Two commissioners reiterate support for faster Siesta beach improvements

Sarasota County staff is continuing to work on the full design and funding options for improvements at Siesta Public Beach. Photo by Norman Schimmel

During a budget workshop today, June 15, two Sarasota County commissioners reiterated support for funding the planned Siesta Public Beach improvements in a short time frame, as they discussed their Capital Improvement Plan for Fiscal Years 2013-2017.

When Commissioner Nora Patterson questioned James W. Harriott Jr., director of public works, about the $9.5 million allocation for the beach improvements during that five-year time frame, Harriott responded that current planning spread the funding beyond the period the board was reviewing.

He reminded her that over the past couple of months, staff had talked with the commission about working on financing plans to complete the improvements by the end of 2014, instead of spreading them out through Fiscal Year 2024.

“Approving all of this [CIP plan] doesn’t preclude being able to work something out later?” Patterson asked.

“Correct,” Harriett told her.

“Because I haven’t given up yet” on a faster schedule, Patterson added.

“Before we started talking about the possibility of doing the whole [project] all at one time,” Patterson said, “I was still trying to get at least some improvements to parking and not just [new] restrooms at once, if we can’t do it all at once.”

She added that she hears far more complaints about inadequate parking at the beach than about the outdated restrooms.

Tentative plans call for adding 130 parking spaces to the Siesta Beach park.

“We’re in the design [phase] right now,” Harriett said. “Our plan is to finish out the design,” he added, “look at the phasing options and come back to you.”

Then Commissioner Joe Barbetta said, “I thought there was a consensus on the board to go forward with the full design and then come back with funding and phasing options …”

“That’s how I understood it,” Harriott said.

“I don’t want to rehash this thing because a few people out there don’t want to do the whole thing,” Barbetta said, or because some people feel the county should spend money on other beaches first, instead of doing all the Siesta improvements.

Barbetta was referring to recent comments by Lourdes Ramirez and Catherine Antunes, president and vice president, respectively, of the Sarasota County Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. Ramirez and Antunes have suggested the county allocate more funding for renovations and parking at beaches in South County, especially.

However, Barbetta pointed out that the county had been undertaking South County beach projects.

Referring to Siesta, he said, “This beach hasn’t been attended to in a long time, so this project is ripe for being done, and obviously we have incredible support.”

Barbetta added that the County Commission recently had received letters of support from all the major organizations on Siesta Key, urging the board to go ahead with the plans for improvements at the Siesta Public Beach.

The Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Village Association and the Siesta Key Condominium Council all sent such letters to the County Commission in the latter part of May. Mark Smith, president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, also provided verbal assurance of that organization’s support for the Siesta Beach plan.

Patterson told Harriott that she was pleased with his comments about the design and phasing work. However, she said she still was worried about how the county was going to pay for other pressing capital needs, such as replacing its outdated emergency communications equipment.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to figure out how to meet both needs,” she said of the beach project and the radio system.