Office of County Attorney conducting research that Maio says should be concluded for commission’s next regular meeting, in late August
Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio has suggested that he and his colleagues put a member of their board on the board of directors of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which manages events and oversees operations at the county’s Nathan Benderson Park.
During the County Commission’s regular meeting on July 9, Maio said he had spoken with the chair of SANCA, Ronald Shapo, about the proposal. He also had discussed it with staff of the Office of the County Attorney, Maio noted.
Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson and Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, “always attend the SANCA board meetings,” Maio continued. He was not proposing they cease doing that if a member of the commission were to join the SANCA board, he pointed out.
However, Maio said, with a commissioner attending the meetings, too, “I think this is the way we get our arms around this …”
He referenced the appearance Shapo made before the commission on May 17, asking for a 10-year funding commitment for SANCA from the County Commission.
“If they can come to us and ask for 10 years [at approximately $1.2 million] each year,” Maio said, “then they can accept a county commissioner sitting at their board meetings.”
Rissler explained in May that staff already had built into its budget a SANCA request of $1,189,000 for the 2020 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.
Last year, the commission voted to give SANCA $858,353 in additional funding.
On May 17, Shapo said his board was hoping for the 10-year funding commitment because that would give SANCA better standing while it seeks private financial support for the park. Commissioners made it clear to Shapo that they would not approve extra appropriations to SANCA over such a long period.
During that discussion, Chair Charles Hines also suggested that more local representation on the SANCA board would be a good idea for Shapo and his colleagues to pursue. “We have the two premier rowing clubs in our community that are probably the envy of the entire country,” Hines told Shapo.
During his July 9 remarks, Maio acknowledged that “Not everyone is a fan” of Nathan Benderson Park.
At various times over recent years, he and other commissioners have referenced disdain they have heard from community residents about the park being named for the late leader of Benderson Development Co., as well as the fact that the company remains linked to SANCA and the park. Randy Benderson, CEO of the company, is a member of the Nathan Benderson Community Park Foundation, which was established to raise private contributions for facilities needed at the park.
If the commission had a member on the SANCA board, Maio continued, he felt that would produce “some calmness” in the community “that we’re not just voting on money and never participating [in decisions about the nonprofit].”
The Office of the County Attorney still was undertaking research, he indicated about whether a county commissioner would have to be a non-voting member of the SANCA board. Maio said he would bring up the issue again in August, after the commissioners return from their annual summer vacation.
The commission will conduct its next regular meeting on Aug. 27.
None of Maio’s colleagues offered any response to his comments on July 9.
An update on SANCA finances
In its 2018 annual report, SANCA says it took in $3,549,400 in revenue that fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2017. Of that total, 23% came from donations and 24% was in the form of county Tourist Development Tax revenue dedicated to Benderson Park.
Another 11% was in the form of grants, according to a pie chart in the report.
SANCA’s expenses for that year were $3,112,442, the report notes, with 47% of that allocated to events and programs. Ten percent went to “Administration and Operation,” while another 4% was dedicated to marketing and development, the report says.
From 2014 through 2018, the report points out, the county invested $26,379,721 in Benderson Park. The report adds that the park generated $151,902,696 in “Economic Impact, Capital Improvement and Revenue” for the same period.
Another chart in the report shows that the greatest amount of sales tax revenue produced by any single event was $291,409.24, which was a result of the World Rowing Masters Regatta held at the park in late September 2018.
The second highest amount of state sales tax was $157,869.30, which resulted from the Circus Sarasota performances on the park’s grounds from Feb. 10 through March 14, 2018.
In third place was the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships, held May 23-27, 2018. The amount of state sales tax that event generated was $123,539.34.