County Commission votes to send response to Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw, disputing city staff’s research
Although they said nothing this week about the situation, the Sarasota County commissioners make it clear in a letter to Mayor Willie Shaw that they have fulfilled their obligation in terms of payments into the Downtown Sarasota Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund.
And they offered documents dating to 2007 to prove their point.
The April 26 response — approved by the board that day — replies to a letter Shaw sent County Administrator Tom Harmer early this month. In his communication, Shaw sought “clarification … as to the timing of the County’s final contribution of tax increment revenue” for the Downtown Sarasota CRA. Shaw pointed out that City Finance Director John Lege’s research “verified that Sarasota County’s first remittance of its annual share of the tax increment over the  base year was … derived from 1987 taxes and received in early 1988.”
During the April 4 City Commission meeting, City Attorney Robert Fournier explained that the difference between the value of property in a CRA in the base year and its value in subsequent years is calculated to arrive at the tax increment.
In his letter, Shaw wrote that Lege’s research also showed that, “in the absence of an extension of the downtown community redevelopment area beyond the year 2016, the County’s annual contributions would cease after thirty payments had been made.” That last contribution would be based on the tax increment for the 2016 tax year, Shaw added.
On April 4, Fournier pointed out that that payment would be made in the 2017 fiscal year.
The 2004 interlocal agreement between the government bodies contains a provision saying, “‘City and County hereby agree that no further deposits of County tax increment revenue shall be [made] into the City’s [CRA] Trust Fund after the 2016 tax year,’” Shaw wrote.
The county board’s response points out that after the sun-setting of the Downtown CRA this fiscal year, “Sarasota County will have deposited approximately $65.7 million” into the trust fund. It adds, “Since at least 2003, it has always been the County’s understanding and expectation that the CRA, including all deposits in the Redevelopment Trust Fund, would terminate in 2016.”
Harmer told the county commissioners during their regular meeting on April 26 that he and other staff members reviewed the matter with the Office of the County Attorney. The three documents that serve as the county’s basis for asserting its last payment was expected in 2015 were backup agenda material for a joint city/county meeting on July 9, 2007; a 2013 resolution of the City Commission that involved the creation of a study committee to consider an extension of the Downtown Sarasota CRA; and a county resolution approved in September 2015 in conjunction with the passage of the 2016 fiscal year budget.
The 2007 document shows projections for county transfers to the CRA Trust Fund through the 2016 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2015.
The 2013 resolution of the City Commission says, “[T]he City Commission and the Board of County Commissioners have agreed that the last year that tax increment funds from the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area will be collected and deposited into the Redevelopment Trust Fund will be the year 2016.”
During the April 26 session, Harmer also referenced an email Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham sent Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, on which Cunningham copied the county board members and City Manager Tom Barwin regarding the CRA payments. Dated April 21, it says, “In a nutshell, it is the County’s determination that our obligation to deposit funds into the CRA Redevelopment Trust Fund ended with our fiscal year 2016 payment which was made to the City on November 4, 2015 in the amount of $4,305,340.”
When County Commission Chair Al Maio asked for discussion of the draft letter on April 26, no one offered a comment. “Seeing none,” Maio said, he was ready to call for a vote. Commissioner Carolyn Mason — who served on the City Commission prior to her election to the county board in 2008 — made the motion to send the letter to Shaw. Commissioner Charles Hines seconded it.
The county letter concludes, “The County is proud to have been a part of the very successful Downtown CRA. We believe it has exceedingly accomplished the goals and objectives envisioned by both Commissions at the time of its inception, and that it is a testament to what can be accomplished via a mutual accord.”
In an April 26 telephone interview subsequent to the county vote, Jan Thornburg, the city’s senior communications manager, told The Sarasota News Leader that — as of that point — no item had been placed on the May 2 City Commission agenda to discuss the County Commission’s response. However, “Somebody could just bring it up” Monday during the portion of the meeting devoted to commissioners’ and staff members’ comments, she said.