Archive for May, 2013

Sarasota County Budget Meeting

May 16, 2013

but first, a letter to the Commissioners

Prior to the May 14th Budget Workshop our neighbor Walt Menzel emailed the Commissioners regarding our neighborhood sewer project.  Two points Walt made:

(1) for areas already completed, “Mr. MacFarlane, Sarasota County, indicated that the total cost per home ranged from $9,000 to $13,000. He also indicated that every property owner pays the same price of $5,400. This means that some homeowners got a better deal than other homeowners. Of course, this makes sense and is expected as just the way government programs work. It is a way to spread the program cost out over many people”

(2) [the N3 area]  is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the program, [having] significant direct exposure to Phillippi Creek. 

Commissioner Robinson’s response

“I appreciate your sentiments about pollution and cost spreading, but in reality we have a great big balancing act full of more variables than that.  One thing I can promise you, we are reviewing N-3 and now the whole Septic Replacement System with the suggestions and ideas of the residents of N-3 in our minds.

Thank you for participating in the public process, your participation is making government better”.

May 14th meeting

This Budget Workshop had some real significance for our neighborhood!  Although not listed on the agenda, Commissioner Robinson introduces N3 into the discussion (17:40).  During the following conversations George MacFarlane states at least three times (20:38, 21:50, 22:18) that “N3 is presently funded for $3,000,000”. This is particularly good news because although Mr. MacFarlane claims a vacuum system for N3 could cost “as much as $3,600,000”, the N3 Committee Review  has shown a more realistic estimate of $2,630,558.

Commission approval

Although the official minutes have not been posted, this is on the meeting website:

Approved Option 2, to complete the current five year Capital Improvement Program using $8.4 million Surtax 3 funding with $12.5 million from the State Revolving Fund and to complete 12,430 total connections (82 percent of the Phillippi Creek Septic System Replacement Program)

what’s next?

The May 14th meeting was the third budget workshop this year.  There are two more scheduled in June (12th and 21st) and a final workshop is scheduled for Aug 20th.  The final budget will be adopted at Public Hearings in September.And don’t forget… we have an N3 “policy discussion” meeting coming up sometime in June.

watch the meetings

I encourage everyone to go online and view the meetings… watch the entire proceedings or go to the time stamps I have listed.

Here’s how: go to  On the right hand side of the homepage click on the blue box that says VIDEO CENTRAL.  Cursor over to left side menu, click on County Commission.  Find BCC  Budget Workshop  May 14, 2013, Video.  That’s all there is to it!

This is a great resource we have to be able to sit in on these meetings from the comfort and privacy of our homes.  How many communities have this service?… my guess is not many.  With our laptops and PCs we should all be able to participate. And as Commissioner Robinson tells us, our participation is making government better.


Sarasota Herald Tribune Article

May 13, 2013

the following article by Eric Ernst appeared in the Sunday May 12 edition of the Sarasota Herald Tribune  

And now, a ‘nobody’ making a difference

Who is Mike Scarborough? 

Most of us have not asked that question. We’re not among the 216 homes known as Area N-3 in the Phillippi Creek sewer project. 

When Scarborough poses the question to himself, in a blog, he comes up with a disarming answer: “I’m nobody in particular.” 

But ask the Sarasota County commissioners who Scarborough is, and they’ll say he’s the guy who’s making them rethink how they’ll accomplish the sewer project in his neighborhood, and maybe the next one, as they try to replace 14,000 septic tanks with central sewers. 

The experience is a good example of how government is supposed to work. 

Scarborough’s neighborhood, along the eastern shore of Phillippi, south of Webber Street and north of Bee Ridge Road, is not scheduled for gravity or vacuum sewers, the types most common for large scale systems. Instead, each of the 216 homes will get a grinder pump buried in its front yard. 

A grinder — “about half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle,” Scarborough says — stores waste in a tank, grinds it into a slurry, then pumps it to a main line. 

Utilities sometimes employ grinders in areas of low elevation where other approaches will not work. 

The county engineers’ most compelling argument for grinders was cost. They’re cheaper, maybe $5,000 less per home than vacuum or gravity systems. 

As Scarborough and his neighbors started to do their research, however, the grinder negatives piled up.

First, homeowners pay to run the pumps. Second, the pumps have repair problems. Third, if the power goes out, during a hurricane for instance, no one can flush. And, while a few homes in the N-3 area sit at 4 to 5 feet above sea level, many others, including Scarborough’s, are in the 13- to 14-foot range, so the neighbors don’t see why they have to settle for the third best option. 

As for cost, Scarborough says, the grinders may be cheaper going in, but maintenance expenses and the need for emergency generators and rewiring at each site may bring their longterm costs close to the alternatives. 

The neighbors organized. They erected signs, more than a hundred of them. “NO GRINDERS. Stop the pumps,” they said. Scarborough started a blog at He solicited comments and contributors, delved into research, spoke in public at commission meetings and set up private meetings with the commissioners and utility staff. 

The group found cities that had had trouble with grinders. They found discrepancies in the county’s price estimates. In a letter to the commissioners, neighbor Walt Menzel noted a study commissioned by Cape Coral that ranked grinders as the second worst method environmentally for handling waste. Only septic systems rated lower. 

More notably, in debating what can become an emotional issue, Scarborough and his neighbors kept things civil. “The strength we have is being factual and respectful,” he says. “Sometimes it’s been a struggle.” 

In his “So, Who Is This Guy … ?” blog, Scarborough even gave a nod to what he termed the county’s “very committed engineering staff.” 

In explaining how he and those engineers could come to different conclusions about the grinders, Scarborough wrote, “… They have a daunting task with over 14,000 customers to consider. I’m concerned with 216. I can devote 100 percent of my time to an area that represents about 1 percent of their total.”

Again, disarming. 

The neighborhood’s tone and approach have resonated with the commissioners. “They didn’t just show up and scream and yell, ‘You’ve got to do what we say or you’re a bunch of idiots!'” Commissioner Charles Hines says. 

“It’s been a pleasure to work with them, actually,” Commissioner Christine Robinson says. 

Scarborough, 70, a retired large projects designer for Florida Power and Light, and his fellow nobodies have made their point. 

County utility engineers are reassessing the grinders, which were to be installed on about 10 percent of the Phillippi Creek properties. In fact, Robinson says, because of Scarborough, the commissioners are taking a second look at the entire project. 

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to do something for the community, but I am not an activist,” Scarborough wrote. “When this project is finished, so am I.” 

That’s too bad. We could use a few more nobodies to help run things.


Eric Ernst

Eric Ernst

Eric Ernst’s column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at or (941) 486-3073.

             (link to SS HT website)