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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 22, 2004 16 years ago

Business Leaders Beware

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The Sarasota County Commission is moving rapidly toward adopting new taxing methods to fund affordable housing. Read this memo from the county staff. Your business could end up on the hit list.

Business Leaders Beware

The Sarasota County Commission is moving rapidly toward adopting new taxing methods to fund affordable housing. Read this memo from the county staff. Your business could end up on the hit list.

Housing eToolsi? Or WMDs

By Matt Walsh

Editor

Talk to Sarasota County staff members about the contents of the Oct. 13 memo, titled iProgress Report on Regulations and Incentives to Promote Development of Community Housing,i and they refer to the multitude of possible regulations and iincentivesi in its five pages as itoolsi in a itool boxi o some, all or none of which could be used to address what they perceive to be an affordable housing problem in Sarasota County.

But if youire a business owner, homebuilder, contractor, plumber or any business whose fortunes are tied to the housing industry (arenit we all?), the itoolsi sound more like WMDs.

The memo is excruciating reading. As you wade through it o and we highly recommend you do o you are likely to marvel at how creative local governments around the nation have become at generating laws, schemes and programs to try to fix problems that their earlier-adopted laws, schemes and programs created.

But youire also likely to get a headache or nauseous. Larry Arnold, author of the memo and Sarasota Countyis community development manager, researched all of these schemes and dubbed them iestablished best practices throughout the country.i Itis difficult to understand how these constitute ibest.i

Arnold describes communities that imposed ilinkage feesi (a tax), such as Winter Park near Orlando and Cambridge, Mass. Several communities offer iincentivesi that say, in essence: Build low-cost housing and the government will give you a special relaxation on impact fees, permit fees and other regulations that it imposes on everyone else. Fairfax, Va., has imposed price controls on affordable housing units.

In short, what all of these itoolsi constitute is more of the same o taking blood and money from one group and giving an unearned benefit to another group to engineer social outcomes. While many voters and elected officials think they are solving a housing problem, in reality they are only exacting higher prices on everyone else who does not benefit from the subsidies.

Susan Scott, assistant Sarasota County administrator, who at one time was CEO of First Union Bank in Sarasota, notes that the itoolsi in the Oct. 13 memo are not a fait accompli. Indeed, on Nov. 10, Scott says, the Sarasota County Commission will discuss the concepts in the memo ion how they might work or might not work in our community.i

Adds Scott: iItis going to be a long process. Thereis a lot of community input that has to happen. These are tools that are going to be community-owned tools.i

Or community-owned WMDs.

Whether they end up as tools that fix or weapons that tax and hurt business will hinge, as always, on which special interest groups can make the most noise or most compelling case to the county commissioners.

Mark your calendars for Nov. 10. The future of your businessi fortunes will be at risk if youire not heard.

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