County Opinion Survey Shows Growth as Top Public Concern
The Sarasota County 2017 Public Opinion Survey will be released Tuesday. It shows a public very concerned about growth and traffic congestion and strongly opposed to a tax hike to be considered by the County Commission on September 11.
For the fourth year in a row, residents cited “population growth/new development” as the top issue facing the County, by far. Taxes came in second, pushing out the 2016 second place issue of “economy/jobs.”
Here’s another finding, in a quote from the Survey’s Executive Summary, on the question of what is the biggest threat to Sarasota County’s economy:
The biggest change from last year’s survey was a sharp increase in mentions of growth-related threats—from 44% to 55%, the biggest increases being traffic congestion (+5%) and environmental deterioration (+4%). The steepest decline was in the percent identifying the lack of industry and jobs as the biggest threat (-4%).
The public’s rating of our “quality of life” declined from 2016, with the percentage saying “excellent” dropping from 59% to 47%, with merely “good” going from 38% to 50%. The Executive Summary did not reveal the votes for “fair” or “poor”, saying they stayed “roughly constant” from 2016.
The percentage of people saying that they trust County officials to do the right thing “almost always” or “most of the time”, while still a majority, dropped from 2016 – a fact not mentioned in the Executive Summary.
The Survey showed that 61% of respondents are opposed to any tax increase by Sarasota County government. This should be a message to County Commissioners as they consider a large new “public service” tax at a public hearing on September 11 at 5:30 pm at the Anderson Center in Venice. The tax would add an estimated $50 a year on average to water, sewer and electricity bills for every home and business in the unincorporated County, plus more for those who pay for gas, amounting to about $11 million a year. The County says it needs the money for public facility projects which are underfunded, because impact fees on developers have been too low. Until all impact fees are raised to the full rate allowed by law (including for transportation, which are only half of the full rate throughout most of the urban area) and the County cuts wasteful spending, the County Commission has no business considering any tax hike, particularly by creating a regressive tax on utilities which will hit the poorest among us the hardest.
And in what the Executive Summary calls the biggest change in public opinion, people rank “development/business” as the subject on which the County spends too much money. Quoting from the Summary:
Closer Look at Where “Over-Spending”: Development/Business Tops List — Over 70% of the respondents pointing to over-spending cite just four general spending categories: “development and business” (33%),“County officials, pay, benefits” (23%), “parks, art, and beautification” (9%), and “low priorities, waste” (6%). Twenty percent of those upset about too much spending did not identify a specific category. The biggest change over the past four years has been the growing proportion of respondents citing development/business as the spending category on which the County spends too much. From 2016 to 2017 alone, the “development/business” citation rate almost doubled (16% to 33%). During that same period, there was an increase in citations of County personnel costs (+4%), but fewer mentions of “parks, art, and beautification” (-11%) or “low priorities/waste” (-6%) as examples of excessive County spending.
Even more than in prior years, this Survey shows that the developer-controlled Sarasota County Commission is out of step with its constituents. Instead of treating growth and development as a concern to be controlled, Commissioners are doing almost everything they can to make it easier for developers, gutting regulations which have stood for decades and now considering doing it in others matters such as traffic studies, densities and the environment.
Two County Commissioners will be up for election next year and the others in 2020.
The public will then have an opportunity to put their opinions into action.