Sarasota Downtown Improvement District votes to create special taxing district to fund care for needy

Downtown Sarasota, FL.

During its regular meeting Wednesday, the Downtown Improvement District expressed unanimous support for creating a special taxing district throughout Sarasota County to fund indigent and mental health care issues in Sarasota County. 

City Manager Tom Barwin and Sarasota County Commissioner and former City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo brought chronic homelessness updates to the DID Board on behalf of the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County.  As discussion unfolded over the lack of resources to treat those suffering from mental illness, conversation evolved to  explore the possibility of creating an indigent and mental health care special taxing district.

 State legislation authorizes districts to be created with majority support of countywide voters. 

“I feel gratified that the city, county and the DID are all working together to resolve what’s a huge problem for the city and county,” said Eileen Hampshire, DID Chairwoman.

Untreated mental health issues are tied directly to many chronic homelessness and law enforcement issues within the County. To reduce chronic homelessness, predictable and reliable funding sources must be identified to address the significant gap in mental health services.

 “I think this is a real breakthrough,” said Steve Seidensticker, DID Board member.  “Commissioner Caragiulo came to the meeting with an olive branch. And, I was very impressed with Tom Barwin and Doug Logan’s willingness to explore this opportunity to resolve the issue.”

“Private sector business leaders realize a major challenge for our county can only be addressed by bringing resources to bear on it,” said City Manager Tom Barwin. “Just a small voter approved assessment would result in future savings for the county and increased quality of life for our communities and for those suffering from untreated mental health illnesses.”

A mental health care special taxing district would assess a small tax specifically for indigent and mental health care issues. Preliminary projections estimate that a modest .25 millage levy could raise $11 million annually.

“We appreciate Commissioner Caragiulo being receptive to exploring this important community issue at the request of the DID,” said Barwin.  “Hopefully, this will be an important start to build momentum to place it on the November ballot.  It is not fair or wise to put so much of the burden for untreated mental health cases on the police and corrections officers within the County.  Those suffering as well as the general public will be well served by policy leadership on this vital issue.”

 Comprised of five downtown nonresidential property owners appointed by the city commission, the DID mission is to enhance the ambiance and character of the downtown core.

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