JENNIFER COHEN, Democrat
FAMILY: Mother, father, sister and two brothers
EDUCATION: Doctorate of Business, information systems,North Central University, Arizona, 2014; Doctorate of Educational Leadership, Argosy University - 26 credit hours, 2012; Master of Science, information systems management, Hodges University, Fort Myers, 2005; Bachelor of Science, information technology, Hodges University, 2003
FUN FACT: I really enjoy being outside with friends and my recreation activities includes swimming, fishing and boating, cycling.
What is your position on spending tax dollars to subsidize private business?
Subsidizing private business is not out of the question. When private and public sectors develop a win/win relationship, everyone benefits. For example, independent stores, restaurants and boutiques that line the main streets in Venice and Sarasota have made each downtown a “destination” spot. However, in Sarasota specifically, increases in rent have pushed out independent retailers.
Some think that is great, believing that upscale anchor stores can pull in additional retailers and customers. However, if the trend continues Main Street could face two problems. First, if the only retailers that can afford high rent are chain stores, downtown will begin competing with area shopping malls. Secondly, downtowns become ghost towns when the percentage of vacancies outranks the number of retailers and restaurants. In those instances, the commission might consider offering a low-interest loan to small businesses and retailers.
Explain how giving some businesses tax breaks and money in exchange for job creation is morally justified when many longtime, taxpaying Sarasota County businesses have never received any government funding?
I understand the question alludes to the heartbreak many families and individuals have endured when their personal dreams go up in smoke. But, as a county commissioner, I have to begin where we are, right now, 2012. We have lost a lot of business in the downturn; we have to focus on the future and building our economic stability.
What steps would you recommend to improve the economic and business climate in Sarasota County?
Strengthen from within through infill is my recommendation as much as possible where viable. We also need to look at businesses that provide high-wage jobs with good benefits and that will attract young professionals. We have a lot to offer businesses and their employees in Sarasota.
What is your philosophy on the role of the Sarasota County Commission and Sarasota County government?
We must be fair, ethical, transparent, and foster an environment of strong governance and policies. Transparency will make all commissioners and staff accountable to the people. The people of course pay our salaries. We have to get out from the desk and in with the people. Together we will build a strong county!
What is your philosophy on taxation? Are you willing to take the pledge of the Americans for Tax Reform not to increase taxes if you are elected?
If the people have a choice between decreases in county services to lower taxes or an increase in services raising taxes, together with the people we must make the hard decisions. I prefer to never raise taxes, and to accomplish this we must find alternative revenue streams. We also have to look at every service systematically to find redundancy and remove or consolidate.
Sarasota County over the past decade has purchased thousands of acres of land for preservation. Will you support purchasing more land in the future, and if so, why is being Sarasota County’s largest landowner a proper role for county government?
We want to purchase land for preservation but we do not want to be landowners, leasors or developers. Land ownership is important to a county giving us the right to refuse builders and developers. We are not and should never be in the business of selling or leasing land.
What is your view of population growth and its effects on the county’s economy and quality of life?
If the population grows so does the tax base; this will directly impact long-term issues like zoning, concurrency, and maintaining a viable balanced community. People economics is what we must consider; what draws the people to Sarasota. We need to make sure we sell the aspects that satisfy our county for all ages.
Where do you think county government could become more efficient and save tax dollars?
Common sense, bring all of the cities together for the new year and discuss what is needed and what we don’t need. Duplication of services needs to be researched, discussed and consolidated where it makes good sense.
County Administrator Randall Reid recently attributed the purchasing scandal to privatizing. What is your position on the county privatizing services?
I agree with Administrator Reid, but I add that strong governance and employment policies should direct employees away from some of the procurement and purchasing issues we experienced. Ethics training and better controls on financial purchasing credit must be put in place with full transparency to the public. The people pay for our services and we should make sure they are able to see where their dollars are spent at any time. We need a systematic approach with safeguards to avoid any further negative financial issues.
What is your position on renovating Siesta Key beach — borrow millions now while interest rates are low or stay on track to complete the project over several years?
What residents like about Siesta Key is its natural state. The current commissioners chose to remove trash containers on the beach and in parks. On medians and roads the county and city public works are unsure who is responsible for what services. Some areas may be going without services and some duplicated, we should know where our money is going and how it is being spent on service. Yes we know that bonds are available at a very low rate at this time; we need to make sure we exhaust all efforts for raising the funds through new revenue streams before requesting additional bonds.
What is your vision for Sarasota County?
A connected county from north to south, sharing ideas and assets, working together as a team (cities and county) to build the strongest regional activity center in Florida. My vision is utilizing the talent we have in Sarasota County today and training the future generations through educational excellence. We must focus on preservation of our environment and move forward into the technological age providing cleaner, more efficient services. We must hold the line on tax increases and create new revenue streams. We must fill our vacancies to produce more tax base. Finally, we must attract corporations paying high wages to our local areas that provide long-term employment with benefits while creating a competitive environment for entrepreneurs.
Top Stories — Sarasota: July
Christie's International Real Estate names the city of Sarasota one of 10 'Jewel Box' enclaves in its report on luxury housing markets in 2013.
Top Stories — East County: July
The outdoor retailer announced plans yesterday for an 80,000-square-foot store as part of a larger mixed-use development at the intersection of I-75 and Fruitville Road.
Top Stories — Longboat Key: July
Mote scientists tagged the 2,300-pound great white shark last August, near Cape Cod, Mass.
Top Stories — Siesta Key: July
Sarasota County deputies arrested a West Palm Beach man who was allegedly caught on tape stealing a woman’s purse from the Beach Club Tuesday morning.
29 PMP Sarasota Winter Residency: Chorus Rehearsal
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30 PMP Sarasota Winter Residency: Chorus Rehearsal