Non-advisory board members consider issues related to county’s penny sales tax, or Surtax, program
Although its meetings are not among those of Sarasota County boards that are televised, the Citizen Tax Oversight Committee has an important role, as its county webpages point out: Its members work to “[e]nsure that the infrastructure surtax project process is fair, open and fully disclosed and that money is allocated appropriately.”
Late last year, during the November 2022 General Election, the majority of Sarasota citizens who cast ballots on the measure supported the extension of the surtax — or, penny sales tax program — for another 15 years after Surtax III expires on Dec. 31, 2024. Funds generated by the voter-approved tax are used for a wide variety of projects countywide, with money allocated not just to Sarasota County Government but also to the Sarasota County School Board and each of the municipalities, with the latter apportionment based on population. The School Board automatically gets 25% of the proceeds.
In fact, voters had lists of projects for each entity to consider in deciding whether to support the Surtax IV program.
The nine-member Citizen Tax Oversight Committee encompasses one appointee from each County Commission district, appointed by the commissioner who represents that district, plus four at-large members, as its webpages note. Another requirement for service on the board is that each member “[m]ust be free from actual or potential conflict of interest that would prevent an unbiased review.”
That committee is not an advisory board, the county webpages further point out.
The terms are for four years.
Further, the committee meets only at the call of the chair. This year, that chair is Richard “Todd” Kerkering, who serves as the emergency manager of the City of Sarasota.
The most recent meeting of the group, as noted on the webpages, was on Dec. 6, 2022. The agenda called for the introduction of Teresa Mast as the County Commission District 1 representative; the recognition that the term of Robert Luckner, treasurer of the Siesta Key Association, had expired; and the fact that Mark Smith of Siesta Key, who had been serving as the County Commission District 4 representative, had resigned. Smith was elected to the District 2 County Commission seat during the November 2022 General Election.
Mast is seeking election to the District 1 seat in the 2024 election. (See the related article in this issue.)
Yet other items on the Dec. 6, 2022 agenda were a review of the status of the Surtax III program as of the end of the 2021 fiscal year; and a presentation on the Surtax III process during the 2022 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30 2022.
Generally, when terms expire on the county’s advisory and non-advisory boards, the county commissioners are willing to appoint members who want to continue their service. That was the case on April 11, during the commission’s regular meeting.
An item included on the board’s Consent Agenda of routine business matters that day noted that the term of Larry Prohs of Sarasota was ending, so an appointment for an at-large representative was needed, effective through March 2027. With a unanimous vote of the commissioners to approve items on that agenda, Prohs’ won reappointment. As is typical with such votes, no commissioner commented on the matter.
Although the vacancy was advertised on the county’s website, a county staff memo said, Prohs’ application was the only one that staff received.
Additionally, as shown in a chart that staff provided to the commissioners in the agenda packet, Prohs was present for both meetings the committee conducted in 2021; he had requested and won a leave of absence for the Dec. 6, 2022 meeting.
In his application for reappointment, Prohs wrote that he is retiree who believes it is the responsibility of Sarasota County residents to “ensure that our tax dollars are spent appropriately.”
He attached his resume, showing that he has worked part-time since 2015 as a sales associate with Richard’s Foodporium. From 2008 to 2012, he added, he was the IT portfolio manager for the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services. Prior to that, he served from 2002 to 2008 as the chief of staff for the IT director of that department. And before that — from 1990 to 2002 — he as the state director of the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC) for the Ohio Department of Health.
Prohs also noted that he earned a Bachelor of Arts in marketing in 1983 from the University of Illinois, and he earned a Master of Business Administration from the same university in 1985.
Prohs lives south of Clark Road, in the community around the Serenoa Golf Club, which is east of Interstate 75.