Tax rises all around in Sarasota County

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SARASOTA COUNTY - You may have recently received your trim notice in the mail. For the first time in years, many are seeing increases instead of reductions. And many local governments opting for bumps in rates after years of cuts.

"Every day, people should be concerned on how the government is operating on their behalf," says Robert Weissert with the government watchdog Florida Tax Watch. He says they are seeing a trend from local governments in order to keep up with another year of declining property values. "The raising of local revenues by increasing millage rates and other local taxes and fees at the local level is something we have seen throughout the local recession."

In recent years, Sarasota County has not had to raise much. In fact, a small mosquito rate increase this year is the first in a while.

"Since 2008 we have only used budget reserves twice during the recession. We have always budgeted very conservatively," says Commission Chair Christine Robinson. Instead of raising taxes more the county has opted to potentially use $27 million in reserves for just this year.

"What we have really seen is a lot of increases in the fees," says Weissert.

That's the debate in North Port. On top of potentially a nearly 4% millage increase, some residents could be looking at up to more than $90 in additional fire fees. "Let me tell you it is not an insignificant increase, but it's a terrible choice," says North Port Commission Chair Tom Jones.

Venice city leaders say they need to make up for lost property value, too. They're also set to vote on a small millage rate increase while struggling with pension issues.

This week the Sarasota County School Board also approved a millage hike, saying they were forced by the state. More than 50% of local taxes go to the school district. Weissert says school funding is also more than one third of the state budget. "Schools in Florida do take a significant amount of the total we collect as a state."

Most of the local governments have conducted first readings still needing a second approval, says Jones. "Even though they are proposals it is not done until its done. That's why we have the meetings. We have to assess the proposals right up until the last minute."

Sarasota city leaders are not raising taxes, despite proposing an additional $2 million in the budget. Sarasota is the only local municipality which saw property value increases this past year.