2018 Sarasota County Charter Amendments

Sarasota County Charter Amendments, November 2018

Process for Citizen Initiated Petitions for Charter Amendments to be Placed on the General Election

Shall Sarasota County Charter Section 7.1 be amended to place citizen-initiated Charter amendments on the next general election ballot upon receiving signatures from 10% of registered voters, provided that signatures are gathered within a set general election cycle timeframe, instead of having an unlimited time to obtain signatures of 5% of registered voters for placement of citizen-initiated amendments on a special election ballot that is held 60 days after certification of the signatures?

Analysis

This is a poorly disguised amendment to remove citizen input into the Sarasota County Charter. Not only does it double the number of signatures required to get a citizen initiative on the ballot, but it reduces the amount of time allowed to get double the signatures. The only arguments in favor of approving this amendment might be that 1) a Charter amendment might gain ballot status after it’s so aged that the issue addressed is moot, or 2) special elections cost money that might otherwise be saved by waiting for a regularly-scheduled election. However, saving money is poor justification for limiting voter input in their governance.

My Vote: NO

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Charter Review Board Charter Amendment Proposals to be Placed on Next General Election Only

Shall Section 7.1 of the Sarasota County Charter be amended to allow Charter amendments proposed by the Charter Review Board to be voted upon only on the next general election, rather than on the next countywide election?

Analysis

Section 7.1 of the Sarasota County Charter was amended in 2002 to allow changes proposed by the Charger Review Board to be voted upon at the next countywide election, instead of within 60 days as in the case of a voter initiative, state law or county ordinance. In practical terms, there would be no cost difference to the county if this amendment is approved, but it would potentially cause the vote to be unnecessarily postponed.

My Vote: NO

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Charter Amendment to Reacquire and Retain Siesta Key Beach Road as Public Right of Way

The County vacated an approximately 373-foot-long portion of Beach Road on Siesta Key in 2016, which had been closed for some time. The vacated portion of Beach Road is accessible by all means, including pedestrian, but not including motorized vehicles. Shall the Charter be amended to require the County to reacquire this portion of Beach Road, and reopen it for vehicular traffic, as well as never vacate it in the future?

Analysis

Erosion over many years caused that part of Beach Road to become impassable for vehicular traffic. Reacquiring and reconstructing that portion of Beach Road for motorized vehicles would require a substantial expenditure of taxpayer dollars that would benefit only a few county residents. Additionally, without a change in erosion patterns, which have been influenced by Siesta Beach renourishment and the Venice Jetties among other things, maintenance in a passable condition for motorized vehicles would be an ongoing expenditure, in likely an ultimately losing battle. If the property owners on that part of Beach Road want a roadway, let them construct it without county taxpayer money.

My Vote: NO

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Charter Amendment to Preserve County-Owned Parks, Preserves, Beach and Water Access and Waterfront Vistas

Presently, the Board of County Commissioners, as provided by general law, has the authority to sell any County-owned property and to vacate roads and rights of way. Shall the Charter be amended to prohibit the County from selling or giving away county-owned parks and preserves, and to prevent the County from vacating any road segments or rights of way abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista?

Analysis

This amendment seeks to remove the power to determine the use or disposition of county-owned property from the elected Board of County Commissioners, which is one if its lawful functions. Further, the beneficiaries of such a preservation of road segments and waterfront vistas would be few, and such preservation would require substantial expenditure of taxpayer money, as in the Beach Road situation. In general, property should be owned by the private sector, not governments; Sarasota County’s ownership of more than half the developable land has contributed to the affordable housing shortage here. If the BOCC is prohibited from selling any of the lands described above, the cost of living in Sarasota County will increase, not in the least because of increased taxes and assessments to maintain lands better disposed of. Is hamstringing the management ability of the BOCC worth the cost to taxpayers?

My Vote: NO

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Sarasota County Charter Amendment to Change County Commission Elections to Single-Member Districts

Shall each member of the Board of the County Commissioners of Sarasota County, Florida be elected by only those voters residing in the same district in which the Commissioner resides, rather than having each member of the Board of County Commissioners elected by voters County-wide as presently exists in Article II, Section 2.1A of the Sarasota County Charter?

Analysis

This section of the County Charter was amended to provide for countywide elections in 1994 after a Libertarian Party candidate contested the District 2 seat, to limit competition. Under Florida law, a candidate for the Sarasota County BOCC can get on the ballot by either paying the qualifying fee (3% of the annual salary of the position), or by collecting valid petition signatures equal to 1% of the number of registered voters at the last general election in the geographical area that elects the office. By changing from Single-Member Districts to County-wide elections for BOCC, the number of petitions required to get a candidate’s name on the ballot was multiplied by a factor of five (5), essentially eliminating ballot access to any candidate that couldn’t pay the qualifying fee. Contrary to the claim that County Commissioners are more responsive to the entire county if elected county-wide, competition for office creates a more representative BOCC for county voters. More candidates = more representative choices for voters.

My Vote: YES

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County Bond Referendum

Sarasota County General Obligation Bonds for Legacy Trail Extension with Enhanced Safety and Connections

To acquire and improve the Legacy Trail Extension railroad corridor as a safe trail for walking, running, and cycling with enhanced connectivity from North Port through Venice to downtown Sarasota, with additional improvements including safe crossings, overpasses, amenities, and increased accessibility, shall Sarasota County issue General Obligation bonds, not exceeding the maximum lawful interest rates, maturing within 20 years from each issuance, not exceeding $65 million payable from ad valorem taxes restricted to these purposes?

Analysis

There are several problems with this, not the least of which is obligating Sarasota County property owners to pay increased ad valorem taxes in the future. Expanding the Legacy Trail sounds appealing, but the unasked question is whether county property-tax payers are the appropriate funding source, or whether a joint venture between an NGO like Friends of the Legacy Trail (FLT) that helped fund the feasibility study would be more appropriate. As far as I know, results of both phases of the feasibility study have not been released, which mean approval of this bond issue would be premature. It then goes without saying that without knowing specifics of the studied improvements makes the $65 million authorization sought by this referendum effectively a blank check. If you let government have more of your money, it will inevitably spend more than you allowed. More details from both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the feasibility study – if completed – costs of specific improvements and contingency plans for the inevitable cost overruns would make this referendum more taxpayer-friendly, and might be worth voting for, but not as it’s now proposed.

My Vote: NO

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