Consultant to be hired to evaluate staff recommendations for Municipal Services Benefit Unit tax
Even though a group of 23 Manasota Key Beach property owners opted out of participation in Sarasota County’s renourishment of the barrier island’s shoreline, they will be included in a special assessment district to help cover the county’s expenses.
That was the unanimous decision of the County Commission following a staff review of the overall project cost and recommendations about how the expenses could be divvied up.
The renourishment, which was completed in April, put 275,250 cubic yards of sand on slightly more than 1.3 miles of the Manasota Key Beach, Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, told the commissioners on June 3.
Although Commissioner Alan Maio put forth the motion regarding the funding allocations, Commissioner Charles Hines made the point earlier that the 23 “gap” property owners who did not get new sand still will benefit from both recreational and property value standpoints.
“Sand moves,” Hines stressed. The gap homeowners’ parcels are right between the two segments of renourished beach, he continued.
Yet, Suzette Flood, a property owner in the gap, protested that she and her neighbors in that area “were inexplicably kept in the [staff funding recommendation].”
“We still have the same wide beach that has always protected our home. We will still enjoy our beach the same way we did before renourishment,” she emphasized to the commissioners. “We have received no new direct or indirect benefits …”
Flood added that if she or any of her neighbors tried to sell their homes, they would have to contend with the negative repercussions of seven-year-long assessments attached to their properties, if the board members agreed to the staff recommendation.
Hines countered that, saying that if he were looking to purchase property on Manasota Key Beach and saw the results of the renourishment initiative, he would realize how much more protected the gap parcels were, with the newly widened stretches of beach on either side of them. “What we have proven,” Hines told his colleagues, “is that Sarasota County will protect [its] property owners.”
Further, Hines explained, the gap owners did not want to participate in the project because “they didn’t want to create public property in front of their homes.” Their part of the shoreline, he added, is still private “down to the wet sand.”
He was referencing state law regarding ownership of beaches.
The proposed gap owners’ assessments would reflect the recreational and nearshore benefits of the new sand, according to Environmental Protection Division Manager Herman during her June 3 presentation to the board.
Referencing a slide she showed the board, Herman explained that staff had come up with a formula that called for the owners of the properties in the project area directly on the Gulf of Mexico to pay 80% of the annual assessments. Of that percentage, she continued, only 25% would be attributed to those in the gap, based on shoreline length.
Those assessments would be $3,070 or $4,290 per year for gap property owners. For others with Gulf-front parcels, the assessments would be $6,720 or $9,770, except for the people who own one parcel on the Gulf that ended up being 400 feet wide after the renourishment. That property would be assessed $25,030 annually for seven years, Herman noted.
Part of the revised assessments were considerably lower than staff estimates in February, Herman pointed out. Then, a property owner was looking at an annual payment of approximately $10,400, instead of $6,720 per year under the revised proposal. For those in the $9,770 category, the earlier figure was about $15,600
All owners of property in the affected area — both on the Gulf and on the bay side of the barrier island — would pay $620 per year for the recreational benefit of having the wider beach.
One other speaker who addressed the board on June 3 was Jackie Ruthman, past president of the Manasota Key Association. “Today’s proposal moves us closer,” she said, to the level of assessments property owners in the affected would be willing to pay. “We ask that Sarasota County pay their fair share.”
Along with Flood and Ruthman, seven other Manasota Key residents emailed the commissioners in advance of the discussion, all of them urging the board members to pare the proposed assessments.
Still, Commissioner Maio told Herman on June 3, “I think you’ve got a group of people much happier than they were.”
Hines also proposed that the owners of three properties to the north of the northern project limits — as well as the three owners of corresponding parcels on the bay side of Manasota Key — pay the annual recreational assessment, as well.
Commissioner Maio included Hines’ suggestion in his motion.
Herman had explained that staff will hire a consultant with expertise in what is called a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) to undertake a thorough review of the project and evaluate staff’s determination about the overall positive effects for the property owners.
The cost of hiring the consultant already has been included in her division’s budget for the current fiscal year, Herman added.
Because the 23 gap parcel owners opted out of the project, Herman explained to the commissioners, the county’s total expense for the renourishment project ended up being $1.5 million less than expected. Additionally, thanks to the cooperation of the gap owners in providing construction easements, the county saved another $900,000 that it would have had to pay for the contractor to keep the sand pipeline offshore.
Thus, she continued, the total cost of the Manasota Key initiative was $9,530,033.”
Past, present and future
In late February, Herman reminded the commissioners, they agreed to cover 100% of the cost of the project mobilization on the Sarasota County side of the Key. (The Sarasota County commissioners collaborated with the Charlotte County board, which was planning to add sand to its part of the Manasota Key shoreline. The boards’ cooperation enabled them to realize savings through sharing the cost of hiring the contractor and paying for the mobilization. Moreover, the Naples consultant the local governments used explained that making the effort a regional one gave them better odds of securing state grant funds.)
Additionally, Herman noted on June 3, the commissioners agreed to pay for 47% of the Sarasota County share of the expense left over after the mobilization amount was deducted from the total. That decision, the commissioners agreed, was based on the public benefits linked to tourism and transportation, as the county owns Blind Pass Beach Park, and it has a county road on the Key that has been threatened by erosion.
“You have the road that’s now protected,” Commissioner Hines emphasized at one point. If that road washed away, he added, “Everyone on Manasota Key has a problem.
As a result, Herman explained on June 3, the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue set aside for beach renourishment will cover 42% of Sarasota County’s expense for the Manasota Key initiative — $3,993,344.
The state grant out will take care of 34% of the cost, she added: $3,240,419. That left 24% of the overall expense, which is what staff proposed to be covered by the MSBU.
According to the staff analysis, Herman said, 124 parcels will reap benefits from the project, including better storm protection and improved recreational opportunities.
She showed the board members a number of photos that illustrated the new width of the beach, prompting Chair Michael Moran to respond with “Wow!” a couple of times.
As she went through those slides, she took the opportunity to note that sand already had migrated north from the northern limits of the project area, resulting in a wider beach in front of the three homes the commissioners later chose to include in the consultant’s MSBU evaluation.
As the board members discussed facets of Herman’s report, and the public comments, Commissioner Nancy Detert reprised a comment she has made several times over the past year. “I’d still like to see an ongoing assessment that would build up money” for future renourishment efforts on Manasota Key. “If you [charged] $620 a year, year after year after year,” she added, “I like that better.”
Then property owners and potential homebuyers would know they were creating a fund that would cover at least part of the expense for more sand as it was needed, Detert explained. “Almost every house out there is over a million dollars [in value],” Detert pointed out, indicating her expectation that property owners would be able to pay such a fee.