Annual assessments estimated to range from $491 to $7,993 for seven years
As Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out on Nov. 4, figuring out how the county would be able to pay for the Manasota Key Beach Renourishment Project that concluded in April was not easy. “[The undertaking] was unique; it had a lot of moving parts,” he added.
In the end, he and his colleagues — and county Environmental Protection Division staff — accepted commendations from the past and present presidents of the Manasota Key Association for how the work — and the cost sharing of it — had been handled.
In fact, Jackie Ruthman, the former leader of the homeowners organization, took the opportunity on Nov. 4 to offer special thanks to Hines, who was marking his last board meeting after eight years of service as a county commissioner. (Term limits forced him to step down.)
“You’ve been approachable,” Ruthman told Hines. “You’ve been solution-driven. … We needed all of that.”
Ruthman added, “We’re going to miss you.”
Ruthman also singled out Rachel Herman, manager of the Environmental Protection Division, and Joe Kraus, one of Herman’s colleagues in that office. “Quite frankly,” Ruthman told the commissioners, “we didn’t think they could get it all done.” Yet, she acknowledged, they did.
On two motions, which Hines made, the board members on Nov. 4 unanimously adopted an ordinance that formally created the Manasota Key Beach Restoration District, enabling the county to assess the owners of the property that benefited from the project for their share of the expense. The commissioners also unanimously adopted a $4,006,626 amendment to the county’s 2021 fiscal year budget to cover the debt service on bonds issued to pay the upfront costs of the undertaking.
During her presentation, Herman reminded the commissioners that a grant from the Florida Beach Management program covered approximately 35% of the county’s overall expense to widen part of the Manasota Key shoreline. About 275,000 cubic yards of sand was used for that effort, she noted.
The width of the beach, Herman said, ranges from 135 feet to 160 feet in the project area, which encompassed approximately 1.3 miles.
Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) assessments, which the affected property owners will pay over seven years, originally were supposed to cover 20% of the overall cost, Herman continued. However, in November 2019, after owners of parcels in the center of the project area decided to opt out of the beach renourishment effort — saying their portion of the beach already was wide enough — staff was faced with proposing a much higher MSBU level.
To reduce that impact on the homeowners, Herman pointed out, the commissioners agreed that the county would cover all the expense of the contractor’s mobilization, as well as 47% of the remaining local costs. The latter step, she reminded the board members, was based on the benefit of the widened beach at Blind Pass Beach Park and The Hermitage Artist Retreat, both of which properties the county owns.
Then, the commissioners also agreed to extend the MSBU district to include more parcels, which were reaping a wider shoreline, too, thanks to the movement of the new sand north of the project area.
Finally, the board members approved higher contributions from the owners of parcels on the bay side of the project area, as those persons would be able to enjoy more recreational value from the widened beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
Staff was able “to realize some cost savings” on construction, Herman continued, and the county’s post-renourishment monitoring expenses had been revised down, thanks to partnering with Charlotte County staff on that aspect of the initiative. (Sarasota County collaborated with Charlotte County on the renourishment, enabling them to achieve a higher ranking among projects vying for the state grant funds because of the regional aspect of the undertaking, the counties’ consultant explained.)
Thus, the total expense for Sarasota County is $8,776,365, according to a slide Herman showed the Sarasota Commission on Nov. 4. That means the MSBU District will cover 20.7% of the overall expense, Herman said.
Ruthman of the Manasota Key Association noted that during her remarks to the board. “I feel like you did your very best to honor your promise to the homeowners on that,” she added, referring to the original estimate of 20%.
Still, Ruthman acknowledged, “We know that not all of our members believe that the funding model before you is fair.”
Underscoring the latter statement, Herman included comments from three Manasota Key property owners in the board packet for the Nov. 4 public hearing. Two of those comments came from the group of people who had opted out of the renourishment project, whom staff came to refer to as the “Gap owners.”
One of the comments, from Thomas Connaughton, said, “We are OPPOSED to the establishment of the MSBU for taxing the Gap owners for ‘beach renourishment benefits.’” He added that those owners “opposed this project from the beginning because the County did not/would not provide adequate information as to cost. The County ignored our objections and proceeded, excluding us from the nourishment project. … Our property has NOT been improved by this project and our beach has the same amount of sand that it had prior to the project.”
Study factors and the assessments
Among the benefits of the project to the MSBU district, Herman pointed out to the commissioners, are the reduced risk of erosion and storm damage on the beach; the reduced need for emergency shoreline hardening structures; stabilization of property values; and improved market value for the affected properties.
The county hired Roger L. Hettema of Sarasota, a state-certified general real estate appraiser, as a consultant to perform the necessary study to back up the MSBU assessments. Herman noted that he had reviewed studies regarding the effects on property values in regard to beach width and/or renourishment. Hettema also had considered the actual values of affected properties before and after projects.
As a result, she continued, Hettema determined that the values of the properties in the Manasota Key MSBU District “will be enhanced sufficiently to justify the anticipated assessments.”
The annual assessments have been estimated to range from $491 for the 128 property owners who realized enhanced recreational benefits only, up to $7,993 for owners of property on the Gulf where the beach is widest. The average parcel, according to one of Herman’s slides, is 125 feet wide.
After making the motion to create the MSBU District and approve the budget amendment, Commissioner Hines acknowledged that the cost-sharing model staff devised was not perfect. Still, he said, “We should all be proud of what we accomplished.”
Commissioner Nancy Detert extended her appreciation to the Manasota Key residents who “drove all the way up here [to Sarasota] just to thank us. … “And I’m sure our staff appreciates the kind comments. … [Staff] proves over and over again that they are there to help. … They’re very anti-bureaucratic.”
Detert also told the Manasota Key residents in the audience in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota, “We need citizen participation, and we welcome your input. … This involved money and the roof over your head and environmental issues, so it was very complicated.”