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Commissioners move toward defunding Sarasota County EDC

The local business tax, which helps fund the EDC, is on its way toward repeal.

The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County could lose more than 25% of its funding if the local business tax is repealed.
The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County could lose more than 25% of its funding if the local business tax is repealed.
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Sarasota County commissioners voted 3-2 at a June 4 meeting to start the process of repealing the local business tax that helps fund the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.

Repealing the tax would have an immediate -$472,421 impact on the EDC’s budget for FY 2025, which starts Oct. 1, according to Erin Silk, president and CEO of the EDC. The total annual budget is $1.82 million.

"There are still some unknowns," Silk tells the Business Observer by phone June 5. "I'm currently looking at how does it change our scope of work...You might see a new strategic plan coming from us."

The commissioners voted on the measure at the request of Chair Mike Moran, who has for years been advocating for the repeal of the tax.

“I am not suggesting that the EDC does not exist,” Moran said at the June 4 meeting, held in Venice. “My motion is to stop taxing our local businesses."

Moran said in 2016 the EDC presented a plan to have 50% private funding by 2020, but four years later, it had not come to fruition. With “healthy pressure from this board,” Moran said, “that will happen.”

The commissioners directed staff to bring forward at their June 19 meeting any documents necessary to authorize a public hearing for an ordinance terminating the Sarasota County local business tax.

“At this time, there is still a lot to be understood about the various implications and potential other funding opportunities,” Silk said by email after the June 4 vote. “We will know more in the coming months as we continue to work with the county on a potential revised service agreement.”

Commissioner Neil Rainford proposed a schedule of matching contributions that would help the EDC from July through September, before the new agreement takes effect Oct. 1.

The local business tax makes up more than 25% of the EDC’s budget.

In 2024, the average amount a business was taxed was $22.46, according to the EDC, on whose behalf a number of business owners as well as city of North Port officials testified during the public comment period. 

There was also opposition from within the commission. 

Repealing the local business tax was "misguided," said Commissioner Mark Smith, for one, who, along with Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, voted against the measure. (Rainford, Moran and Commissioner Joe Neunder supported it.) 

“I haven’t heard a single business cry out that they didn’t want to pay it," Smith said. "We’re taking the burden off the businesses and we’re putting it into everybody,” since any future money allocated to the EDC would come from the general fund, which is supported by all Sarasota County taxpayers.

“I think this is a mistake,” Cutsinger said. “The business community wholeheartedly supports this, and the tax is not something they think is a burden at all.”

Not all businesses were engaged with the EDC or even aware of its existence, according to Commissioner Rainford, who voted to move forward with the repeal of the local business tax.

“What I would like to see is more than 120 businesses involved in the EDC,” Rainford said.

A public hearing about the proposed repeal of the business tax is scheduled for July 9. After the public hearing, commissioners will vote on the repeal, according to Rob Lewis, director of government relations. 

In the meantime, Neunder recommended the EDC seek buy-in from the private sector.

“It’s going to get very real,” Neunder said of the tax’s proposed repeal.

The EDC's proposed FY 2025 budget includes about $753,000 from private revenue.

“The EDC of Sarasota County is optimistic that the organization will continue onward and upward alongside our incredible community supporters,” Silk says. “Our team is committed to serving our clients and diversifying the economy of Sarasota County.”


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