Issuance of Legacy Trail bonds receives formal County Commission approval

Closing on rail corridor for remainder of North Extension to downtown Sarasota expected on May 30

A Sarasota County photo in a Twitter post on Aug. 10, 2018 shows a segment of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In November 2018, almost 72% of the Sarasota County citizens who cast ballots on the issue approved a referendum that will enable the county to pay for extensions of The Legacy Trail.

On Jan. 29, the county commissioners cast the necessary follow-up vote.

On a motion by Commissioner Alan Maio, seconded by Commissioner Michael Moran, the board unanimously approved the issuance of bonds totaling up to $65 million to connect the Trail from North Port all the way to downtown Sarasota.

“This is a big deal,” Chair Charles Hines said just before the motion passed. “This is a major step.”

Hines also renewed direction the board gave County Administrator Jonathan Lewis on Jan. 15: Staff should focus first on the new links that will not necessitate the purchase of railroad right of way from the Trust for Public Land.

The Trust bought the property from CSX Transportation and that company’s lessee, Gulf Seminole Railway.

He saw no need, Hines stressed, for county residents to have to wait until 2021, 2022 or 2023 to realize the benefits of access to new portions of The Legacy Trail. “I’m very excited that we’re moving this forward as quickly as possible.”

During the Open to the Public portion of the morning board session on Jan. 29, Louis Kosiba of Sarasota, vice president of the Friends of the Legacy Trail, pointed out that voters in 100 of the county’s 101 precincts on Nov. 6, 2018 approved the referendum. “Thank you for placing the issue before the voters, he told the board. The result, he said, “was historic.”

Kosiba also expressed the organization’s appreciation for the board’s advocacy for moving along quickly on new links of the Trail, so even more residents and visitors will be able to enjoy the “beautiful linear park.”

In 2018, according to data collected by the Friends of the Legacy Trail, 216,150 people used the route between the city of Venice and Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch.

The Legacy Trail, Kosiba added, “is and will be the premier multi-use trail in Southwest Florida.”

The Friends, Kosiba continued, will continue to work to promote and enhance the Trail.

The nonprofit already has raised $63,352 from 575 donations to its Square Foot Campaign, which was launched in late 2017 to help pay for improvements to the popular bicycling and pedestrian route, its website points out. That campaign allows a contributor to “own” one or more square feet of the first phase of the North Extension of the Trail, which will run from Palmer Ranch to Ashton Road in Sarasota.

The Friends of the Legacy Trail website explains the Square Foot Campaign. Image from the website

A memo provided to the commission in advance of the Jan. 29 meeting said that the due diligence on the Phase 2 segment of the North Extension — which will run about 6.3 miles from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road — is anticipated to be completed by April 24. The closing on the purchase “is expected to occur on May 30, 2019,” the memo added.

In December 2017, the county paid the Trust for Public Land $7.9 million for the Phase 1 section of the North Extension.

The $65 million in county bonds will be issued in two, 20-year series, according to a memo Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, provided the commission in advance of the Jan. 29 meeting. One will be for about $35 million, the memo noted, to pay for the land acquisition for Phase 2 “and design costs and initial improvements to connections in North Port to Venice …” The second bond series will pay for construction, the memo added.

Debt service on the bonds will be covered by an increase in property tax millage. The annual debt service, Radtke pointed out in the memo, has been estimated at $4,860,000. That would necessitate a millage increase of about 0.08, or the equivalent of another $16 on the property tax bill of a person owning a $200,000 home. However, the memo said, that “is contingent upon ultimate costs and grants received.”