A sales tax won renewal in Sarasota County with a massive level of support.
Ultimately, almost 78% of voters supported renewing a penny sales tax in the county for an additional 15 years. The vote renews the tax until 2039. Had the vote failed, the tax would have expired in 2024.
“Tonight’s resounding vote is a testament to the people of Sarasota County who understand the importance of public safety, clean water, pristine beaches and our overall quality of life,” said Max Goodman, the consultant who managed the initiative. “A special thanks to all the stakeholders and community leaders who worked so hard on behalf our region to make sure we continue to live in the greatest County in the state.”
Indeed, of eight counties voting on similar penny sales tax extensions or implementation, Sarasota passed renewal by the highest margin. Voters passed penny tax referenda in Alachua County with 52% support, Osceola County with 58% and Pasco County with 65%. Meanwhile voters defeated sales tax measures in Hillsborough County with 51% opposed, Orange County with 58%, St. Johns County with 63% and Walton County with 69%.
Goodman ran the Common Cents for Sarasota County campaign. The effort formally launched last year with a bipartisan panel of community leaders at its helm. That includes Republican Sheriff Kurt Hoffman, former Democratic Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell, Sarasota County Citizen Tax Oversight Committee Chairman Justin Taylor, Education Foundation of Sarasota County President Jennifer Vigne, Republican former Sarasota County Commissioner Carolyn Mason and former Sarasota County School Board member Gina Taylor.
The campaign notably started selling picturesque Sarasota, with ads showcasing how infrastructure improvements contributed to burgeoning downtowns and made Sarasota a world class tourist destination.
But after Hurricane Ian impacted the community, the focus of the political effort turned toward public safety. With roads battered and police, firefighters and other publican officials helping rebuilt parts of south Sarasota County, the pressing need for infrastructure revenue came into clear focus as a Category 4 storm passed through.
Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman discussed how the tax could pay for the county’s first stand-alone public safety complex.
“We have a dire need for capital improvements at the Sheriff’s Office,” Hoffman said. “Hopefully the penny sales tax will help with that.”
Critics complained the tax in the past has been used to pay for roads in previously undeveloped areas like Lakewood Ranch, but Hoffman said the county needed the tax to deal with the effects of growth regardless. He stressed the county has an oversight committee to stop irresponsible spending and that the tax cannot be used to pay for staff.