Aug. 4 letter from Sheriff Hoffman details failed efforts to find more space
Following two presentations to the Sarasota County Commission earlier this year, plus a follow-up letter in August, Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman finally appears to have won agreement from the commissioners for county administrative staff to start tackling facilities issues for the Sheriff’s Office.
In late March, Hoffman appeared before the board members to explain his department’s continuing need to combine as many divisions as possible in one location.
In December 2017, the Sheriff’s Office moved its administrative facilities into a structure that the County Commission agreed to purchase and renovate at 6010 Cattleridge Blvd. in Sarasota. However, during his March 24 presentation to the board, Hoffman noted that only one vacant office remained in that building. He pointed out that the county had purchased the two parcels adjacent to the headquarters. Yet, he added, he had been informed that a stormwater retention pond in the area lacked sufficient capacity for the expansion of the Sheriff’s Office complex onto those lots.
A few months later, during his June 23 budget presentation to the commissioners, Hoffman said his goal for operational efficiency still is “to be able to get everything on the public safety campus.”
A study the county paid for a consulting firm to undertake in 2016, Hoffman pointed out, had reported that the Sheriff’s Office needed 192,000 square feet of space for its facilities. A recently updated version of that analysis by Schenkel Shultz Architecture of Sarasota increased the figure to 202,000 square feet, Hoffman noted.
The headquarters structure, he said, has slightly less than 72,000 square feet.
Chair Alan Maio noted that he and Hoffman had met about the spacing needs. County staff had determined that the stormwater pond’s capacity was sufficient for construction on the two other parcels, which are to the north of the headquarters.
“I think this commission needs to look at your future needs,” Maio told Hoffman. Nonetheless, Maio acknowledged, “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
The Great Recession halted numerous county construction projects, Maio added. “There were severe budget restraints back then, and we don’t have [unlimited resources].”
Maio said he believes the commission and staff do need to start the process of dealing with the Sheriff’s Office’s spacing problems.
About six weeks later, on Aug. 4, Hoffman sent the commissioners a letter regarding what he called “some recent developments” pertaining to the department’s issues.
Hoffman noted in his letter that during his June budget presentation, Commissioner Michael Moran suggested that Hoffman and his staff look into the availability of space in a structure adjacent to the Sheriff’s Office’s Cattleridge Boulevard headquarters. “I sent several senior staff members to the building,” Hoffman explained, “and we determined that not only is the building not secure, but it also currently houses a medical company on the first floor. Only the second floor is available at more than $20,000 per month before renovations.”
Then Hoffman noted that commissioners previously had suggested that he look into the second-floor space planned above the new District 12 Medical Examiner’s facility that will be located at 4480 Fruitville Road in Sarasota.
In a June 25 email, Hoffman pointed out, county staff advised him and his staff “that the medical examiner’s space is now a ‘swing space’ for several ongoing capital projects that may not be resolved until the fall.”
Further, he noted in his recent letter, he and his staff had inquired about the potential of moving items in storage back to the former Sheriff’s Office administrative space located at 2071 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota. Yet, he continued, “[W]e were informed by email on August 2nd that 2071 Ringling Blvd. is being renovated for another tenant.”
Hoffman added that he and his staff then contacted county staff members who oversee facilities “about moving some items back to our old Fleet facility and were also met with a rejection by email indicating the space was already being used for county PPE [personal protective equipment] storage.”
He continued, “Additionally, we were also recently informed that the county space at 17th Street is full and cannot be used by the sheriff’s office. As you will recall, 17th Street was formerly office space for our undercover personnel prior to the discovery of asbestos, insulation deterioration, roof leaks that damaged computer equipment, and rat infestation; all of which started this space review in 2009.”
Hoffman pointed out, “In the short term and in order to keep all of our detectives under one roof, we will take our second-floor community room and convert it to detective workspace.”
Hoffman then wrote, “In an effort to maintain transparency and continued dialogue with the commission, it is important I express this significant deficiency of storage, work, classroom, and meeting space. I am urging the commission to direct county staff to map out an expedited plan for development of a new headquarters on the vacant land north of our current location. Sarasota County is on the map both nationwide and worldwide, which by all indicators will continue to increase our population and calls for service. It is imperative the county’s largest law enforcement agency keeps up with the demands of the citizens we are serving.”
Hoffman concluded his letter by writing, “We are fortunate to have the support of our elected officials in this important endeavor.”
Addressing the issues once again
During his report to his colleagues on Aug. 24, as part of their first regular meeting since their four-week summer break ended, Chair Maio referenced Hoffman’s letter.
“I’ve worked quite a bit with Sheriff Hoffman … and [former] Sheriff [Tom] Knight on the building that they currently have,” Maio said. “It’s about 45% of what they need.”
Maio also pointed out that when deputies traveled to the Sheriff’s Office South County training facility a couple of weeks ago, it was flooded. (Hoffman showed the commissioners photos of that structure on March 24, explaining the propensity for standing water on the site.)
The sheriff, Maio continued, “has done all the things that we asked. “My thought is, over a period of time,” he added, the commission can approve steps to address the facilities needs.
When Maio asked whether any of his colleagues had comments, no one responded. Then Maio suggested that each of them should “feel free to interact with [County Administrator] Jonathan [Lewis] and [Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer] Steve [Botelho], along with Carolyn Eastwood, who leads the county’s Capital Projects Department.
If tackling projects one at a time is the board’s direction, Lewis responded, he and staff will be happy to comply.
Again, no one spoke, but Maio looked to the other commissioners, on either side of him, before assuring Lewis that that is the board direction.