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Business tax repeal divides county commissioners

Mike Moran has led the effort to end the countywide business tax that directly supports the EDC of Sarasota County.
Mike Moran has led the effort to end the countywide business tax that directly supports the EDC of Sarasota County.
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Mike Moran describes his term-long effort to eliminate Sarasota County’s business tax and remove it as a direct funding source for the Economic Development Corp. as an “eight-year journey.”

Calling such a move “misguided,” Ron Cutsinger countered that the reconstituted leadership of the EDC of Sarasota County has remedied the organization’s sins of the past and has met or exceeded expectations of the County Commission to retain the funding that comprises fully 25% — $472,421 — of its annual budget of approximately $1.8 million. 

No matter. Joined by fellow commissioners Neil Rainford and Joe Neunder, on June 4 the board voted 3-2 to repeal the business tax, instructing staff to prepare documents to be considered at their June 19 meeting to authorize a public hearing on such an ordinance.

Cutsinger was joined by Mark Smith as dissenting votes.

That means the tax and funding have yet to be terminated officially, but for Moran, citing his adverse history with EDC board members and executive leadership prior to a wholesale turnover two years ago, it marks a legacy accomplishment as his second and final County Commission term concludes this fall. 

Moran has filed as a candidate for Sarasota County Tax Collector.

“I want to be able to leave this commission knowing I did everything in my power to stop this tax,” Moran said. “If this board or any future board wants to fund the EDC, general funds, not a tax, should be used and should compete every year against the other competing priorities we have in Sarasota County.”

Both Cutsinger and Smith countered that neither have heard from any business that opposes the nominal tax — which averages $22.46 per year — and organizations that represent the business community unanimously support keeping the tax in place.

“As a good Republican I’m against all taxes, but when I see folks being taxed are the ones fighting to be taxed, which is a very unusual situation, and we’re going to take the tax away from the folks who want to pay it and we're going to put it in the general fund to the general public that knows nothing about it, I just think we're misguided here,” Smith said.

The county will still be contributing to the EDC’s budget via capital funding — codified by an interlocal agreement with the county’s municipalities — and tourist development tax revenue, “for a total of $577,378 in taxpayer money,” Moran said, adding that Manatee County funds the Bradenton Area EDC to the tune of $337,000 via its general fund. 

“I'm not sure what Manatee County is doing or how they're doing it, and frankly, that's not my focus,” Cutsinger said. “My focus is Sarasota County and what we're doing, and what I see us doing is moving in the right direction.”

Moran said that in 2016 the EDC board pledged to bring private contributions to its annual budget to 50%. At the June 4 meeting, EDC President and CEO Erin Silk, who is completing her first year in that role, reported a 15% increase over fiscal year 2024 for a total of 41% in private funding.

“I think it's going to be a heavy blanket over the momentum that they've been building,” said Cutsinger, who is the commission’s representative to the EDC board.  “What we've heard clearly, unambiguously and in my personal experience, the business community wholeheartedly supports this and the tax is not something they feel is a burden at all.”

As Moran’s journey ends, another begins for Silk and the EDC. Silk ascended to president and CEO in June 2023, succeeding Lisa Krouse who filled the role on an interim basis since August 2021 as the organizational transition began.

Rainford proposed the county consider a match from the general fund of 50 cents per dollar of private investment in the EDC, capping it at $500,000 for fiscal year 2025. If that were implemented, to be made whole the EDC would have to increase its private funding from $753,000 to just more than $1 million.

Erin Silk is president and CEO of the EDC of Sarasota County.
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In the wake of the commission decision, Silk said it’s too soon to predict the ramifications as its service agreement with the county is restructured. The EDC also serves as the business liaison and industry recruiting arm of the county.

“At this time, there is still a lot to be understood about the various implications and potential other funding opportunities,” Silk told sister publication the Business Observer. “We will know more in the coming months as we continue to work with the county on a potential revised service agreement.

"I'm currently looking at how does it change our scope of work. You might see a new strategic plan coming from us."

With 120 contributors to the EDC’s private funding, Neunder said he’d like to see greater participation from the business community.

“It's going to get very real for you all very quickly,” Neunder said, “in that you need to be out there in the private sector, with the chambers, with the who’s who, with the leaders of our community asking for more privatized buy-in to your organization, which is not a bad thing.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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