By Justin Taylor, Common Cents for Sarasota County Committee Chair
On November 8, 2022, our citizens will have an opportunity to vote to continue a local funding source that has been instrumental in the evolution of our community over the past three decades. The one-cent sales tax—a penny added to each dollar on local purchases of up to $5,000—has funded countless improvements that have contributed significantly to our quality of life and helped made Sarasota County one of the best places to visit, live, and work in the entire United States.
The voter-approved “Penny for Improvements” has been in effect in Sarasota County since 1989. Since then, it has funded projects throughout Sarasota County that have helped keep residents safe, protected their water supplies, built parks and schools, mitigated damage from natural disasters, and much more. Even better, more than 20 percent is paid for by visitors according to a recent independent study.
If you’ve experienced that feeling of safety when seeing local law enforcement or needed the services of your fire department, Penny for Improvements likely contributed. Proceeds from the fund have been used by every one of our cities for public safety equipment including patrol cars and radios. It also funded the construction of several fire departments to ensure adequate protection of our residents and their property.
In North Port, for instance, Penny for Improvements funded the construction of four new fire stations to better serve citizens as the city grew, and it paid for new patrol vehicles for the police department. Similarly, the City of Venice used funds to replace inadequate fire vehicles and rebuild its dated fire station.
On a county level, it paid for traffic control priority systems, which connect traffic control devices and emergency vehicle transmitters. This turns intersection lights green for emergency vehicles, resulting in quicker response times for first responders.
The penny tax has further paid for water quality and environmental projects including the restoration of 25 acres of native habitat on three dredge spoil islands in Roberts Bay and low-impact design stormwater retention at Bayfront Park on Longboat Key. It also allowed renourishment of 3.2 miles of coastline in Venice, and wastewater improvements in North Port to mitigate septic system hazards like over-pumping of aquifers through private wells, which has been linked to red tide.
That was then, and this is now. Why should we vote to continue our penny tax for another 15 years?
Penny for Improvements gives our county a vital funding source that can’t be replaced or supplemented by other revenue streams. Government is not private business, and thus doesn’t allow use of funds from other sources (such as ad valorem taxes or impact fees) for many capital improvements and upgrades. Think of it as our maintenance or emergency fund—like money you would earn and set aside to repair your aging roof, replace your HVAC system, or just modernize your home to maximize your enjoyment of it.
For Sarasota County residents, one of the best things about Penny for Improvements is that over 20 percent of it is provided by our visitors. When tourists dine in our restaurants, sleep in our hotels, and buy merchandise at our stores, they are contributing to our penny tax fund.
What’s more, it is a funding source controlled by voting residents. It must be approved by referendum, and the projects it funds are determined through an extensive process that starts with input from stakeholders in the county and all its municipalities. Prospective projects are reviewed and then ranked based on need and the number of citizens who will benefit, among other things. This process is conducted by a committee of citizens, the Citizen Tax Oversight Committee, who not only help identify projects but also monitor their progress and oversee responsible use of the funds.
We are longtime Sarasota County residents who are supporting continuation of the penny tax because we have seen and experienced the results—from enhanced public safety to better water quality, parks, libraries, road and school building repairs, and community centers. In fact, there are few residents of Sarasota County who haven’t benefited in some way.
As our county continues to evolve and thrive, we believe it is more important than ever to secure this funding source for another 15 years. As our county’s maintenance and improvement fund, Penny for Improvements will help preserve our exceptional community and way of life for years to come.
To learn more, we invite you to visit pennyforimprovements.com