Fresh off the approval of a referendum that extended a school tax, the county is gearing up for another referendum, but this one is designed to reduce taxes.
Sarasota County leaders met this week with officials from the city of Sarasota and two of its other municipalities to discuss the Aug. 24 vote.
The referendum would provide new and existing businesses up to a 100% exemption from property taxes and taxes on personal property.
“The county’s focus has been the creation of jobs, jobs and more jobs,” said Jeff Seward, the county’s chief financial planning officer.
Businesses hoping to benefit from the tax break will have to meet strict requirements.
A business will have to employ 25 or more people, and at least half of its product must be exported outside of the county.
If a company meets those two requirements, it will then be scored on the number of jobs it creates; the average wage of those jobs; the company’s capital investment in the county; its innovation, which mainly deals with being environmentally friendly; and its commitment to using local resources — employment pool, subcontractors, etc.
Depending on its score in those categories, a company may qualify for a 100% exemption, no exemption at all or somewhere in between.
Existing businesses that contracted during the recession and laid off workers would be eligible for the tax break if they begin hiring again and expand their facilities.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner asked if the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County had a specific strategy to attract businesses to the area if the referendum passes.
“We are just concentrating on getting this passed,” said Kathy Baylis, EDC president and CEO. “We will have a strategy on how we market it, but we’re just trying to get that tool in our tool kit.”
The government bodies received praise for considering the tax abatement.
“I’ve been here 20 years, but this is the first time that I feel comfortable that you are doing things as a government to make us competitive,” said C.J. Fishman, EDC board chairman.
Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation, said he also feels that Sarasota County will be able to compete better for business, but he also had a suggestion for the government leaders.
“I urge you to make government more affordable,” he said. “Look to do things collectively (to save money).”
Because Aug. 24 is also the date of the scheduled primary election, there will be no additional taxpayer cost for this referendum.
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