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Moran’s next target: the Economic Development Corporation

Written by on Thursday, April 25, 2024

A good chunk of the public-private partnership’s funding comes from the local business tax, which the Sarasota County commissioner wants to end.


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Apr. 24, 2024

Host: Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran began his crusade to end – as he calls it – Sarasota Socialism, by targeting social service non-profits for defunding. Next, he picked local cultural institutions. Then, he went after the United Way. Next on his list: The Economic Development Corporation. The Sarasota County business tax has raised about $700,000 a year over the last decade. And that has been key to funding this soon 20-year old public-private partnership and its programs. Now Moran wants to end the tax. Our news team reports.

EDC board meeting for the 2025 strategic plan. Photo: EDC

Johannes Werner: If you own and run a business in Sarasota County — whether that’s a 20,000-square foot department store, a cement manufacturing plant, a fishing charter boat, or a home-based consulting firm — you are probably used to getting your annual local business tax bill in August. The amounts range from 15 bucks a year for a fishing guide to thousands of dollars for a large retailer.

Started in the early 1990s and once known as the occupational license, it morphed into the local business tax in 2005. That year, all Sarasota County municipalities signed an interlocal agreement under which they make per-capita contributions to the Economic Development Corporation. In addition to that, the local business tax funds close to one-third of the EDC’s operations.

At yesterday’s Sarasota County Commission meeting, Chair Mike Moran, who is termed out this year and running for Sarasota Tax Collector, said he wants to end the local business tax. A showdown is set for the June 5 Sarasota County Commission meeting.

Mike Moran: I planned to make a motion here today, but I’m going to push it off. The EDC is going to be presenting to us on June 5, but I want to give as much notice as possible for people to get their head around this. At that meeting of June 5, I will be coming forward with a motion to repeal the local business tax.

Moran

Moran did not explain why he wants the tax to disappear. He did not respond to a request for comment. The closest he came to an explanation at yesterday’s meeting was this:

MM: I feel it would be easier for people to chew glass than talk me into how Sarasota County residents have benefited from this tax. But I can promise you, I’ll do my best to listen on June 5 for that. Over the last eight years that I’ve personally been dealing with this, I’ve dealt with four executive directors of the EDC. I’ve dealt with nine different commissioners. I’ve seen turnover of the EDC board on a number of occasions. I’ve went through two county administrators. I went through two county attorneys. We even had an Office of Business and Economic Development internally here that no longer exists. There’s just lots of history here. That’s no shot at my fellow commissioners. You guys weren’t even here. The institutional knowledge and history of this has been lost, I think.

In the 2024 fiscal year, the EDC received $475,000 in local business tax funding, making up nearly half of the EDC’s public contributions, and 28% of its total budget, according to Kaylea Schule, marketing specialist of the EDC.

EDC representatives declined to be interviewed. But in a statement in response to Moran’s announcement, the Economic Development Council emphasized its role in stimulating the local economy in bad times, and its efforts to diversify economic activity.

As the only countywide organization dedicated to economic diversification, our team plays a vital role in mitigating economic volatility.” The statement goes on to say, “We are enthusiastic about the future of the EDC and resolute in our commitment to fostering a diverse and resilient Sarasota County economy.”

On June 5, at the same county commission meeting Moran will discuss the end of the tax, the EDC is scheduled to present their 2025 Strategic Action Plan and budget.

An end to the business tax may have ripple effects on cities within Sarasota County. It is not clear whether or how a stop to Sarasota County’s tax funding might affect the 2005 interlocal agreement that created and funds the EDC.

Sarasota City Commissioner Erik Arroyo, who sits on the EDC board, told WSLR News that he is “hardly a neutral party in this. I would hate to see their funding declined.”

According to the Sarasota Property Tax Appraiser’s website, municipalities also directly receive a small portion of Sarasota County’s local business tax collections.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.

 

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