Three out of five Sarasota City Commissioners and city staff still do not get it: The city must keep prioritizing and cutting costs, not raise taxes.
Naturally, city staff paints the picture of a city that has been cut to the bone and needs to increase taxes to avoid damaging cuts. Voting last week to increase property taxes, three city commissioners bought it.
“To cut ourselves any further, we’ll be bleeding all over the place,” said Commissioner Willie Shaw.
But what the city chose to fund with the tax rate hike puts the lie to that sentiment.
The majority of the $800,000 tax increase is going to fund the operations of the Lido Beach pool, some neighborhood parks and the newly opened Robert L. Taylor Complex in North Sarasota, a luxurious community center replete with indoor and outdoor basketball and volleyball courts; a walking trail with fitness stations; exercise rooms; dance studio; art room; computer lab; teen room with a 65-inch high-def TV and Xbox 360; pool, ping-pong and air hockey tables; childcare; a 350-seat multipurpose room with stage featuring a 360-degree projector; swimming pool, state-of-the-art kitchen; amphitheater and playground areas.
Not exactly core services that, if cut, constitute “bleeding all over the place.”
Two points are consistently missed here.
First and foremost, it is morally wrong to force a tax increase on many city residents who are themselves living on the edge of solvency. Vice Mayor Terry Turner seems to be one of the few who understands this moral aspect.
“It’s not fair to citizens to increase the millage to protect government when our citizens are not protected,” he said. “We increase that burden on the taxpayer.”
And, remember, it is not for cops, as the public ploy goes. It is to operate a luxury community center that never should have been built, plus a beachside pool and some parks. To people struggling mightily to make it month to month, cutting a community center and beachside pool hardly constitutes “bleeding all over the place.”
Second, it solves nothing. It delays either more cuts or yet higher tax increases next year. Guaranteed. City staff is building the following year’s budget on rosy assumptions that the economy and real estate will come back strong and still includes another tax increase. That is a train wreck.
This was yet another kick-the-can-down-the-road moment. Next year will be worse because the city is unwilling to right-size government with what residents can afford. The city’s cost foundations remain too high, and the services that the tax increase will pay for prove it.
Commissioners need to start seeing their first constituency as all residents and taxpayers — the most taken-for-granted and overlooked of all city groups — not just city employees. Staff cannot do that. We’d hoped Commissioner Paul Caragiulo would be the swing vote in that direction. His pivotal vote to raise taxes is disappointing.