- December 8, 2021
Sarasota voters approved all six county referendums on Tuesday’s ballot, weighing in on issues ranging from the Legacy Trail extension to the system for electing county commissioners.
An amendment that sought to change County Commission elections succeeded, with 59.9% of voters supporting a shift to single-member districts.
Previously, voters countywide elected all five commissioners. The single-member district system will change elections so that each commissioner is elected solely by voters within their district.
The charter amendment gained ballot access following a campaign from the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. It drew support from the Sarasota County Democratic Party, as well. Kevin Griffith, vice chairman of the local Democratic Party, called the outcome one of the most important results from Tuesday’s election. He expressed optimism the new system would make county commissioners more responsive to constituent concerns.
“That was incredible,” Griffith said. “It’s going to change the future of the county.”
Business and building groups helped finance a campaign against the amendment. The Argus Foundation was a leading donor to that campaign, giving $65,000 to a political committee opposing single-member districts. On Tuesday, Argus Executive Director Christine Robinson expressed concern the change would negatively affect countywide planning, with commissioners primarily looking out for the interests of their district.
“I predict that we will see tax increases over the next five years as we see these districts battle for pork,” Robinson said.
A proposed $65 million bond to fund the extension of the Legacy Trail passed with 70.6% of the vote.
The referendum allows for the connection of the Legacy Trail from its current northern terminus to Fruitville Road in the city of Sarasota, passing near Payne Park. The vote authorizes the county to purchase a six-mile stretch of land for $30.1 million. As of March, the county planned to phase the construction with a possible completion date at the end of 2024.
Voters approved two proposals related to the County Commission’s 2016 decision to vacate a segment of Beach Road on Siesta Key. An amendment requiring the county to reacquire and reopen the street to vehicular traffic earned 65% of the vote.
Another amendment prohibiting the sale of county parkland and right-of-way near bodies of water earned 72.6%.
The Reopen Beach Road campaign formed with the goal of reversing the 2016 street vacation. Founder Mike Cosentino has challenged the legality of the commission’s vote, though his attempts to contest the decision in court have proven unsuccessful to date. Although the county secured a public access easement on the road segment, he believed the property should remain in county control and improved — including the restoration of vehicular access.
In August, county officials said the passage of the Beach Road referendums would invite legal challenges, potentially from the county itself.
Two amendments on procedures related to the charter amendment process passed. A proposal to increase the number of signatures required to get an amendment on the ballot drew support from 58% of voters.
An amendment that requires votes on Charter Review Board proposals to be held during general elections, rather than any countywide election, had the endorsement of 62% of voters.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.