Meredith W. Nicholson

Meredith W. Nicholson

A story in our Feb. 20 edition cited a study showing that visitors to Sarasota County spent more than $1.8 billion last year and had a total economic impact of more than $3 billion.

That translates to a tax saving of $656 for each household, the study’s author calculated. In other words, to maintain the current level of county services, every household would have to pay an additional $656 in taxes if all the visitor money dried up.

The article generated this Let ‘em Have It call: “I would be happy to pay an extra $656 in property taxes to preserve our beautiful city on the Gulf and discourage tourists. I’ve been a resident for about 20 years, and I’m just really, really tired of everything for business. Let Sarasota have the business; why should we have business here? We want a nice, beautiful village in our little city. Tourists only help business, not residents.”

It’s not an uncommon attitude, but we think it’s a misguided one. Perhaps the caller will reconsider if the information is framed in a broader context.

There have been periods when people did stop coming to Venice. The Great Depression, shortly after the city was incorporated, was one of them. Venice survived it thanks, in large part, to two businesses, the Kentucky Military Institute and the Venice Army Air Base (yes, it’s a business), and the economic boom resulting from World War II.

The city was stagnating again close to 60 years ago when the arrival of another business, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, revived it.

It’s home today to several nationally and internationally known businesses, including Tervis and PGT Custom Windows + Doors.

Local people work for them. Local people buy their products. People elsewhere buy their products and the money comes here. They pay taxes. They support the community — just like hundreds of other Venice-area businesses that made the city the place the caller wanted to live 20 years ago and wants to “preserve” today.

He or she lives in a dwelling built by a business and sold by a business. Shops in businesses. Dines in businesses. Gets gas from a business. Receives medical treatment from a business.

We all do, just as people have since the city was incorporated.

Tourists and snowbirds are key markets for businesses, but mostly for about four months of the year. Their bread and butter is serving residents year-round.

Imagine if businesses were turned away here. Does anyone want to drive to Sarasota or North Port for all their goods and services?

Imagine the property tax revenue from businesses evaporated. Your taxes would go up or there would be widespread service cuts. Either one would have a negative impact on your quality of life.

But that’s only part of the story.

Venice’s share of other taxes would go down too — sales tax, gas tax, the 1-cent sales surtax. The latter tax funded the city’s contribution to the Venice Performing Arts Center. Does anyone wish we didn’t have it?

There would be a negative impact on the city’s utilities fund from serving fewer customers through a system built to serve far more. Sharky’s and Fin’s would get fewer customers, so they’d pay less to the city under their lease.

Imagine driving down West Venice Avenue and seeing empty storefront after empty storefront. Does anyone want to live in that Venice?

Now, consider what it would mean for property values. How high would your property tax bill be if your home were worth 25 or 50 percent less just as the city or county’s need for tax revenue skyrocketed?

We need businesses and businesses need us. The key is to balance what’s good for the public and what’s good for business when there’s some conflict between them.

It’s a tough job and our government officials don’t have a crystal ball, so they don’t always get it right. That’s what elections are for.

Nothing — with the possible exception of a permanent outbreak of red tide — is likely to stop people from coming here. Ignoring that fact would be worse than trying to deal with it.


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