SARASOTA — It’s been many years since the Sarasota County commissioners faced a crowd of residents angry over proposed property taxes.
On Monday night, as they opened the first of two public hearings on the proposed 2022 budget, that is exactly what they saw from the dais, and despite an apology and explanation from County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, commissioners quickly heard an earful of complaints.
At issue was a bungled communication from the county to residents in the unincorporated areas informing them that the rate to haul away their trash was increasing to $233.75 per home per month.
In addition to the nine people who signed up to speak to commissioners Monday evening about the increase, the county received 1,810 phone calls, 171 letters, and 39 emails, Commission Chairman Alan Maio noted for the record.
After the second speaker on the topic, Lewis interjected with his apology.
Lewis noted he, too, had received the letter and was quick to realize it was a problem.
“Most of the time we hit it out of the park,” he said. “This time we didn’t … . It’s not a new assessment. That’s not what’s happening.”
He went on to explain that at most, the increase was only $1.27 a month for per home. The increase comes as the county continues to modernize its solid waste operation, part of a two-year process.
Waste Management of Florida has a 20-year contract with the county for trash and garbage collection, but that contract is nearing its end, Lewis added.
“As soon as I saw the letter, I knew we could have done it differently,” Lewis said.
He explained to commissioners that part of the miscommunication lay in legal requirements for the public notice.
“I apologize for any confusion,” Lewis said.
That explanation appeared to mollify the apparent anger of the remaining speakers, who were all directed at the conclusion of their remarks to talk with staff from the Solid Waste Division to handle any remaining problems.
As the commission moved to consideration of the various budget amendments before them, Commissioner Christian Ziegler wanted to separate the solid waste assessment from a resolution containing other assessments such as fire rescue.
“I’ll vote to move it forward, but with this specific solid waste, I believe the citizens are frustrated. I’m just frustrated with the process.”
Ziegler dropped the notion after being told it would require an amendment to the resolution.
The one-hour and fifteen minute meeting then proceeded to a conclusion with commissioners unanimously approving a series of resolutions including a millage rate of 3.4561 mills to fund the proposed $1.535 billion budget for 2022.
That rate means a property owner with a home valued at $200,000 after exemptions will see a tax bill of $691.22 to finance the operations of county government and the constitutional officers such as the sheriff.
It does not include property assessments, or property taxes from other government entities like the Sarasota County School Board, or city taxes.
The county’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and the commissioners will hold a second and final public hearing to approve the budget and millage rate on Sept. 29.