Sarasota wrestles with budget cuts, funding for Reds training camp

07/20/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Sarasota city commissioners yesterday decided to spare about $2-million in potential budget cuts, approving less than half of the property tax cuts mandated by the state Legislature.

That decreases the city's overall budget cuts to $6.8-million. Ten city employees will be laid off under the approved budget; another 29 positions that are vacant or filled by prospective retirees will be eliminated.

The budget also includes reductions in the city's neighborhood grant program at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and cuts in landscape maintenance and other services.

Earlier this week, Sarasota City commissioners voted unanimously to place a $16-million referendum on a ballot this November asking voters to approve a small property tax increase to help fund a new $45-million plan for a spring training facility for the Cincinnati Reds.

The Sarasota County Commission has already approved $17-million dollars from a tourist bed tax for the project. However, the Commission will be voting on a Memorandum of Understanding in late August regarding the project. Four of the five Commissioners must approve the measure or the referendum will not go forward.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said unless changes are made, he will not be supporting it.

County Commissioner Nora Patterson has also expressed doubts about approving the deal.

If two commissioners vote nay, Sarasotans will not get the chance to vote on whether to use taxpayer funds to help build the complex. And that could kill any deal for a refurbished home for the Reds.

Rumors are rife that the Reds would then look at going to Arizona for a new spring training home.

But Commissioner Thaxton says he’s not feeling the heat.

Sarasota County has already finished working on next fiscal year’s budget, and Commissioner Thaxton says the bad news is residents may not see any decrease in their property taxes.

A Quinnipiac Poll released yesterday on the Legislature’s reform plan to provide a supersized home exemption to provide property tax relief currently has 57 percent support; it needs 60 percent plus 1 to become law.

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