SANCA & our “public” park in name only – except when it comes to the bills.

On March 19th, during the 1:30 pm session of the Sarasota County Commission meeting, the County Commission is slated to discuss and approve an agreement with SANCA, the Southwest Aquatic Nature Center Association, regarding operation and maintenance of the Nathan Benderson Park (the rowing facility).  To date, Sarasota County has issued a bond to fund the construction of the rowing facility – a bond that brought the County’s debt liability for this single project up to the County Charter limit – roughly 20 million dollars.  Any further taxpayer debt regarding the rowing facility requires a County wide referendum, according to the County Charter.
My initial review of the proposed agreement with SANCA has me very concerned about a number of provisions which I believe fail to sufficiently protect the public’s interests in this ostensibly public park.  With this agreement, the rowing center appears public in name only.  Please review the attached proposed SANCA contract and plan to attend the Wednesday afternoon session of the County Commission meeting if you wish to speak with your elected representatives on this issue.  The item is number 9 on the afternoon agenda, and public comment is permitted at 1:30 pm (agenda item 7).

 Click here for PDF of proposed SANCA agreement

Click here for PDF of proposed SANCA resolution

Here are some initial thoughts regarding the County’s proposed SANCA agreement (pdf attached, above):

 

Page 2:
The County is relying upon economic impact numbers based on Donna Arduin’s projections.   There is good reason to question the credibility of her numbers.  Arduin is not an economist, her work product is highly questionable.  SANCA’s first economic impact study was prepared by Phil Porter, a USF professor with a PhD in economics.  Porter’s work product is credible.  Why did SANCA switch?  Why is the County relying on a faux economist picked by SANCA?  From all appearances, SANCA has been a Benderson funded and operated entity.  Shouldn’t the County’s operating agreement be based on numbers calculated by a real economist – a PhD whose work has consistently been found sound through the rigors of peer review?

Page 2, item 1,5
How is park “availability” to the public defined?  Who determines event priority?  Will public events and access take a back seat to events that generate more revenue for SANCA?

 

Page 3 II, 2  SANCA keeps all revenue.  The County Commission has saddled the public with the up front risks, and is enabling SANCA to keep all of the profits.

 

 

Page 3, II, 3,4, and 5 are outrageous
The County is bankrolling SANCA’s operations.  Why is the County bankrolling a private entity to run a public park and taking no part of the profits?

 

 

Page 3, II, 7 is out of control – it takes transparency out of the equation.  Adjustments to “reimbursement” levels do not require board discussion, vote and can bypass the budget process.  Why bother to draft an agreement?  Number 7 removes any semblance of protection of the public purse and renders this contract meaningless.

 

 

Page 4 – item IV opens the door for the rowing facility to engage in development other than that consistent with a public park – no parameters are put on future development at the site, (except for County Commission approval).

 

 

This rowing center project was originally presented to the public as a 2-3 million dollar project.  Then it became 8 million.  Then 25 million (and at that level of investment economist Phil Porter found it would be a productive project for Sarasota County).  SANCA pledged to raise 20 million dollars, and the public impression was that SANCA would be raising private funds.  SANCA went to the state for money.  Any private monies raised have been relatively nominal.  Nowhere near the promised $20 million.

 

 

Now the project projection is over 40 million, and the millions that have been invested are public millions.   Sarasota County released the Bendersons from liability for the clawback provision (the first ever in the state of Florida) in the most recent state grant.  It appears the County may have violated the County charter when they did this in December 2013, as they exposed Sarasota County taxpayers to debt liability beyond the $20 million charter limit without referendum.

 

This agreement is breathtaking in its failure to protect the public purse and the public’s access to the park.  It is shocking.

 

As a resident of the City of Sarasota, I find it atrocious that the County is bankrolling SANCA while the County is at the same time divesting itself of financial responsibility to assist in maintaining parks in the City of Sarasota.  Dual taxed City residents are footing the bill for SANCA operations.  Our parks are going begging while SANCA is being bankrolled by the County.

 

 

In North Port and Venice, take note of any levels of service the County has reduced for you.  These SANCA dollars come from our pockets.  Please share with others.

2 Comments on SANCA & our “public” park in name only – except when it comes to the bills.

  1. Why is it that the very rich never spend their own money, Like Benderson, and always get someone else to pick up the bill? In this case passed on to the taxpayers by a dysfunctional group of commissioners. Strange how the past returns in different clothes, pretending to be a stranger. Let’s start putting our priorities in order, and listen to the lone voices like Cathy Atunes who diligently place transparency in Government right in front of our noses.

    • Thanks for your comment Don. You nailed it – this County Commission is completely dysfunctional. Commissioner Robinson attempted to characterize the activities of her fellow Commissioner’s event company on behalf of SANCA as “volunteering”. Getting paid $20,000 for services rendered is not “volunteering”. This Commission obfuscates, misleads and fails to protect the public’s interests.

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