Documented Siesta Village maintenance costs about $131,000 below assessments

Tom Maroney (left), general manager of business operations in the Sarasota County Public Works Department, and Ryan Montague (third from left), of the county’s Traffic/Mobility Office, talk with prospective maintenance contractors in Siesta Village on June 21. File photo

A gap of almost $131,000 exists between expenses Sarasota County has documented for its upkeep of Siesta Village over the past year and the total amount of special assessments the property owners in the Village Public Improvement District paid for this fiscal year, according to county records.

However, Tom Maroney, general manager of business operations in the county’s Public Works Department, told The Sarasota News Leader on Sept. 13 that the expenses did not reflect the man-hours he and other county employees had put into overseeing the upkeep after the county took on that responsibility in mid-August 2011.

“What was billed doesn’t really cover a lot of the overhead,” Maroney said.

Nonetheless, he added, the county will be able to adjust the special assessment in coming years to reflect the costs more accurately. “In the long run,” Maroney said, “it’s going to save [the property owners] a lot of money.”

Mark Smith, chairman of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., also pointed to the need to adjust the assessment when he spoke with the News Leader on Sept. 12. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Maroney sent an email on Sept. 6 to Steve Botelho, the county’s chief financial planning officer, saying the activities and services provided by the county for Village maintenance for the 2012 fiscal year, up to Aug. 24, totaled $58,849.51.

Maroney’s estimate for total annual costs to the Maintenance District beyond the routine work that will be done by the new contractor, Championship Landscape Maintenance Professionals of Fort Myers, was $27,400.

He broke down those figures as follows:

• Utilities (water): $20,100

• Waste Management services (for emptying the dumpster in the municipal parking lot): $5,100

• Irrigation system repairs: $2,200.

Maroney noted that the amount for the irrigation system could fluctuate year-to-year, because it had required cumulative repairs over the past year.

Championship, to whom the County Commission awarded the new maintenance contract on Aug. 21, bid $97,417.70.

Championship employees began work on the island on Monday, Sept. 10. So far, both Smith and Maroney told the News Leader, the firm’s representatives seem to be doing a good job.

Costs and assessments

On Feb. 21, Ryan Montague, an employee in the county’s Mobility/Traffic Office, told the County Commission he expected the total cost of the Siesta Village upkeep for the current fiscal year would be about $183,000.

Smith told the News Leader this week that, based on recent discussions he had had with the Public Works/Traffic/Mobility staff, he had anticipated the annual total cost to be between $130,000 and $150,000.

However, Smith told the News Leader on Aug. 30, the property owners were assessed about $217,000 for the current fiscal year.

While he was not surprised by the county’s final tallies, he said on Sept. 12, he pointed to “a considerable gap,” between the assessments and the expenses, “and it continues year after year.”

In an Aug. 21 memo to the County Commission, James K. Harriott Jr., the county’s director of public works, pointed out that staff’s estimate of the “probable annual maintenance cost was [$200,000]. This estimate is based on the initial year’s staff estimate ($134,000) as well as the real expenditures from [Fiscal Year 2011, which were $206,729] and FY12 year-to-date ($136,000).”

The memo added, “The annual budgeted operating costs and assessments will be reduced beginning in FY14. Any existing fund balance will be used to reduce assessments for FY14.”

Alluding to the county’s Procurement Department scandal, which became public in the spring of 2011, Smith said on Sept. 12, “The county has been going through a good deal of turmoil and trauma.”

However, he said, he was encouraged by the actions of County Administrator Randall Reid, who started work in late January. Reid, he said, is providing “stability at the top.”

Harriott told the County Commission in late July 2011 that he expected to have a new contractor take over the maintenance last fall. Instead, the county did not issue a request for proposals for the work until just after midnight on May 31.

Public Works staff members over the past months cited the turnover of staff in the Procurement Department and the implementation of new operating procedures in that department for the delay in preparing the RFP.

Smith also told the News Leader this week he was relieved the Maintenance Corp. no longer would be handling any of the money that will be paid to Championship. A February revision in the ordinance governing the maintenance district gave that responsibility to county staff.

“The tax money should be spent and accounted for by the taxing authority that collects it,” Smith said, “and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Still, Smith and his directors will review the invoices from Championship, as stipulated in that revised ordinance, and approve the payments before the county mails any checks.

After all, Smith said, “It’s our money and our property. … We want [the Village] to look good, and we want it to be done at a reasonable price.”