June 10--VENICE -- The Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved the filing of a lawsuit against Sanborn Studios over unkept promises of job creation.
According to a financial incentive agreement signed in 2010 between Sarasota County and Sanborn Studios, the Lakewood Ranch-based film production company was required to add 117 jobs with an average wage of $72,000 by Sept. 2, 2013 in return for $650,000 in incentive money.
If Sanborn Studios could not create all the positions, it was obligated to reimburse the county $2,992 for each unfulfilled job.
County officials say no jobs have been created since the agreement was inked, and, in turn, Sanborn could owe more than $350,000.
"We believe at this point it would be in the county's interest to proceed to file a lawsuit to enforce terms of the financial incentive agreement," Stephen DeMarsh, county attorney, told the commission.
The board approved the recommendation in a matter of seconds.
In a statement, the company claims it provided evidence to the county last year that it "directly created approximately 200 full-time positions and indirectly created hundreds of others," but did not elaborate.
Sarasota's efforts to reclaim the incentive money are "ethically and morally reprehensible," Ken Sanborn, CEO of Sanborn Studios, said in the statement.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta declined to comment on the suit after the meeting. "It's pending litigation. We don't comment on it," he said.
In 2012, Sarasota County shifted to a pay-for-performance method for doling out incentive money. Instead of granting all the funds up front, the county now gives out money after jobs are created.
Commissioner Nora Patterson also declined to comment on the lawsuit but allowed that the county should have operated on a pay-for-performance basis all along.
"I wish we had started that way, but the economy was poor," she said, adding that the area needed job growth.
The lawsuit will be filed "soon," but an exact date has not been determined, said county spokesman Curt Preisser.
"The county is sending a very clear message to all businesses that Sarasota is a dangerous place to do business," Sanborn's statement read.
"Sanborn Studios will defend itself against the County's imminent lawsuit, and will consider all options to defend itself again (sic) misinformation and malicious behavior directed against the company," the statement says.
Calls to Sanborn and Karinne Behr, the company's president, were not returned.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@sabrinarocco.
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