SARASOTA — You’re going to be hearing a lot about these topics or issues over the coming year.
But Tuesday, in its first official meeting of 2021, the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners approved its strategic goals for 2021, the first item on the agenda.
No commissioner pulled the item for public comment as they fully vetted those goals during their annual retreat in December. The official minutes of that meeting contain no references to the discussion about those goals, although an audio of the meeting became available in late December.
The goals, formally adopted unanimously Tuesday, which commissioners will focus on are:
• Provide policy direction on a mental health special taxing district.
• Identify potential destination athletic field complexes and destination playgrounds.
• Identify potential industrial light warehouse locations in the county.
• Review 2020 census data and the effect of single-member districts.
• Pursue a full interchange at Interstate 75 and State Road 681.
• Streamline the permitting process review.
• Continue exploring options for workforce/affordable housing with mixed-use and redevelopment alternatives.
One of those goals, the mental health district, was broached by Commission Chair Alan Maio during his report. Maio wanted to know what the timing would be for a staff presentation on this topic.
Commissioner Mike Moran first raised the idea of creating such a district in 2019 to provide and maintain mental health facilities such as the 40-bed treatment facility commissioners approved last year. The proposed district would have the power to levy taxes to provide funding for its operations.
Commissioners seemingly were prepared to place a referendum on the November 2020 general election ballot seeking voter approval of the district, but withdrew from that plan as the pandemic ravaged the county.
Now, they’re ready to resurrect the idea again.
In response to Maio’s query, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said he planned to have a staff report prepared and presented to commissioners in March. He would then seek policy direction from commissioners the following month.
If commissioners were to pursue the idea this year, it would require a special referendum election since there is no general election in the county in 2021.
Inclusion of and investigating the effect of single-member districts came at the request of Commissioner Nancy Detert, seen by advocates of as an attempt to undo the charter amendment passed by voters in 2018.
Commissioners have all expressed their lack of enthusiasm for the new districts which were first used in the November 2020 general election. Under the new approach, only voters living within a commission district could vote in a commission race.
With completion of the 2020 census, commissioners will have to decide if there is enough deviation in population from their last analysis in 2019 to warrant a change to their commission district boundaries.