County’s chief engineer plans to implement a new road inspection program that will allow more preventive maintenance

New employees sought in Public Works and Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources departments to facilitate upkeep of county resources

A graphic shown to the County Commission in 2013 provides images of road surfaces considered in very good condition. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shown to the County Commission in 2013 provides images of road surfaces considered in very good condition. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among new employees for Sarasota County’s Public Works Department in the 2017 fiscal year will be a pavement management specialist who will be a key part of staff’s efforts to move to a four-year cycle for preventive road maintenance, the county’s chief engineer, Isaac Brownman, has explained to the County Commission.

At the same time, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department will be moving away from some contractual services and hiring new employees in an effort to improve maintenance of its beaches, that division’s chief, Carolyn Brown, told the board during its June 22 budget workshop.

Brownman pointed out during his June 22 presentation that the hiring of three new employees will lead to a 5.5-percent increase in personnel for Public Works in FY2017, but all of their expenses will be covered by special revenue instead of the county’s General Fund.

Along with the pavement management specialist, he said, the other workers will constitute an additional signal crew team — with a bucket truck — that can aid in inspecting and maintaining the 95 signalized intersections for which the county is responsible. The county has a total of 238, he said.

As for the pavement management specialist: Brownman pointed out that staff already is spending about 20 percent of its time on preventive maintenance and cannot handle everything in a timely fashion. Without more resources, he continued, “we are in a reactive mode … We’re doing inspections as required or in preparation for resurfacing.”

However, he explained, many municipalities have a two- or four-year inspection cycle that allows them to avoid pavement degradation.

A graphic presented in 2013 shows road surfaces with low OCI figures, which indicated they were in need of repaving. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic presented in 2013 shows road surfaces with low OCI figures, which indicated they were in need of repaving. Image courtesy Sarasota County

By adding the new employee, he said, he is hopeful Sarasota County can implement a four-year cycle. Ideally, he continued, he would like to see that reduced to two years in the future.

Some of the roads have not been inspected “in a long time,” Brownman explained. In certain cases, such work has not been undertaken since 2008. “I cringe whenever we’re asked by the public or the board” to provide information on when the latest inspection of a certain road was performed, he continued, for fear it will be one of that group dating to 2008.

When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked how confident he was that adding the solitary new employee would enable county staff to establish a plan for regular inspections, Brownman replied that hiring the worker would lead to a “tiered approach,” with those roads having gone the longest without inspection put at the top of a priority list.

“I really think that you need to have some goals in mind and timeframes in mind,” she told him, so he could come back to a future commission and explain how much progress had been made.

“We can lay out how that would look,” he told her, “but four years is our target.”

Then Robinson praised County Administrator Tom Harmer for “an amazing job as far as road resurfacing is concerned.”

She added, “Three years ago, we were in dire straits. … Now we’re not losing ground.”

Isaac Brownman. Photo courtesy Sarasota County
Isaac Brownman. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

In May 2013, the board voted 3-2 to allocate an extra $10 million to road repaving over the next five fiscal years. Then-Commissioner Joe Barbetta was in the minority with Commissioner Charles Hines, while Robinson and Commissioners Carolyn Mason and then-Commissioner Nora Patterson voted for the measure.

That board had had earlier discussions in 2013 about deferred road maintenance. “To let things get worse is not a good investment for the future,” Patterson said on May 14, 2013. Then-County Administrator Randall Reid explained, “If you don’t resurface, then it becomes reconstruction … and [the cost] keeps going up.”

Robinson at that time called the resurfacing concerns “basically a quality of life [issue].”

On June 22, Robinson pointed out that, generally, “Nobody complains until [a] road gets really bad.”

Because of the 2013 board vote, Brownman said last week, staff has been able to keep any road from falling below the Overall Condition Index (OCI) level of 60, which indicates resurfacing is a necessity.

Brownman noted that the county has 2,300 lane miles of roads.

Robinson reiterated that she wanted to make certain he could provide routine comparisons of actual staff accomplishments to established goals. “You’re almost there,” she added of his earlier comments.

Chair Al Maio took the opportunity to thank Brownman for seeing that county crews pave the 10- to 20-foot turning radii on side streets connecting to roads that are being resurfaced. Beforehand, “People were breaking up our brand new pavement,” Maio noted, especially in cases where unpaved roads met newly resurfaced roads.

“You have substantially aided my anal [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] nature, Maio told Brownman.

Parks plans

Carolyn Brown, News Leader photo
Carolyn Brown, News Leader photo

During her discussion, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department Director Brown explained that her FY17 budget includes 203 positions, up from 197 in the current fiscal year. However, five of those new people would allow for more flexibility in beach maintenance, as they would be hired to replace contractual workers.

The sixth new position actually represents two part-time workers, she added. Those people would be responsible for after-hours and on-call duties, such as locking gates of park facilities, for example.

Another adjustment in her budget, she continued, reflects the addition of $2.1 million from Tourist Development Tax revenue for the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, which will begin in September of that year.

Brown further noted that staff is planning for a “soft opening” of the improved BMX Park on 17th Street in Sarasota, with visiting teams training there in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. The grand opening of the BMX Park will be on Aug. 27, she pointed out.

The upgrades include 5- and 8-meter starting hills; a new starting gate system; reconfiguration of the track; improved lighting and drainage; and new landscaping. Prior to the commission’s granting approval of funding for that project, members of the public offered comments on several occasions about how the upgrades would lead to the county’s being able to host major national and international events at the park.

An aerial view taken in May shows progress on the BMX Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County
An aerial view taken in May shows progress on the BMX Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Commissioner Hines told Brown that because he has children who regularly use the county’s athletic fields, he gets routine looks at the conditions of those facilities. Referencing past concerns about the fields’ upkeep, he told Brown, “We’re getting to the point that they’re looking good. … From the maintenance level, there has been a notable increase over the last year,” including more timely mowing and repainting of lines for events. “So thank you.”

County Administrator Tom Harmer responded with his appreciation. The comments were especially welcome, Harmer said, because Brown had undertaken some restructuring of her department over the past year.