SARASOTA — What a difference a year makes.

One year ago, Sarasota County commissioners entered their annual retreat with the daunting prospect of setting strategic goals for 2018 in the face of severe budget challenges.

Now, on the eve of their 2018 annual retreat, with the greatest threat to the county’s finances failing to materialize, commissioners will face a rosier financial picture, yet must still address simmering issues and challenges.

Affordable housing. Deferred maintenance. Economic development.

Over the past year, these topics have come up for discussion but still remain in the forefront of commissioners’ minds.

Jail diversion, privatization of Sarasota County Area Transit, and regional parks are also likely to remain as areas of concern with three of the five commissioners having two years or less of dealing with these issues.

Simmering too, at least with one advocacy group, is the issue of Beach Road and the two charter amendments regarding the road passed by voters in November, and how those amendments will impact the county.

This strategizing and planning will be done over the course of two successive Fridays, a departure from past practice, with a facilitator leading the process as well.

Before they delve into the weightier issues of the first day of the retreat, commissioners will handle routine administrative issues: choosing their officers, approving their meeting schedule, and making their committee assignments.

Unless something unlikely happens, it is expected that Commissioner Charles Hines, who is currently the vice-chairman, will be selected as chairman.

Commissioners discussed this at their 2017 retreat when they selected Hines over Commissioner Mike Moran, since 2019 will be Hines’ last full year in office. He faces a term limit in 2020.

Following the administrative detail, Friday’s sparse agenda calls for commissioners to begin their budget planning for 2020 led by the county’s budget staff. Details of the budget planning and projections for the out years were not included with the online budget as is typical for commission meetings.

Following the budget work, commissioners will then begin their strategic planning which will lead to a list of priorities that will guide the work of county administration and staff over the next year.

County residents will not be able to watch the meeting live as Access Sarasota TV will not be broadcasting it.

The retreat begins at 8:15 a.m. in the Edson Keith Mansion at Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.

An agenda for the retreat is available at www.scgov.net by clicking on Meetings and Agendas under the A-Z tab. For more information, residents can also call the county’s Call Center at 941-861-5000.

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