the FY18 budget.
Commissioner Willie Shaw made the motion to approve the preliminary millage rates, and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch seconded it.