County program replacing its CRA participation to put focus on ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure proposals

Amendment to the Community Reinvestment Program ordinance set for Jan. 10, 2017 public hearing

A county program paid for the beautification of Siesta Village in 2008-09. File photo

Criteria for a program the Sarasota County Commission revived in 2015 to effectively replace further county participation in the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) is expected to be modified early next year to keep the focus on infrastructure.

With no comment on Nov. 22, the commission voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the proposal during its regular meeting set for Jan. 10, 2017 in Sarasota.

The item was part of the board’s Nov. 22 Consent Agenda of routine business matters. The session was the first for newly elected Commissioners Nancy Detert and Mike Moran.

The Jan. 10, 2017 hearing has been set for the morning; it will be held at the County Administration Center, located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

The recommendation for the amendment to the Community Reinvestment Program (CRP) ordinance followed a staff review, a Nov. 22 memo to the board says. The goal is to clarify the criteria “to ensure the integrity of the [CRP],” the memo adds. The current ordinance potentially makes it possible for “projects that are not considered ‘shovel ready’ [to receive funding].” To put the focus clearly on infrastructure-related initiatives, the memo points out, the amendment to the ordinance would “specifically define the term ‘infrastructure’ …”

The proposed language revision says, “For purposes of this section, the term ‘infrastructure’ means any fixed capital expenditure or fixed capital outlay associated with the construction, reconstruction or improvement of public facilities that have a life expectancy of 5 or more years.”

The amendment would delete the existing language, which would allow a project to be considered if it involved acquisition of real property, for example, or “Design, engineering, site preparation and construction of public improvements, including, but not limited to, roads, streetscaping, water and wastewater systems, and other public amenities or facilities, which are necessary to the success of the project …”

The background

The Nov. 22 memo explains that the CRP was established originally by a commission vote on May 9, 2006. Modeled in part on a Broward County initiative, the memo says that the CRP “would provide greater flexibility regarding the expenditure of public funds and allow the [commission] to balance and prioritize projects on a larger scale” than allowed under a CRA, which must adhere to specific state statutory guidelines.

The board approved $6,250,000 for the CRP for fiscal years 2006 through 2008, out of which three undertakings were funded:

  • The City of Venice received $1,250,000 for a stormwater project that included the demolition of property on a 1.32-acre parcel along U.S. 41 Bypass North; the area contained blighted structures.
  • The Siesta Key Beautification Project, with a grant of $4,500,000, saw the addition of brick sidewalks and medallions at key intersections; pedestrian improvements for Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility; landscape design with irrigation and lighting; drainage improvements; relocation of overhead utility lines; realignment of Canal Road and Ocean Boulevard; and other enhancements in Siesta Village.
  • The City of North Port won $500,000 to redevelop the U.S. 41 corridor “to improve the appearance and function of the gateway,” including pavement stamping, bus shelters, landscaping, signage and lighting.
Former County Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

During the commission’s Feb. 20, 2015 budget workshop, Commissioner Christine Robinson broached the subject of the CRP, noting that it had not been funded since 2007 because of the Great Recession. She pointed out that the Downtown Sarasota CRA was set to expire at the end of 2016 — according to county documents — and requests had come in from other parts of the county, seeking funding assistance for capital projects. (The City of Sarasota has continued to dispute the assertion that the CRA ends this year.)

“I think this is an opportunity for us to look at capital projects without the administrative overhead that is involved with special districts,” Robinson continued during that workshop. The Community Reinvestment Program, she said, also would “allow for competition within the county to have the best projects.”

“I think that that’s a real good idea,” responded Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, who formerly served on the Sarasota City Commission.

The Nov. 22 memo to the commission also notes that the board members agreed at their Aug. 22 budget workshop to use about $900,000 in earnings from the Economic Development Incentive Fund to boost the CRP budget to $1.4 million for the current fiscal year.”