Maio wins commission support for more shade trees at Nathan Benderson Park

Another $50,000 to come out of account containing fines paid by persons who violate county environmental regulations

The primary entrance to Benderson Park is on North Cattlemen Road, near University Parkway. The path that circles the lake originally had little shade. File photo

A little more than a year after he first broached the subject — and won his colleagues’ full support for it — Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio this week secured another unanimous vote for county funds to be allocated for trees at Nathan Benderson Park.

In early October 2019, Maio explained that he had come up with the idea of planting “200 nice size oak trees, two-and-a-half inches at chest height” at Benderson Park to provide shade for the people who use the facility.

In research in advance of that meeting, he noted, he had learned that fines paid by persons who violate county environmental regulations are set aside for mitigation efforts. That “pot” of money, Maio continued, could be used to pay for the trees.

“The lack of shade out there is a big problem,” Commissioner Nancy Detert concurred with Maio’s comment about Benderson Park during that October 2019 discussion.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler also was quick to support Maio’s proposal, explaining that, shortly after his election to the board in November 2018, he learned that Benderson Park is one of the most popular of all county parks, even without much shade along the walking trail.

Then, on Nov. 5, 2019, Maio announced that, thanks to the other commissioners’ agreement the previous month, shade trees would be purchased for Benderson Park, with $50,000 coming from the environmental mitigation fund.

Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

During that November 2019 meeting, Maio made a motion calling for the allocation of the $50,000 for the trees, and it passed unanimously.

During the commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 8, Maio reminded his colleagues of their actions in 2019. He called the trees “very significant, not little, significant trees,” which were planted on the eastern side of the lake at Benderson Park.

He also reminded his fellow commissioners that the board of directors of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA) — the nonprofit that manages the park for the county and handles events there — agreed to invest approximately $20,000 in an irrigation system for the new trees.

Maio then pointed out that the planting initiative occurred within just a few weeks of his making the 2019 proposal, thanks to county staff members’ assistance. He specifically acknowledged Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division; Howard Berna, the Environmental Permitting manager; Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Planning and Development Services Department; and Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.

“I would like … another $50,000 for more trees,” Maio continued on Dec. 8. “It is the most reported, I’m told, complaint about that big beautiful park — that there’s the lack of shade.”

Maio emphasized that the money would not be coming out of the county’s General Fund, which, financial management staff members often point out, is the most constrained county “pot” of money. The General Fund, which is made up of property tax revenue and gasoline tax revenue, among other sources, pays for the operations of many county departments and those of several of the county’s constitutional officers, such as the sheriff and the supervisor of elections.

When Chair Michael Moran asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis whether a motion was needed, Lewis responded that a motion would be preferable.

Thus, Maio made a motion to allocate the $50,000 for more trees, and Commissioner Detert seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.

Berna, the Environmental Permitting manager, told The Sarasota News Leader that, through October, the mitigation account held $399,957.48.