A minimum-wage requirement that was solely aimed at a proposed Walmart store and was placed in the city’s charter is now on its way to being removed from the charter.
“(It) was devastating to us,” said Barbara Langston, a North Sarasota community leader. “It will continue to stop economic development.”
Langston appeared before the Charter Review Committee Oct. 26 asking members to remove the Alternative Minimum Wage provision in the city’s charter.
The regulation was placed in the charter through a citizen initiative and public referendum in 2007.
Wal-Mart had announced plans to build a new store on the Marion Anderson Brownfield in Newtown. The company was also going to clean up the contamination on the site.
But a national anti-Wal-Mart group opposed the plans and, according to Langston, paid people $2 for signing a petition to place a restriction in the city’s charter.
It required any company employing more than 50 people and receiving more than $100,000 in subsidies or tax abatements per year to pay their workers a minimum wage of $10.70 per hour. Florida’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Walmart, which fit those criteria, abandoned its plans, and Langston said several other businesses that would have considered building on the site were also turned away because of the wage requirement.
“What a Walmart would have done in these economic times,” she said.
Instead, the Brownfield site remains empty, and the city must pay for the cleanup itself. The unemployment rate has risen to more than 20% in North Sarasota, and the community’s one grocery store, Winn-Dixie on North Tamiami Trail, announced that it was closing in July.
The Walmart Supercenter would have provided an alternative.
“It cost us money. It cost us jobs. It cost us development in an area that needs it,” said committee member Shannon Snyder. “Take a look at Osprey and the amount of economic development (Walmart) brought there.”
On Tuesday, the Charter Review Committee voted unanimously to recommend the City Commission remove the Alternative Minimum Wage from the charter.
Said committee member Elmer Berkel: “(The charter) is our constitution. It should be a simple document and not get involved in day-to-day operations.”
Although member Arthur Levin voted to repeal the minimum-wage requirement, he said it was only because he felt it didn’t belong in the charter. Levin was actually in favor of the measure and believes city commissioners should adopt a similar ordinance.
Levin thinks if a business is going to receive a subsidy from the city, it should give something back in return.
The process by which something is added or removed from the charter involves three steps.
First, the Charter Review Committee must approve the change.
It then moves to the City Commission, where commissioners also must approve it.
The final step is a referendum placed before the voters.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].