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Manatee commission looks five years into the future for capital spending

MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners took a look five years into the future Thursday as they reviewed the county's recommended capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

The county's capital improvement plan includes $998.6 million in spending, but county Administrator Ed Hunzeker said there is also a wish list of unfunded projects.

"We are starting to talk about real money here, and it is not enough because we still have unfunded projects," Hunzeker said.

The plan is broken into seven categories: general government, parks and natural resources, potable water, solid waste, stormwater, transportation and wastewater.

Among the items recommended for funding in the 2015-16 budget are the 44th Avenue East extension, which will ultimately connect Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, and the P25 radio system, a joint effort with Sarasota County, which will be discussed next week.

Hunzeker called the 44th Avenue East extension project "the elephant in the room" since it will require building two bridges.

"That project is a multiple-year project, and we know we are going to incur debt and we are going to pay debt with impact fees collected over time," Hunzeker said. "It will be a long-lasting piece to the grid system in the county."

Commissioners discussed the Manatee County Sheriff's Office again Thursday as they looked at funding for the Supervisor of Election office renovations, asking whether the sheriff's office was interested in the space. Hunzeker said it would cost $5 million to move the supervisor of elections plus necessary renovations. The sheriff is requesting another 8,000 square feet for property and evidence.

Commissioner Charles Smith expressed his concerns with continuously being asked for additional space.

"I'm very concerned about these pieces of buildings we are being asked to purchase," Smith said. "We can't just keep doing that."

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh suggested a future workshop with Sheriff Brad Steube.

"It is not something we need to be hit with today," Baugh said.

In discussing parks and natural resources, Hunzeker said they are recommending funding for a limited number of projects. The proposed Robinson Preserve expansion is included in the capital improvements plan.

The county doesn't want to commit more money to parks because it is waiting for the results of an impending parks master plan.

"You want to have a park that is meaningful," Hunzeker said, adding that the county doesn't have money to staff a new park.

The plan's transportation portion includes improvements to roads in north county. Ron Schulhofer, public works department director, said the average time for a government to build a new road is seven years.

"We get constantly asked why we can't build roads before development," Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said. "We don't have the revenues until the homes are ready to be built and it takes a little while to plan the road, build the road and acquire right of way if we don't have it."

But Baugh said one of the biggest issues facing the county is existing infrastructure.

"All this talk about impact fees is great but the problem is we have a lot of roads in need of repair," Baugh said. "We are going to have to find a funding source to do improvements that need to be done."

Schulhofer said the county has been talking with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. and the Florida Department of Transportation about a roundabout at Rye Road and State Road 64.

"SMR and we are fully engaged in that roundabout," Schulhofer said. "We believe that is the way to go. We are working toward that end now."

The county commission also went through the financial management's recommended $2.1 million budget as well as the other county-funded programs and agencies. Thursday's work session concluded the commission's detailed walk-through of Hunzeker's recommended 2015-16 $550 million budget.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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