30 Jul Jon Cartu Publishes: Growth, transportation and jobs hot issues in Sarasota Coun
Questions from the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County sampled from a smorgasbord of topics, but many related to specific issues facing north and south Sarasota County
SARASOTA — Growth, transportation and the availability jobs in Sarasota County in the coming years dominated a forum Wednesday night among the Republican candidates for two seats up for election to the Sarasota County Commission this year.
Questions from the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County sampled from a smorgasbord of topics, but many related to specific issues facing north and south county.
Take Republican District 1 candidate Mike Hutchinson, a retired software engineer who is running to preserve rural life disappearing from east Sarasota County as development presses farther inland.
“We don’t believe the County Commission is listening to us,” said Hutchinson. “Our problems don’t seem to be getting much air, the changes being made don’t seem to match up with our desires.”
Hutchinson’s opponent, incumbent Commissioner Mike Moran, was invited but did not respond to an invitation. Moran is next scheduled to appear at a Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance meet the candidates forum on Aug 4. Hutchinson is not scheduled to speak.
Hutchinson, a longtime Republican Party precinct captain, cites a litany of concerns for District 1, including what he calls county utility department concessions for developers at the expense of ratepayers.
“”New developments must pay for their roads, they must pay for the infrastructure,” said Hutchinson. “A new development goes in and quite often the roads are going in later.”
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For Englewood financial adviser Ron Cutsinger, restarting the economy and bringing jobs back are the biggest issues facing south county District 5. To accomplish that, the county needs to invest in affordable housing in Englewood, Venice and North Port, he said.
“Businesses are trying to hire employees, but one of the things they have trouble finding is affordable housing,” said Cutsinger.
Despite being Sarasota County’s largest and fastest-growing city, North Port has struggled to attract amenities many of its neighbors take for granted, including a hospital.
That’s the greatest need for North Port, said District 5 candidate Chris Hanks, a North Port city commissioner. Warm Mineral Springs and fire stations in Englewood also need improvement, he said.
All of the candidates said they believe the county should do a better job of completing its grid system, but not everyone agrees on which projects should be prioritized.
Hanks wants to extend Toledo Blade Boulevard from the southeast corner of North Port north four miles to Clark Road. That, he said, would open up an expanse of road systems in south county that would help with emergency evacuations from vehicles fleeing north.
Hutchinson would like to see more north and southbound roads in the northeast county and would like to see trolley services, similar to the one on Siesta Key, expanded.
Budget, economy and jobs
Due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, Sarasota County is anticipating a steep decline in tax revenue. All three candidates appear to support prioritizing capital expenditures and scaling back wherever possible. Hutchinson and Hanks say the county should continue to look for public-private partnerships to reduce costs of providing transportation — something the county began moving toward last year.
Cutsinger said he wants to attract companies that would bring resilient and career building jobs.
Hanks said he would invest in aeroponics and hydroponics agriculture, which he believes would bring both jobs and industry to the county.
Hutchinson said the county should do everything it could to maintain the high quality companies already rooted in the area. For decades, Hutchinson worked for the major government contractor L3, which was based in Sarasota until last year when the company moved to St. Petersburg.
“If they’re here and they’re starting to get a little bit frustrated, we need to keep them here,” Hutchinson said.