Sarasota commissioners: Tax money won't pay for ballpark

07/23/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Several Sarasota County Commissions today said they objected to published reports saying they are being sneaky in possibly using property taxes to pay for a new spring training home for the Boston Red Sox.

In a meeting Tuesday, commissioners agreed that would not use any sales tax for a new park, but Commissioner John Thaxton admitted that the conversation had grown somewhat muddled.

The County Commission rejected one possible site – Twin Lakes Park – as a place to move the Sarasota fairgrounds. The present location of the fairgrounds has been discussed extensively as a possible place for the new park to be built.

Talks on a possible new stadium have accelerated in the past couple months as the Red Sox indicated the team may be interested in leaving Fort Myers when its current contract expires in 2010.

Commissioner Nora Patterson said she wants money previously allocated for the fairgrounds spent on the fairgrounds. She said she wants new sports facilities built for kids, and believes everybody else wants that as well.

Although the commissioners said they would not use any property taxes, there is an estimated $10 million that could be raised from property taxes from new development around a new park, from a TIF, Tax Incremental Financing.

Sarasota County Administrator James Lay said that by the Board’s own rules they can’t push through any type of spending of property tax money without the public’s input.

Commissioner Jon Thaxton said it was important for the board to communicate their intentions.

An economic inpact study paid for by the city and county released last week said having the Red Sox come to Sarasota would bring $22 million more a year to the local economy than the Cincinnati Reds. The estimated cost for a new stadium is $80 million.

Commissioner Paul Mercier said what a new park could bring in terms of redevelopment to the community would determine its true worth.

County Commissioners are now scheduled to take off nearly a month for their August recess, but County Administrator Jim Ley and his staff are expected to continue to work with the Red Sox.

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