At a recent dinner party, a savvy businessman told me that 28 billionaires live in Sarasota and Manatee. I was a little skeptical. Forbes’ annual ranking of U.S. billionaires this spring listed 52 in the entire state of Florida. Only one local made the Forbes list: Feld Entertainment’s Kenneth Feld, with $2.4 billion. Still, from what I hear from financial advisers, realtors, retailers, nonprofit execs and private pilots, I suspect a few more members of the 10-figure club are living here.

A story in this issue, “The Jet Set,” shines a light on the increase in private jet traffic in the last two years. It’s a lifestyle I have a hard time relating to but wouldn’t mind trying. Multi-million-dollar jets fly in and out from the Sarasota airport, carrying their privileged passengers to dinner at a Palm Beach restaurant or to New York for a Broadway show. My favorite revelation: One family spent $18,000 to charter a plane for a teenage daughter and her friends to fly to a big city to celebrate her birthday with a shopping spree. 

Susan Burns

Image: Lori Sax

Some attribute the bump in wealthy newcomers to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The new law caps the amount of state and local taxes households can deduct from federal taxes at $10,000. Mansion Global reported that the average tax filer in Manhattan deducted $25,627 in 2018. In San Francisco, it was $19,334. Those people weren’t happy when they filed their 2019 taxes. Realtor.com found that million-dollar-plus home sales increased more than 20 percent in 2018 in six Florida counties, including Sarasota, as wealthy Northerners head south to avoid taxes. Realtor Drayton Saunders of Michael Saunders & Company says 30 homes of $3 million and up sold in the first three months of this year. Only 38 sold in all of 2018.

But the region’s wealth is not only about private jets and luxurious homes. One of our most precious assets is the beautiful, blue-green waterways that surround and inspire us. And those waters are troubled. Last year’s red tide outbreak was historic—and horrific. At press time, we had been spared another red tide outbreak. Yet we’re still abusing our waterways, dumping hundreds of millions of treated wastewater into local rivers and the Gulf. In May, we had an outbreak of foul-smelling blue-green algae. This summer, three people were infected with a deadly bacteria in the Gulf. One died. During the July 4 holiday, three local beaches were closed because of fecal bacteria. More recently, we’re hearing about an enormous bloom of sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico.

With every rainstorm, runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, dog waste, motor oil and litter flows into the water, creating a perfect petri dish for bacteria and algae blooms to grow. This month, Sarasota County commissioners will decide whether to upgrade our water-treatment facilities, which could cost from $65 million to $100 million. Also this summer, the City Commission will consider replacing pipes and upgrading utilities infrastructure at a cost of almost $300 million, which will double city residents’ water bills. There will be an outcry over the costs of these improvements. Yet both investments are necessary.

Even more important, we need to keep the pressure on Gov. Ron DeSantis, state legislators and local elected officials to protect our Gulf, our bay, our rivers and freshwater springs. As affluent newcomers know well, long-term strategies and sacrifices to preserve wealth ensure a better future for us and our heirs.   

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