City commissioner makes direct appeal to county for help.
Another back-and-forth between the city and county of Sarasota is taking shape — this one having to do with a beach renourishment project on Lido Key.
On Tuesday, City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie traveled to the meeting of county commissioners in Venice to hand-deliver a letter from City Manager Tom Barwin, asking for permission to allow contractors to stage the project on north and west portions of Ted Sperling Park, which is county-owned. Having this place to park heavy equipment and groins, the letter said, would save taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Time is of the essence on this agreement, Freeland Eddie told the county board, because the Army Corps of Engineers expects to put the project out for bids in November — for the second time. The first round of bids came in unacceptably high, and the city and the Corps have been working to limit the project’s scope to save money.
“In past shoreline work, contractors have been allowed to utilize portions of the park,” Freeland Eddie said, reading from the letter. “Our staffs have worked out reasonable guidelines and restrictions.”
Barwin’s letter was written in September. He told city commissioners at a meeting Monday night that he had been instructed they would need to vote on the matter and convey their request directly to the county board.
“I’m befuddled by the whole scenario,” Barwin said. “We do it all the time for the county, and this is kind of a mutual arrangement.”
But the County Commission, having been lobbied by Siesta Key residents who oppose the plan to dredge sand from Big Pass to renourish Lido, considers this a policy decision that should not be made at the staff level.
“You’re the policymakers for the city of Sarasota,” County Commission Chairman Charles Hines told Freeland Eddie. Now that a unanimous vote by city leaders has taken place, he added, “we’re happy to do whatever needs to be done.”
An emergency project adding shoreline to the depleted beach was completed in early April, using sand from New Pass to protect structures, including the Lido Beach pool. The $4 million cost was shared by the city, Sarasota County, the state of Florida and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the goal was to have it finished by this year’s hurricane season. City officials said Lido Beach lost an estimated 15 feet to erosion from Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Subtropical Storm Alberto in 2018.
But the much more extensive Corps project — predicted to cost up to $22 million — prompted lawsuits by two groups, the Siesta Key Association and Save Our Siesta Sands 2. So far legal judgments have been in the Corps’ favor.
At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, two Lido Key residents spoke in support of expediting the project and granting use of the park, and two Siesta Key residents spoke against it. Board members did not discuss the matter further.
Water bills going up
Come January, county residents will see the first hike in their water and sewer bills, reflecting the initial costs of bringing the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility up to modern standards and stemming the effluent spills that have galvanized citizens who are concerned about their environmental effects.
“There’s a lot of criticism every time there’s a break or a spillage,” noted Commissioner Nancy Detert. “The good news is that we are doing something, and the bad news is that it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
On Tuesday county commissioners unanimously imposed an increase in wastewater fees of 5% annually for five years, plus a monthly “water quality fee” of $1 per dwelling unit. For a household now paying just over $45 a month, that represents a 30% increase, to $58.50 in 2024.
The one-time “capacity fee” charged for hooking up new housing units to the water system will rise by $230 — from $2,720 to $2,950 — and the wastewater fee will go up by $563 to $3,190.
Commissioners were originally supposed to ratify the new fees on Monday, but at the request of board member Christian Ziegler, who was concerned about the hikes continuing indefinitely, language was added to say that they will “remain imposed until the full payment of all outstanding indebtedness to which the revenues from those rates are lawfully pledged.”