SARASOTA COUNTY - North Port city leaders voted recently to consider selling the city's half stake in Warm Mineral Springs. Now the owner of the other half, Sarasota County has given its conditions for a deal. It has caused even more debate for residents.
The future of the springs continues to be a hot topic at places like Abbe's Donuts in North Port. "People are talking about it all over all the time," says 25 year resident Vern Albright.
Tuesday, county commissioners decided they're willing to buy the spring for $2 million -- $750,000 less then the city paid for it just a few years ago. "I would say leave things alone. Lets give it a few years and see how things go. Get some proper management in there," says Albright.
To find the opposite opinion you just have to look to the next table. "Warm Mineral Springs is a distraction, an expensive distraction." Those like Sheila McNeill say the the local governments never should have bought it in the first place. "We have roads, we have schools to do. A lot of people want a community pool and we couldn't afford it. What makes you think we can afford to to support and build that up. It needs so much."
The fact is both do now own it. To back out, Sarasota County also wants the city to de-annex the 81-acre site from city limits -- meaning no tax dollars to North Port. It also means no control over what gets built or doesn't get built there. The county also wants the city to provide water and sewer hook up which would be expensive too. "It's going to cost us more to sell it off then it is to just keep it," says Albright. "The trouble is if we keep it I expect to lose even more," says McNeill.
County leaders say concerns from city leaders themselves regarding water quality and the springs actual economic impact is to blame for driving down its worth.
"The commission will have to determine if it is an offer they want to consider." With one commissioner recovering from a stroke and the four others unavailable or unwilling to do an on camera interview Wednesday, we asked City Manager Jonathan Lewis where they go from here. He says the official offer from the county isn't even on his desk yet and that nothing is set in stone. "The most important thing is that our commission is going to consider all their options. Not just this one. Decide what think is best going forward for the community."
Currently the company which sold the property to the two governments in 2010 Cypress Lending is still taking in all the proceeds. That deal is set to expire at the end of June. If North Port sells under the current offer they would get nothing in future proceeds from users. A big fat donut you could say. "It's going to be around for awhile. We will just have to wait and see," says Albright.
One Commissioner we talked to off camera suggested putting a committee together of area residents to help them figure out exactly what the majority of the community really wants.
The spring was recently highlighted by the Huffington Post online website as one of the top eight natural hot springs in the world.