Multi-family housing permits lagging, but county administrator says he expects those to climb before end of year
Given the number of building permits already approved for this fiscal year, Sarasota County staff likely will set a new record, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported to the county commissioners during their May 21 budget workshop.
Through April, Lewis said, the total was “almost 26,000. That’s a 12% increase over where we were [at the same time in the 2020 fiscal year]. These are pretty significant numbers.”
“If that continues to play out,” Lewis continued, “you’re almost at 47,000 [permits] at the end of the year, which is pretty impressive.”
Lewis also showed the board members a slide with permitting figures dating back to the 2004 fiscal year. (Each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.) In FY 2019, the slide noted, the county issued 40,135 permits; the FY 2020 tally was 41,912.
Moreover, Lewis said, the number of single-family dwelling permits issued was almost 1,800 for the midpoint of this fiscal year, “about 55% over where we were [at the same time in the 2020 fiscal year].”
Extrapolating from the current data, he added, if the trend continues with single-family home permits, the county will end up issuing more than 3,000 by Sept. 30, which “blows away the historic high.”
In response to a request for clarification from Chair Alan Maio, Lewis confirmed that the figure is for the unincorporated portions of the county.
“You all have seen the growth, for example, going on in North Port,” Lewis pointed out.
For building inspections, Lewis continued, “We’re at almost 91,000 through April, which is a 10% increase over where we were last year [at the end of the same month].” The FY 2020 figure was another all-time high for the county, he noted.
“Ninety-one thousand in seven months?” Maio asked.
“Yes, sir,” Lewis replied, adding that that was why Matt Osterhoudt, director of the Planning and Development Services Department, asked last month for board approval for the hiring of additional staff.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger did ask about the fact that so few permits had been issued for multi-family construction — apartments and condominiums. “That’s significantly lower,” Cutsinger said of the March figure — 66, compared to the 2020 fiscal year midyear total of 608.
The number climbed to 80 by the end of April, Lewis responded, which is 87% less than the total for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year. Nevertheless, Lewis continued, staff has started to see an uptick in applications for those permits. By the end of September, Lewis added, he felt the total would be closer to the 2020 total.
Revenue data trends mostly positive
During the presentation, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, provided an overview of the status of the county’s major revenue sources, which were up 4.8% through the first seven months of this fiscal year, compared to the same period of FY 2020.
Of all the data, she pointed out, “Our [Tourist Development Tax] is the most impressive,” as it was 31% higher than the total staff had projected through April.
Instead of $9,660,773, a slide showed, the figure was $12,652,060.
The 5% Tourist Development Tax is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.
The infrastructure surtax revenue was up 2.1% for the first seven months of FY 2021, compared to the figure staff anticipated, she noted.
That money comes from the voter-approved penny sales tax; the funds are used to construct county buildings and pay for road improvements, among other uses.
However, Radtke said, gas tax revenue is down 4.3%, compared to the staff estimate through April. Still, she pointed out, staff had expected a 15% decrease by midyear.
On other positive notes: Wastewater revenue was 13.8% higher than expected for the first seven months of the 2021 fiscal year, compared to the figure staff had anticipated; and revenue from water use was up 4.3%.
Altogether, Radtke told the board, the county’s major utility revenues were 10% higher than expected through April.
For the county’s General Fund, she continued, total major revenues were 1.2% higher than the staff projection.
Among those, the franchise fee the county collects from Florida Power & Light Co. on electricity sales in the unincorporated areas of the county was up 5.5%.
Conversely, Radtke noted, the communications services tax funds were down 6.6%. “That has been down for the last couple of years,” she explained, as fewer people are using landlines. A 5.42% tax on retails sales of communication services brings in the money for that account, a county slide showed.
The General Fund, which county staff calls the most constrained of all the county “pots” of money, comprises property tax revenue as well as the funds that Radtke reviewed. The General Fund pays for operations of numerous county departments, as well as those of constitutional officers such as the sheriff and the supervisor of elections. It is also the source to which the commissioners look to pay for unbudgeted items, if the need arises.
Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho showed the board members a slide indicating that staff expects $179.4 million in total property tax revenue for this fiscal year, based on the traditional expectation that the county will collect 95% of what it is due.
The FY 2021 figure compares to $173.1 million in FY 2020 and $175.7 million in FY 2008, before the Great Recession’s impacts were felt.
If the commissioners had kept the 4.57 mills tax rate set in the 2000 fiscal year, Botelho said, the county would have received an extra $896 million in the succeeding years. The board members have not approved a millage increase over the past decade. However, the total millage has gone up the past couple of years to pay for The Legacy Trail projects; 70.58% of voters approved the $65-million bond referendum on the November 2018 General Election ballot.
On another positive note, Radtke pointed out that building permitting and other fees charged by the Planning and Development Services Department were up 13.3% through April, compared to the figure staff had projected.
A county snapshot
Among other data County Administrator Lewis presented during the budget workshop were the following:
- Almost 170,000 visitors were recorded in the county in March, a figure that was about 1,000 higher than the total for March 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in Florida.
- Library users checked out approximately 1.3 million pieces of materials through April.
- Through March, The Legacy Trail had about 215,000 users, which was an increase over the figure for the same period of the previous year. Although some observers believe the 2021 number is a factor of the pandemic — with people feeling safer outside — Lewis told the commissioners, “I really think it has to do with signs up everywhere [about the work on the North Extension to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota]. There’s a lot of excitement in the community around that.”
- Occupancy at the county’s Turtle Beach Campground on Siesta Key was 96.26% through midyear, a 5% increase compared to the figure for the same period of FY 2020. “We’re usually at about 100% there,” Lewis noted, because “it’s such an amazing facility.” He added that he and his family are among persons who camp there from time to time.
Finally, Lewis pointed to changes in the county since 2010:
- 59,368 residents have been added, bringing the total to an estimated 438,816 in 2020. (The latter figure comes from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, or BEBR, whose data is used for a variety of official state purposes.)
- The county has 24,520 more sewer customers and 17,073 extra water customers.
- Another 102 individuals have been hired for the Fire Department.
- The Library system has added 266,338 cardholders.
And since the 2006 fiscal year, the county has recorded the following, a slide showed:
- The taxable property value is up 41%.
- 24% more parcels have been created in the county. The total number of residential parcels is 218,166; 10,087 are commercial or industrial properties.
Lewis told the board members that the latter figure surprised him.
Finally, since 2007, Lewis noted, “Our overall [full-time] position count per 1,000 [of county population] is down,” from 6.39 to 5.26 for departments under the commission’s control.