County Commission approves transfer of $1 million into fund for affordable housing project with City of Sarasota as part of CRA dispute settlement

Action leaves three other facets of last city proposal to be completed

A graphic shows the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

About 13 months after they joined the Sarasota city commissioners in a formal conflict resolution session over the issue, the Sarasota County commissioners this week took their first formal step to end a battle regarding funding for the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).

With a 4-0 vote on June 13, the county board members approved the transfer of the $1 million remaining in the county’s Community Reinvestment Program(CRP) fund to the county’s Housing and Community Development Fund to assist the city with an affordable housing project.

A June 13 county staff memo pointed out that the money potentially may be used for a project on 25 lots the city owns, with the initiative to be managed through the Office of Housing and Community Development. That agency serves the city and the county.

“Parameters for the program would need to be worked out,” the county memo added. The proposal also calls for the city to contribute $500,000 to the effort, the memo said.

“We’re happy to have come to a resolution with the City of Sarasota on remaining issues, and this is one of them,” Chair Nancy Detert announced after reading the item on the June 13 agenda. The action was designated Presentation Upon Request, meaning the board members did not have to entertain a staff presentation on it unless they desired one. “I think we’re overly familiar with that,” Detert added of the issue. When she asked whether any of her colleagues had questions, none did.

Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the transfer, and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo seconded it.

Commissioner Michael Moran was absent because of a death in the family, Detert had reported earlier.

The Sarasota County commissioners pose with the County Seal. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

On May 1, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis had delivered a memorandum to the commissioners, summarizing the latest proposal from City of Sarasota staff to resolve the funding dispute over the Downtown Sarasota CRA.

In April 2016, city staff provided documentation showing that the county owed one final payment into the trust fund for that CRA, which the city managed, even though the district was a joint city/county initiative.

County staff, alternatively, pointed to minutes from meetings — including discussions during past joint meetings of the City and County commissions — that showed the tax-increment financing district was valid for 30 years. The county’s final payment had been made, county staff said. (With the establishment of a tax-increment financing district, a base year is set. Then the difference between the total property value for the defined area during the base year and the value in each subsequent year of the life of the CRA is calculated, and the resulting increase in ad valorem tax revenue —pegged to a specific millage rate — is deposited into the fund for the district.)

Sarasota County presented this timeline to city leaders in documenting that the county owed no further CRA payment. Image courtesy Sarasota County

City staff and the city commissioners continued to take a different view.

When the two boards held their conflict resolution conference on April 26, 2017, Deputy County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht made it clear that, if the city brought legal action against the county over the issue, he expected the county would win.

Over the subsequent months, City Manager Tom Barwin and then-County Administrator Tom Harmer held a number of discussions to try to resolve the matter. Barwin said last year that, with interest, the county owed the Downtown Sarasota CRA Trust Fund more than $5.5 million.

Finally, on May 8, the county commissioners voted unanimously to direct County Administrator Lewis to work with Barwin in crafting a document to lay out the resolution of the most recent terms the city had proposed. The total county commitment would be about $2,630,000, Lewis said.

After the vote this week, the remaining three facets of the city proposal are as follows:

  • The county would give the city $1 million for the emergency beach renourishment project the city plans to undertake on South Lido Key Beach after sea turtle nesting season ends in the fall. (See the related article in this issue.)

The county funds would come out of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue set aside for county beach renourishment projects.

Alexandrea DavisShaw. File photo

City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw has estimated that the emergency project could cost between $2 million and $3 million. In response to a question this week from The Sarasota News Leader, Doreen Buonpastore, who handles TDT issues in the county’s Office of Financial Management, reported that the city had $3,710,408.33 in its TDT beach renourishment/maintenance account at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Earlier this year, the City Commission voted 3-2 to keep $2.5 million of that money set aside as an “insurance policy” in the event that damage resulted from the long-term renourishment project it plans on South Lido, under the aegis of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Just this week, the USACE announced that it has allocated its share of funds to that initiative as part of its 2018 Work Plan.

On June 4, as required by the state, the City Commission reaffirmed its commitment to that project through a formal vote. A document it approved for submission to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) listed the city’s projected expense for the long-term Lido project at $3,990,000.

  • The county and the city would extend an agreement, which expired in December 2017, for the county to provide $432,126.13 to assist with the remediation and rehabilitation of the Marian Anderson Brownfield Site in North Sarasota. The two local governments forged an interlocal agreement in 2004 regarding the cleanup of the property, with the county committing $500,000. However, the city ended up spending only $67,873.87. Under the new agreement, Lewis noted in his May 1 memo, the county would provide the rest of the money to the city in the 2019 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.
  • The city and the county would split the $400,000 estimated expense of creating a surface parking lot on the site of the former Sarasota Police Department headquarters on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.