Commissioners call for more public outreach before imposing a special tax to pay for measures to stabilize road and water line
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Before they agree to impose a special tax on Casey Key homeowners to help cover the cost of significant repairs to Casey Key Road, the Sarasota County commissioners want to be sure those homeowners are aware of the prospect of the payments.
The majority of them made that clear during a June budget workshop discussion.
In summing up comments from Commissioners Michael Moran and Christian Ziegler, as well as his own thoughts, Chair Charles Hines directed staff to send a letter to each owner of a Casey Key parcel that would be covered by what is called a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU).
The commission sitting in July 1988 created an MSTU district to pay for a road stabilization project on North Casey Key, staff has pointed out, so the current commission legally could set a new millage rate for that district for a subsequent project. The MSBU tax has been shown as zero on the Casey Key property owners’ bills since the funding was recovered for that earlier project, County Engineer and Public Works Director Spencer Anderson explained on June 19.
However, Hines, Moran and Ziegler said they felt it would be unfair to approve a new tax without giving the owners of the approximately 300 affected parcels this time the opportunity to comment on the prospect of paying $1,200 or more each year for the new improvements.
Anderson pointed out — as staff had during a previous discussion of the issues, in December 2018 — that county representatives talked about the potential revival of the MSTU when they attended a Casey Key Homeowners Association (HOA) meeting in November 2018. However, Anderson also indicated on June 19 that only a small number of the property owners attended that session. “There wasn’t a significant amount of feedback that we received.”
Still, Anderson acknowledged, one or two people did have a lot of questions about the prospect of the county’s using the MSBU once again.
Hines’ direction to staff followed a failed vote on a motion by Commissioner Nancy Detert, seconded by Commissioner Alan Maio, calling for the affected property owners to pay 0.6022 mills per year for 10 years to cover 50% of the estimated $7.6-million expense of the road repairs on the northern part of the Key and in an area about midpoint of Casey Key.
The annual amount would be $602 per $1 million of value of the property, Anderson noted. Given the fact that the average value of a Casey Key parcel is $2 million, he continued, that would put the yearly tax bill at $1,204.
“I don’t know how anybody living on Casey Key would object to that, considering the dire condition of the road,” Detert said, adding that a county potable water line also is threatened by the worsening erosion. “We’re in an emergency mode, I think.”
Maio noted that Anderson also had suggested a five-year payback schedule with an annual millage rate of 1.110 — meaning a tax of $1,110 per $1 million in property value. Maio added of Detert’s motion, “I think this is a happy medium and certainly solves at least the immediate set of circumstances there.”
Yet, when Hines asked for the vote, only Detert and Maio supported the motion.
“I do have a little trouble with the lack of taxpayer input on this,” Moran said, adding that he thought he was in the minority with that view. “I really want to hear … from the residents of this community in detail, for or against.”
Moran then was quick to point out that he was not criticizing Anderson. “Spencer, you’re absolutely doing your job and doing a fantastic job at it.”
Still, Moran, Ziegler and Hines agreed that more public outreach is necessary.
If, after those communications take place and the majority proves to be in opposition to paying an annual tax for the improvements, Hines said, “We’ll see how the [board] vote goes next time.”
Getting to this point
On Dec. 11, 2018, Anderson led a discussion with the board members that took close to 90 minutes. It focused on the continuing loss of Casey Key shoreline, which is threatening both Casey Key Road and the county water line.
To stabilize the road, Anderson and Larry Mau, assistant county engineer, proposed not only a rock revetment on the northern part of the barrier island but also one at mid-key, in the vicinity of 2120 Casey Key Road.
In 1990, Mau explained in December 2018, a step revetment system was constructed at the northern location in an effort to prevent further erosion.
The contract for the design of the two rock revetment systems should be ready for commission consideration in August, Anderson noted on June 19.
In the meantime, the county is using large sandbags at the mid-key location to keep the road stabilized, he said. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) granted the county a permit for the “trap bags” as an emergency measure extending several hundred feet, Anderson added; the permit will expire in 2021.
Anderson characterized the mid-key situation as, “for all intents and purposes, a hot spot on the shoreline,” with the beach eroded up to the road. “Sand fluctuates on a year-to-year basis up and down the shoreline here.”
Given the estimated construction expense of $7.6 million, Anderson said, staff had considered a number of funding options. The county receives $1.2 million a year from a gas tax, he added, but that money
would be needed for other purposes, as well.
If the county were to borrow half of the $7.6 million with a 10-year amortization period, he continued, the county would have to pay debt service of about $859,000 per year.
Maio said he understood from residents’ emails that many take the view that Casey Key Road serves the public as well as the property owners on the barrier island. Still, he said, if the board did nothing that day, “Who pays?” Would all county taxpayers have to help shoulder the expense, he asked.
“We would bring back some additional options,” Anderson replied.