County acting on complaints about Siesta Village upkeep

Complaints from Chris Brown, owner of The Hub Baja Grill in Siesta Village, and a county Procurement Department scandal, have combined to delay the awarding of a new bid for upkeep in the Village. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Following criticism last week about the appearance of the sidewalks in Siesta Village, Sarasota County’s Public Works Department staff is processing paperwork that will enable county workers to pressure-wash the sidewalks, Tom Maroney, general manager of business operations in Public Works, told The Sarasota News Leader May 8.

The scope of the county’s cleaning contract did not include large-scale pressure washing, Maroney added. Once that change was made in the contract, he said, staff would be able to schedule the cleaning.

During the May 3 Siesta Key Association meeting, Mark Smith, chairman of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., reported, “Quite frankly, the Village is looking a bit shabby.”

He added that he had requested the pressure-washing months ago.

SKA Director Michael Shay said a number of people complained about the look of the sidewalks during Siesta Fiesta, the fine arts show held April 14-15 in the Village.

County staff has been handling the Siesta Village maintenance since mid-August 2011, when the SKVMC’s contract with JWM Management ended.

As a result of complaints about the cost of JWM’s work, outlined in a lawsuit Village property owner Chris Brown filed against the county in January 2011, the County Commission sought revisions in the ordinance governing the maintenance.

The commission approved the new ordinance Feb. 21. However, Maroney told the News Leader April 18 that county Procurement Department staff still was examining the request for proposals for a new vendor to handle the maintenance. That situation had not changed as of this week, he wrote in an May 8 email.

Both Smith and Maroney have said on several occasions this year that they had anticipated a new vendor being hired before now.

Partly because of the 2011 scandal in the Procurement Department — which ultimately led to then-County Administrator Jim Ley’s resignation — procurement staff has proceeded cautiously with any RFP, Maroney said.

“We’ve gone over that bid a million times,” he said of the Siesta Village RFP during the April 18 interview.

Another problem exacerbating the situation, he said, has been “a huge turnover (in the Procurement Department) in the last couple of months.”

When new staff comes in, he pointed out, that leads to yet another examination of the RFP.

The RFP will give the new vendor the responsibility of pressure-washing the sidewalks, Smith told the SKA members May 3.

“This is a good example of why we want to get this out of the county’s hands,” Siesta Key Village Association President Russell Matthes said, referring to the general maintenance.

Smith also complained to SKA members about weeds growing in Siesta Village. Maroney told the News Leader May 8 that county staff would assess the need for weeding and trimming in the landscaping.

When SKA Director Bob Waechter asked during the May 3 meeting whether the Siesta Village property owners were being assessed an additional tax for the upkeep, Smith replied that that was correct. “My tax rate went up 30%,” Smith added.

Sixty percent of the Siesta Village property owners agreed to pay the extra assessment to keep the area well maintained, Smith said. “So our money is going to pay for this, so we’d like to see more results.”

When Shay asked Smith for an update on his Feb. 21 request for the county to place recycling containers in Siesta Village — before the County Commission vote on the revised maintenance ordinance — Smith replied, “Oh, it’ll happen in the future.”

The RFP has to be completed first, Smith said, adding that he had made it clear to county officials that the SKVMC “would like to have recycling in the Village.”

In a related matter, Shay reported during the SKA meeting that Florida Power & Light Co. workers had put bulbs of higher wattage in the streetlights at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Treasure Boat Way, especially near the Sarasota County Area Transit stop, as Shay and the SKA had requested several months ago.

Maroney said the new bulbs were 150 watts, while the previous ones were 70 watts.

Shay also said during the SKA meeting that county staff was scheduled to take another look at vegetation at that intersection, as drivers have complained since last fall about visibility problems as they attempt to turn onto Ocean Boulevard, especially if they are headed into the Village.

When county workers installed a new fence at that intersection last fall, they trimmed vegetation in response to those complaints, Maroney pointed out.

On May 8, Maroney reported that all the palms at the intersection had been pruned recently, to improve drivers’ line of sight. The shade trees whose foliage was blocking the lighting were scheduled to be trimmed next week, he added.