Beginning Oct. 1, smoking cigarettes and filtered cigars in Sarasota County parks and on beaches could result in a heavy fine and even jail time.
On Tuesday, the Sarasota County Commission approved by 4-1 vote an ordinance that prohibits smoking on beaches and in parks. Commissioner Mike Moran was the lone dissenting vote, consistent with his prior opposition to the ordinance based on government intrusion into individual behavior. In April, commissioners directed staff to craft an ordinance for consideration.
Beginning Oct. 1, citations for smoking in parks and on beaches could result in fines of up to $500 and imprisonment of up to 60 days.
“I’m happy to see this for the protection for our community and our kids,” said Commissioner Joe Neunder. Then he asked Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Nicole Rissler, "Did I see on one of your first slides there was punishment by imprisonment?”
“That is what is outlined in the ordinance,” she responded. “It’s consistent with some of our other park rules.” The consequences are also consistent with similar ordinances in the cities of Sarasota and Venice.
“Wow! OK, good to know,” Neunder said. "Behave out there.”
With the county ordinance approved, smoking is now banned on all beaches in Sarasota County from Longboat Key to Venice. The city of North Port is still considering a similar measure.
House Bill 105 enabled the smoking bans. The Florida Legislature approved HB 105 and signed it into law in 2022. The bill amended the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, renaming it the Florida Clean Air Act, allowing cities and counties to impose such restrictions with the exception of unfiltered cigars and pipe tobacco use.
The Sarasota City Commission acted quickly to approve a smoking ban in fall 2022. The city had been the first in the state to enact an outdoor smoking ban, which in 2013 was struck down in court. It took nine more years for state legislation to allow bans to be implemented.
With the approval, Rissler said Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff will immediately embark on a public education campaign to inform park visitors and beachgoers of the ordinance.
“There is an extensive marketing and communications plan behind this, which will include social media, Facebook video posts, website announcements, banners and signage at parks and beaches,” she said.
Max millage rate set
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners set the not-to-exceed countywide ad valorem millage rate for fiscal year 2024 at 3.4381, a reduction of .0082 mil from the adopted fiscal 2023 budget.
The rate was unanimously approved with no discussion and no public input.
As the budget process continues through the summer, commissioners may reduce the rate, but it cannot be increased prior to adoption.
“This is due to the decrease of the millage needed to fund the debt service for the voter-approved Legacy Trail extension,” said Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management. “But the combined total of the remaining countywide millages have remained flat.”
|Health & Human Services||0.1661||0.1661||0|
|Debt Service (ESLPP)||0.0915||0.0799||-0.0116|
|Debt Service (Legacy Trail)||0.0551||0.0469||-0.0082|
|Total Countywide Millage Rate||3.4463||3.4381||-0.0082|
The tentative 2024 budget is just less than $1.98 billion. The Property Appraiser’s Office has certified the final taxable value for Sarasota County at $94.2 billion, up from $82.5 billion from fiscal year 2023.
Earlier this month, commissioners received the preliminary budget from County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, which increased spending over the prior year by 36%, much of that due to a requests for 54.42 full-time equivalent positions across several departments. A budget workshop, if needed, is scheduled for Aug. 25, followed by a public hearing on Sept. 11 and a second public hearing and budget adoption on Sept. 26.