Chair of group to be attorney Dan Bailey
The Sarasota County Commission has appointed five persons to a task force that will work with community residents in planning for projects that will be covered by revenue the county hopes to collect through a fourth penny sales tax program.
On April 21, Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho reminded the commissioners that staff has been working toward holding a November 2022 referendum — on the General Election ballot — to seek voter approval of the proposed Surtax IV program.
During the commission’s March 24 budget workshop, Botelho noted that the penny sales tax is applied to the first $5,000 of any single taxable item. The Surtax III initiative, which voters approved in November 2007, is a 15-year program, he added. It went into effect in September 2009 and will end in December 2024.
During a presentation to the commissioners last year, Botelho explained that the goal of putting the Surtax IV question on the November 2022 ballot is to ensure the funding stream remains in place without interruption. If voters do not approve it during that general election, he said, the county would have another opportunity in November 2024 to try for a positive outcome.
The surtax programs began in June 1989, Botelho pointed out during the March budget workshop. Under the provisions of the initiative, 25% of all the revenue goes to the Sarasota County School Board. The remaining funds are distributed to the county and each municipality, based on population, he noted.
The funds must be used for public infrastructure, Botelho pointed out. None of the revenue can be allocated to operating expenses, he stressed.
“We’ve always dedicated 50% of our portion of the revenue to transportation, he said with emphasis.
The Surtax IV Task Force, Botelho explained on April 21, “ultimately would hold three or four workshops,” seeking public comments. County staff members would assist the task force members with ranking project proposals for County Commission review and approval in February 2022, he said, according to the timeline staff has created.
After Botelho concluded his remarks, Chair Alan Maio asked for one nomination from each commissioner.
Commissioner Nancy Detert responded, with a laugh, “It could be a surprise to the person I’m nominating.” That person is Kathy Lehner, president and CEO of the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce.
Commissioner Michael Moran nominated former County Administrator Jim Ley, who has served on county advisory boards in recent years.
“I’m going to pull Paul Caragiulo off the bench,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said, referring to the former City and County of Sarasota commissioner, whose seat Ziegler won in 2018 after Caragiulo chose not to run for a second term.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger nominated Sharon Matthews of the Steve Matthews Agency in North Port, which handles Allstate insurance; she also serves as secretary of the Board of Directors of the North Port Chamber of Commerce.
Finally, Maio nominated Sarasota attorney Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm.
Additionally, Maio said, “I would like to suggest Dan Bailey as the chair [of the Surtax IV Task Force]. … He’s got impeccable credentials in the community,” Maio pointed out, adding that Bailey served on the county’s Surtax III Task Force.
With no other nominations for chair, Ziegler made a motion to name Bailey to that position. Moran seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
“I didn’t tell him about that,” Maio said of his decision to put forth Bailey’s name as chair. “A lot of people [are] getting surprised this morning.”
“We’ll send out a welcome email and make sure that they’re aware,” Botelho responded, referring to the nominees. “The lift really begins this fall [for them].”
In the meantime, the county has created a website about the surtax programs: https://www.sarasotacountysurtax.net, as Botelho noted during the March budget workshop.
The site offers details about projects that have been built with the revenue. For example, it says the county has used Surtax III money to resurface 715 lane miles, “which comprises just over 30% of the county’s entire maintained roadway system.” Further, the county has added “sidewalks to local roads and thoroughfares in the Gulf Gate and Desoto Road communities,” the website notes.
Among other Surtax III projects were the new Gulf Gate Library, which opened in 2015, and the renovations of the BMX Facility on 17th Street in Sarasota, the website points out. Of the latter, the website explains that a “professional grade track” was created so the county could host nationally sanctioned events. The project included new 5- and 8-meter ramps, a starting gate system, and upgraded lighting.
The website also features a chart that shows how the county’s Surtax III funds have been apportioned. For example, through September 2019, the county spent $272.6 million on transportation and $62.7 million on libraries.
The total amount of revenue programmed from Surtax III is $474.3 million, the chart says.