SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Over the last several weeks, there’s been public outcry over a new company to the Sarasota County area that was on track to receive up to $825,000 in tax incentives for creating new jobs in the community.
The company on Longboat Key is Rumble. The video platform made the announcement of its new U.S headquarters five month ago.
Some local residents have criticized Rumble for its decision to host content from Russia’s state-run outlet “RT.” The outlet has been banned by other platforms such as Roku amid the war in Ukraine.
“I am so outraged at the thought that there would be Russian state propaganda, emanating out of our beautiful island of Longboat Key,” said resident Anisa Mycak. “Escaping from propaganda and depression and so forth was what my family left Ukraine about in World War II and here I am 70 years later having to fight it again right on Longboat Key of all places. It is like extremely distressing.”
Residents have protested and started petitions against the county’s monetary support in the video platform. Several showed up to speak before commissioners Tuesday afternoon since the item was listed on the agenda after 1 p.m. However, many showed up only to find the chambers empty and the meeting adjourned around noon.
“They threw us for a ringer and they began the discussion in the morning,” said county resident Adrien Lucas. “I managed to make it toward the end of the presentation from the Economic Development Corporation. In one way though, the public has won. Our tax dollars won’t be rewarded to Rumble.”
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, county leaders decided to eliminate the Economic Development Incentive Fund altogether. The program was created 10 years ago, during a time the county was trying to bring new jobs to the area. Commissioners acknowledged, times have changed.
“Now we have people knocking on our door who want to be here and, at this point, the whole incentive fund thing seems to me, from what I have been able to gather from every conversation I have had looking into it, is it is almost a distraction keeping you from being more effective and doing what you really need to be doing as an EDC. I would support ending the EDIF program at this point,” said Commissioner Ron Cutsinger.
“My concern has always been with economic incentives, we are picking winners and losers as the government. I don’t really like that at all,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler added. “The question with these incentives is, do we try to recruit new businesses or do we try to cultivate our existing businesses in town. That is always a battle and that has publicly been the battle as well.”
It’s unclear where the funds will go now. That is to be determined at a later date.
“It was the public outcry that made a difference. This was not something they could defend to taxpayers and in the end, they had to listen,” said Cathy Antunes.
Rumble did not respond to our request for comment following the county’s vote Tuesday.