None of City Commission’s requests wins approval
State Sen. Joe Gruters has told a variety of publications that he believes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ elimination of many of the funding requests that Gruters included in the state budget for the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County was payback for Gruters’ endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican race for President.
As Politico pointed out in an article, “Gruters, the former chair of the Republican Party of Florida who has an icy relationship at times with DeSantis, is one of 14 legislators who did not endorse the Republican governor’s presidential campaign right before he officially jumped into the GOP primary last month.”
Gruters told reporter Jacob Ogles of FloridaPolitics.com, “The Governor is clearly upset I endorsed Donald Trump for President, and so he took it out on the people of Sarasota County.”
On June 15, DeSantis vetoed every funding request that Gruters had included for the City of Sarasota in the Fiscal Year 2024 state budget. The same day, City Manager Marlon Brown sent the city commissioners an email, alerting them to that action.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch responded, “Unbelievable!”
Sarasota County managed to hang on to several of its projects, as Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, pointed out during one of the commission’s budget workshops last week.
Among the appropriations for the county was $8 million for “Multi-modal roadway improvements to provide increased resiliency, safety and capacity for vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic on approximately 1.4 miles of Laurel Road from Knights Trail Road to Jacaranda Boulevard, a hurricane evacuation route,” as the formal request read. “The project will also provide increased capacity for alternative routes during times of severe congestion on Interstate 75,” the document added.
Legislative records show that state Rep. James Buchanan, a Republican who lives in Osprey, also supported that funding request.
Additionally, Buchanan filed formal documentation seeking $5 million for the construction of a new complex at the Loveland Center in Venice that is being designed to encompass 127 residential units; 19 duplex-style villas (three bedrooms) with approximately 1,400 square feet each; and three, three-story apartment buildings with a total of 84 units (one and two bedrooms), as the official appropriation request form explained that proposal. “Loveland will designate a set aside for up to 40% of the units as housing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” the form pointed out.
Altogether, the new state budget includes a $15-million allocation for the Loveland initiative, which is formally is known as the Sen. Nancy C. Detert Home of Your Own Program. The late county Commissioner Detert, who was a past member of both the Florida Senate and House, had advocated for that Loveland funding, as Lewis of Governmental Relations noted during the June 20 county budget workshop.
Further, DeSantis approved a $1-million appropriation for the county’s Regional Fire/EMS Training Academy, in the Venice area, according to the final appropriations list released by the Florida House and Senate. That amount was half of what was shown on Gruters’ list of local projects.
Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, told The Sarasota News Leader via email that the Sarasota County School Board had made the formal request for that funding, “which the county is very supportive of.”
The legislative appropriation form said of the academy, “The training facility will allow students who want to become firefighter/EMTs to attend school, receive their certifications, and get hired by regional departments. Since the inception of the project, the construction industry has experienced extensive cost escalation resulting in a total project cost of $65,000,000 … Requested funding would facilitate the construction of a 20,883 sq ft classroom and administration building (to include five classrooms and a command simulator), which has a total vertical construction cost of $9.1 million dollars.”
DeSantis also kept on the list $2 million for the new Mote Marine Science Education Aquarium (SEA) under construction between Nathan Benderson Park and the Mall at University Town Center. The form seeking that money explained, “Funds are requested to support construction of 4 STEM Workforce Development Laboratories at the new Mote SEA. This state-of-the-art STEM infrastructure will provide intensive experiential basic & applied research training opportunities for high schoolers & undergraduates with emphasis on broadening participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields leveraging Mote’s [National Science Foundation] NSF-sponsored Center of Excellence.”
Among the Sarasota County funding requests that DeSantis vetoed were as follows:
- $20 million for a STEM nursing facility at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee Campus. The appropriations form for the nursing complex explained, “Construction of the proposed facility will enable the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus to create new and expand current Nursing/STEM-related academic programs, provide new research capabilities and increase research productivity, host academic conferences and community events, attract and retain excellent faculty and students, and support national, state, regional and local demands for graduates with STEM-related degrees.”
- $4 million for the widening of Fruitville Road from two to four lanes between Debrecen Road and Lorraine Road.
- $4 million for the hurricane-hardened sports complex planned at Nathan Benderson Park, which would comprise 100,000 square feet of indoor space. The building also would enable “Sarasota County and other local, state, and regional government agencies to stage pre and post storm emergency operations center personnel and equipment,” while also providing secondary public shelter capacity for extended post-storm periods, that funding request form explained.
- $1 million for research into improving water quality in Little Sarasota Bay, which would have included the potential reopening of Midnight Pass between Siesta and Casey keys.
- $1.5 million to “support the design, permitting, and construction site costs of a dynamic, multipurpose facility for the Education Foundation of Sarasota County that [would] provide direct educational resources, services, and programming for students, teachers, families/caregivers, and community partners. At this vibrant facility, the community will unite to prepare each and every student for life,” the form that Sen. Gruters filed explained.
- $1 million to replace utility structures that cross Alligator Creek in Venice. Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican who is part of the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation filed a Florida House appropriations form that said the project would entail the replacement of approximately 260 feet of a 6-inch iron sewer force main and a 12-inch “water main aerial crossing over Alligator Creek in South Venice (constructed in 1983).” Gruters also supported that project.
- $500,000 for the design of the new Venice Fire Station 2, which needs to be relocated because it is in the primary hurricane evacuation zone in the county; the firefighters/medics have to leave the facility in advance of storms predicted to hit that area.
- $750,000 for the restoration of the shoreline at Historic Spanish Point in Osprey and the provision of hurricane protection for the approximately 5,000-year-old shell midden on the site. That structure “is one of the few fully intact shell middens remaining in Sarasota County,” the appropriation request form said. “Its bayfront location and the impact of storms has compromised this critical archaeological site making it at risk for damage from future hurricanes. It will take several years to complete the project due to permitting requirements. The initial amount requested will allow us to begin the planning process,” that budget form explained.
City projects eliminated
City of Sarasota projects that DeSantis vetoed are as follows:
- A water quality initiative targeting Whitaker and Hudson bayous ($800,000). The appropriation request form explained, “The project will achieve water quality pollutant load reduction, flood protection, end of useful life replacement for stormwater infrastructure, and resiliency capital improvement projects.”
- Funding for the first phase of the Bobby Jones Nature Park ($250,000). The form that Gruters had filed for that money pointed out, “The City of Sarasota is converting 120 acres of land into a Nature Park located at Bobby Jones Golf Club. Funds will be used to accomplish the first necessary step of preparing the land that will ultimately be open to the public as outdoor recreation space. These funds will be used for the design and permitting of the site remediation process concerning a landfill on the property. Bobby Jones Nature Park is part of a larger project encompassing wetlands creation and a golf course, spanning 280 acres, which recently became a Protected Property through a Conservation Easement.”
Additionally, the governor vetoed $600,000 that Gruters had requested for the expansion of the Sarasota Academy of the Arts and $1.5 million for the construction at Florida Studio Theatre (FST) of a 10-story, multi-use building with 28 two-bedroom/two-bath units for workers seeking affordable housing in downtown Sarasota; 44 extended stay studios for the more than 250 guest artists FST employs annually, 178 new parking spots to be shared with members of the community to improve parking needs, a new main stage, and two new cabaret theatres.
“When the extended stay suites are not under contract, they will be offered to local workers seeking affordable housing,” the appropriations form said.