A floral upgrade
After two years of planning, the city’s Downtown Improvement District is investing $187,680 to bring a colorful, floral upgrade to downtown. The project will cover installation and maintenance of flower baskets attached to light poles throughout the downtown. There will be a total of 138 baskets that should be up by September. Most of the baskets will line Main Street, but the project will extend to Palm Avenue, Lemon Avenue, First Street and State Street, as well. Installation of the flower backs began last month and the baskets will be installed in phases, an approach that will allow the DID to work with the vendor to tweak the project if needed.
County reviews 2017 budget
It’s budget time, and Sarasota County department heads have presented their proposed budgets to the County Commission. A final budget workshop is slated for Aug. 22.
City works on 2017 budget
City of Sarasota staffers have also been working on the city’s budget. The preliminary fiscal year 2017 city budget shows increased property values and a slightly larger budget. The city held three budget workshops at the end of June. In total, the proposed $61.97 million general-fund budget represents a 5.4-percent increase over the previous year. The proposed overall, total $206,286,920 budget is a 6-percent increase over last fiscal year’s adopted budget. City staffers are recommending an additional $1.57 million in general fund expenditures that would help expand certain operations, beyond current services. The city intends to hire a planning director for a new position in the administration, which is likely to handle many of the issues that arise with future growth.
No increase for city water and sewer rates
City staffers are planning $15 million in water and sewer capital improvement projects over the next year, including the first steps in the controversial Lift Station 87 project. But after more than a decade of annual utility rate increases, including back-to-back years of 6 percent hikes, city water and sewer customers will not see an increase in their rates this year, Utilities Director Mitt Tidwell announced in June. That’s the first time the city has not increased rates since 2005. Holding the rate steady is expected to keep the average city water and sewer bill, assuming 4,000 gallons of usage, at about $80 per month, according to city estimates. The city's decision to resume water and sewer impact fees on developers helped strengthen the utilities budget this year.
Area traffic signal review planned
Anything that helps reduce local traffic, especially in season, is positive news, and, as a result, folks will be happy to hear that city and county officials hope a comprehensive review of how traffic signals are timed across nearly all of the area's major arteries. The review should ultimately connect all of those subsections to create an even more efficient traffic flow in total. That could mean a little less traffic. More than 170 traffic lights, including almost all signalized intersections in the city of Sarasota, will be part of the review in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation. Re-timing all the signals will involve new data compiled on-season and off-season to develop traffic flow patterns to optimize timing across the county. The study will include signals along major thoroughfares, including U.S. 41, Tuttle Avenue, Honore Avenue, Fruitville Road, Clark Road, McIntosh Road, Midnight Pass Road, Pinebrook Road, East Venice Avenue, Englewood Road, Manasota Key Road and all of River Road. The project will cost about $1.8 million, funded through two grants from the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. Once approved, the city and county plan to hire consultants by the end of the year to begin collecting data when the season starts in early 2017. Recommendations for new signal timing will be made and implemented by the beginning of 2018, Fakhri and DavisShaw said.
Greenhouse emissions reduced in city
The combination of cleaner energy and more-efficient energy usage has led to a 22-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the Sarasota city limits since 2003, according to a recent inventory conducted by the City of Sarasota. The achievement “highlights our community’s interest and commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and becoming a more sustainable city,” said Stevie Freeman-Montes, the city’s sustainability manager, in a recent news release. “The Environmental Protection Agency equates that 22-percent reduction to removing 40,000 cars from the road for one year or taking 20,000 houses off the electrical grid,” she continued in the release. “That’s good news for Sarasota and our environment, including Sarasota Bay, because cleaner air translates into cleaner and healthier waterways.” The Sarasota community decreased emissions in several key categories, the release continues: electrical use in residential, commercial and industrial sectors; water and wastewater processes; and stationery fuel combustion and solid waste. CO2 emissions were down across the board in the city limits with one exception: vehicle emissions. Although vehicles are considered more energy efficient today, 10 percent more miles were driven in Sarasota in 2015 than in 2003, leading to 2.5 percent more emissions.
Pollo Tropical coming to South Trail
Pollo Tropical plans to open a restaurant on South Tamiami Trail at the site previously occupied by Square 1 Burgers. The property at 1737 S. Tamiami Trail is across U.S. 41 from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Plans call for a 3,600-square-foot Pollo Tropical there, according to paperwork filed with the city late in June. The Caribbean-themed concept has more than 160 locations and was founded in Miami in 1988. The restaurant operates under the umbrella of Addison, Texas-based Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc., and is known for marinated chicken and pork dishes. It is the second Pollo Tropical restaurant the chain has filed plans for in the area. Back in February, the restaurant filed permits with Sarasota County to replace the Shell station at Sarasota Crossings, the shopping center at the northeast corner of the intersection of Fruitville Road and Honore Avenue.
Cask & Ale approved for downtown
The Sarasota City Commission in a 4-1 vote on July 5 approved the restaurant and craft cocktail bar Cask & Ale for downtown. The owner of the Cask & Ale estimated the restaurant and bar would be open for business this summer. The new restaurant plans to open at 1548 Main Street next to Evie’s Tavern. Some nearby business owners supported the new business. However, some residents have expressed concern that the new restaurant and bar will create more noise downtown, giving the area a loud nightclub feel. Cask and Ale plans to serve a small-plates menu and handcrafted cocktails as it currently does at a nearby St. Petersburg location.
SMH earns Trauma Center designation
After a two-year effort to secure approval, Sarasota Memorial Hospital received final state approval July 1 for its Level II trauma center. Sarasota Memorial Hospital is now the first and only trauma program in Sarasota. Hospital officials began the process of earning the designation in early 2015, and got provisional approval to open the center, on a provisional basis, in May last year. “Earning trauma designation was a tremendous effort that required extraordinary passion, expertise and a highly specialized team to respond around-the-clock to any critical situation,” said CEO David Verinder in a statement. “This milestone achievement validates everyone's commitment — from the Hospital Board to physicians, nurses and staff — to providing the most advanced, lifesaving care. And it certainly wouldn't have been possible without the support of our medical staff and the community we serve.”
Hospital officials say the trauma program requires a $16-million investment over three years, including specially equipped trauma bays, operating rooms, a trauma intensive care unit, a trauma step-down unit, and several specialty nursing units. The next step at the trauma center will be a trauma progressive care unit to help transition patients from critical care to rehabilitation. At the end of this year, the 44-bed Rehabilitation Pavilion is scheduled to open.
Conservation land negotiations continue
The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is continuing to try to broker a deal to preserve the 5,700-acre ‘pristine native landscape’ in South County. The effort could result in a significant addition in the natural, preserved lands in the county. The Conservation Foundation was granted an extension on an option to purchase Orange Hammock Ranch in South County, and the Sarasota County Commission has authorized County Administrator Tom Harmer to participate in negotiations to try to reach a deal. Orange Hammock Ranch is the largest privately held and undeveloped piece of property in Sarasota County. The Conservation Foundation has asked that, in addition to Sarasota County, other agencies participate in talks, including the City of North Port, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Negotiations are focusing on who will own and manage Orange Hammock Ranch and what uses will be permitted.