Voters were asked yesterday to decide whether Sarasota County Commissioners should be elected by the residents of their district or by the county as a whole. The special election results revealed just over 57 percent of voters want to keep the current system in place and are not in favor of repealing single-member district voting.
The outcome is reminiscent of the last time the vote was cast. In 2018, nearly 60 percent of voters supported a single-member district system for Sarasota County Commission races. Yet county commissioners voted unanimously on Dec. 7 to see if the public might want to change their minds.
With single-member district voting, voters from each of the five commission districts elect a single representative to the Sarasota County Commission. If that changed, voters countywide would be allowed to participate in all five commissioner elections—so North Port residents would have a say in what happens on Siesta Key, for example. Further, a commissioner who doesn’t have much support in their district, but has support in other districts, might still get enough votes to get elected.
Proponents of maintaining the current system say that limiting county elections to the residents of a single district maintains accountability for representatives to respond to them and their specific needs within their specific community. There are also concerns that commissioners who favor developers would have a better chance of being elected.
When county commissioners argued to cast the question to voters, they indicated that single-member districts restricted the electoral power of residents by only allowing them to vote in one race.
Things will also remain the same when it comes to the Sarasota County Schools’ 1 mill ad valorem tax. The question was on the same ballot, and more than 84 percent of voters were in favor of keeping the tax in place. The 1 mill has been in place since 2002. For every $1,000 in-home assessment, there's a $1 tax. For example, on a home valued at $250,000, the tax equates to $250.
Renewing the tax helps pay for teacher salaries, school counselors and arts programs. Sarasota County is one of just two school districts in the state with an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education.