Business Tax Should Be Retained

Guest Correspondence

Graphic courtesy Pixabay.

On June 4 in Venice, the County Commission will be having a discussion on eliminating the business license tax in Sarasota County. The Argus Foundation supports the continuation of the business license tax for a public-private partnership for economic development. 

According to the history as provided by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, the Committee of 100, the business leaders of our community at the time, partnered with the county in the early ’90s to ensure the business license tax went to economic development. This gave birth in 2005 to a great public private partnership which became the EDC of Sarasota County.

The public funding stream to the EDC from the county has remained flat with increases only experienced due to population and business growth.

The business license tax is an important dedicated economic development funding stream as requested by the business community that should not be done away with or absorbed into the general fund. A public-private partnership, which has been encouraged by the legislature, is the most effective and efficient way of administering these funds for a better return. 

I served on the Sarasota County Commission during the economic downturn, I took office when unemployment was 12.2% and workers were moving away for opportunity elsewhere as businesses were folding and our tax base dropped. Our main objective in the downturn was to preserve health, safety, and welfare before anything else. We worked hard to make sure we kept our deputies, firefighters, and county mental health funding stable. Economic Development does not fall within this label and would have been cut if it did not have a dedicated funding stream and was within the general fund. It would have been cut, even though an economic downturn is when you need economic development the most. 

Today, we are beginning to show falling economic numbers in tourist development tax collections and real estate numbers. This is not the time to eliminate this funding stream as we will need it if these trends continue.  

While the economic downturn was occurring, an economic development department existed within the county government. It was a huge failure. They had no initiative, they simply were contract monitors for the EDC, what is now Visit Sarasota County and the Arts and Cultural Alliance. These two existing agencies are not tasked with business acquisition/retention/growth.

During my six years in office, the county economic development department had no impact on the community other than some government outreach which did not result in any fundamental change in the county processes to make them more business friendly.  In short, we have tried having economic development in the county before, it was a failure. We should not repeat that mistake and create additional bureaucracy that has no idea how business works within county government. 

If the county should redirect their monies from the EDC to focus on a county economic development department, the economic development monies contributed by the private sector, which is over 42% of the EDC funding, and growing, would likely disappear. The business community would not invest in government for economic development-based upon its poor track record.

The Argus Foundation urges the County Commission to retain the business license tax for a public-private partnership in economic development envisioned by business leaders twenty years ago. Unfortunately, this important dedicated funding stream may be needed more sooner than anyone realizes.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

Graphic courtesy Pixabay.

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