Robinson ‘No’ vote a surprise in an otherwise scripted budget hearing

Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson

“A lot of this activity this evening seems to be somewhat scripted,” Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said toward the end of the commission’s first public budget hearing Monday night, Sept. 10.

Indeed, it was literally scripted. The budget document the commission was working from contained a “script” from which Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson and county staffers read. And since there were zero public comments about the budget, which contains a 1.6% tax increase because of a raise in the mosquito control rate, the commission zipped through the hearing, closing things down after just 36 minutes.

But that didn’t mean there were no surprises: Robinson voted against the proposed millage rates, the only “No” vote on the five-member commission, while still thanking county staff for putting together the budget plan.

Robinson has worked to carve out a reputation as something of a budget hawk in recent months. She was the only commissioner who voted against paying a one-time lump sum to county employees this year, a stance she has held since the idea was first floated by County Administrator Randy Reid back in June.

When asked about her Monday “No” vote, Robinson cites the lump sum money as one reason she couldn’t support this year’s budget. “I greatly appreciate how hard our employees work,” she writes in an email. “I see the amazing things they do for our citizens everyday. But until we see our revenue stream stabilize, I could not support any type of lump sum payout or raise.”

She also wanted to see the commission take a different track on the mosquito control money.

“I felt that we should take the difference between the mosquito fund and the mosquito budget from the general fund as we have in the past,” Robinson writes. “We did that last year and did not use any reserves to do so. People are still hurting and we are seeing other taxing entities increase their taxing rates. These small increases can make a big difference when put together.”

Robinson’s opposition, of course, didn’t change the outcome of Monday’s meeting. County residents have a second chance to speak out about the budget on Monday, Sept. 24. That hearing will be held in the commission’s Sarasota chamber, at 1660 Ringling Blvd.