Following up on a March discussion, County Commission approves adjustments to its capital projects plan for the next five years
During the course of a session that lasted about four-and-a-half hours, it could be characterized as a brief item, consuming approximately 5 minutes. Nonetheless, as Sarasota County staff pointed out, it was fulfilling a request the board chair himself made earlier this spring on behalf of a multitude of constituents.
As the County Commission was wrapping up its May 26 budget workshop, County Administrator Tom Harmer referenced the discussion about “sidewalk safety” in the county that Chair Paul Caragiulo had initiated when the board held its previous budget workshop, on March 29.
As a result of the comments aired two months ago, Harmer said on May 26, “we were able to move some things around” to make more money available for new sidewalks.
Thanks to a unanimous County Commission vote on May 26, $1.5 million will be allocated to construction of sidewalks on Proctor Road and in other areas in the 2019 fiscal year. Another $500,000 will be used in the 2018 fiscal year to “accommodate survey and design work, public outreach” and other pre-construction activities for those projects, a staff memo notes.
In March, Caragiulo indicated he had been fielding a number of complaints about the lack of sidewalks — especially along Proctor Road — so he asked staff whether more projects could be undertaken in a timely fashion.
The issue arose as the county’s chief engineer, Isaac Brownman, was reviewing the list of proposed projects for the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five fiscal years, beginning in FY18.
On May 26, Harmer mentioned a memo on the topic provided to the board at Caragiulo’s behest; it was dated May 9. The memo pointed out, “The Sidewalk Program is funded through Surtax III,” which is the extra penny of sales tax voters approved in 2007 for construction of capital projects. (Surtax 3 will continue through Dec. 31, 2024, staff has pointed out.) The money already available for sidewalks, Brownman wrote, was being used to complete the designs of projects in the Desoto Lakes and Desoto Acres communities. “There is additional money programmed [in the CIP for FY18 through FY21] in order to fund construction [of those projects],” he added. “Dollars left over will go to the next project on the … list.”
Brownman noted that that priority list for sidewalks “was developed with prior Board approval based on certain safety and other criteria; one of the top criteria was proximity to a school. Due the shortfall in Surtax III [revenue], a number of the sidewalk projects have not been funded.”
The Public Works Department, he continued, has a standing list of 10 unfunded projects totaling $25 million.
As a top priority, Brownman wrote, staff recommended the County Commission allocate about $1,170,000 to sidewalks on Proctor Road and another $830,000 to “gap” sidewalks projects — filling in missing segments in specific areas — for a combined $2 million.
Approval of funding for the “gap sidewalks” work, he pointed out, would allow staff to undertake smaller projects on its standing Top 10 list, as well as those requested by residents. A staff evaluation, he added, would ascertain whether construction was warranted in specific areas.
Additionally, Brownman wrote, if more funds proved necessary for the purchase of easements for the Proctor Road sidewalks project, funds could be taken from the money set aside for the gap work.
After Harmer completed his remarks during the May 26 budget workshop, Shannon LaFon, the county’s budget manager, told the board Harmer had “stolen a lot of my thunder.” She then recapped Harmer’s comments about the proposed CIP funding for the sidewalks projects, noting the recommendation was to allocate $500,000 in FY18 and $1.5 million in FY19.
Caragiulo opened a public hearing on three motions related to the Surtax 3 spending. With no one having signed up to speak, the board approved all three, including a revised CIP project list — with the sidewalks — for FY18 through FY21.
The others memorialized earlier CIP decisions the commission had made, including the appropriation of $10 million in the 2017 fiscal year budget for a new Venice Public Library.