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City states county is reneging on vow to taxpayers

BRADENTON -- Manatee County will unfairly burden city taxpayers if it pulls out of an agreement to maintain Norma Lloyd Park, Bradenton Clerk Carl Callahan said Wednesday.

Callahan responded to a plan that emerged during Tuesday’s county commission workshop. County parks and recreation staff said the county could save $126,000 annually by turning over operation of the park to the city.

The county currently maintains the city-owned park under a 50-year lease agreement signed in 2005.

The plan is part of an effort by the county to trim expenses as it prepares for an expected shortfall of $14 million in tax revenue for the 2011-12 budget.

But the city has budget concerns of its own, Callahan said, and will struggle to absorb the maintenance costs at Norma Lloyd Park, 1024 24th St. E. Being forced to pick up the tab could mean other city services will suffer.

“It’s disappointment,” Callahan said after a city council workshop. “The reasons they’re doing things are the same reasons we would like to be able to offload things, but it’s trickling down. We’re at the receiving end of this one, so there’s no place left for us to jettison it off to.”

The county commission has not yet approved the plan. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the issue at an upcoming regular meeting.

City residents pay a total of $11.20 in property taxes to the city and county for each $1,000 assessed value on their homes. Of that, $6.23 goes to the county, $4.95 to the city. Callahan said those numbers should be flipped if the county fails to honor its commitments to city projects.

“Is this the time for us to say ... we deserve a break in what we’re paying Manatee County?” Ward 2 Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey asked Callahan.

Callahan said the county is unlikely to be receptive to such discussions during economic hard times. But, he said, it’s a dialogue he would like to begin.

The city and county entered into the lease agreement in a deal that led to the construction of the 13th Ave. Dream Center, which opened at Norma Lloyd Park in 2010.

On Tuesday, county Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Turner recommended the county turn over maintenance on Oct. 1 to the city, which would then contract with United Community Centers, the Dream Center administrator. In exchange, the county would transfer ownership of maintenance equipment used at the park to the city.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said because the park is inside the city and inside the Central Community Redevelopment Area, it makes sense for the city to oversee operations. He said UCC has a staff to maintain the center and the surrounding park area.

“We were brought in to do two things,” Hunzeker said. “One was to help build the facilities and make it all happen, and two was to operate the facility. We have met the first goal. When it comes to the ongoing operations, we were there but not operating much.”

Callahan said the lease agreement includes clauses that allows the county to opt out.

“We’re not really in a position to fight it, just disappointed it’s coming down the way it is because it’s going to be tough on us,” he said.

The Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Area has made $2.5 million in improvements to baseball and soccer fields, trails and new fencing and lighting, Callahan said.

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