The city of Venice is apparently ready to remedy what Sarasota County officials have in the past called a “gotcha.”
“We have to right this wrong, no matter when it happened and how it happened,” said Council Member Jeanette Gates during a joint council/Sarasota County Commission meeting Tuesday.
In 2006, the county agreed to the forced annexation of a number of enclaves within the city of Venice, thereby helping increase the city’s tax base.
The roads adjoining annexed properties were presumed to be part and parcel of the deal, but upon reading the fine print in the annexation agreement county officials learned the city had omitted the roads.
Later, the city refused to accept responsibility for maintenance of the roadways. Over the past three years the issue has been brought up regularly, but never resolved.
In June 2011, the city administration, at council’s direction, said it would agree to take back the roads, but only after they are brought up to city standards. That was problematic for the county — to the tune of $30 million — as it also included new base material, covered drainage ditches and sidewalks.
A number of commissioners on Tuesday noted that most streets in Venice don’t even meet that standard.
As a compromise, the county offered in January to resurface a number of roads over a 10-year period, even giving the city a five-year warranty, but the city again refused.
More recently, city staff working the issue added an additional condition. According to County Engineer James Harriott, the city requested a proportionate share of county gas tax revenues for future maintenance after the transfer.
Commissioners on Tuesday balked, saying the city already receives gas taxes, and questioned whether council was getting good information from its financial department.
“You get your gas tax by statutes, and sales tax by population,” said Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “Your finance director should be telling you that.
“In a perfect world you should be taking them back and any wear-and-tear since (2006) should be on your dime, not on our dime. Anything you get is a bonus. I think you’ve been collecting a windfall all these years. To look to us for money is somewhat unconscionable. I’m not here to offer a lot of money. Just take back the roads.”
Council agreed in principle, but in an abundance of caution decided to direct its city manager to bring back within the next month a solution that takes back responsibility for maintenance of the roads in question.
City Manager Ed Lavallee said he’d prefer whatever solution is adopted take effect next fiscal year so it doesn’t affect the current budget.
Gates wanted more information on exactly which roads would be resurfaced prior to accepting them.
“I do think some hanky-panky, hokey-pokey” was going on, said Council Member Bob Daniels. “I think this Venice platinum standard is a bunch of malarkey. I just need to see the numbers.”
“In my view, it should have happened” long ago, said Council Member Kit McKeon. “It doesn’t pass the common sense test.”
“It’s almost a reverse dual taxation argument, when you think about it,” said County Commission Chair Christine Robinson.