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CHARTER CHANGERS Sarasota City Hall is on First Street in downtown Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF CERTIFICATES OF PARTICIPATION? By Stan Zimmerman City Editor If there is a stumper for the unprepared voter on the long Nov. 6 ballot, it is a city charter proposal to ban use of "certificates of partic- ipation." Certificates of what? A "certificate of participation" is a financial tool that has been used in the past by govern- ment bodies (including the Sarasota County School Board) to avoid holding a bond refer- endum. Under Florida law, when a governing body wants to obligate property tax money to pay off a proposed bond issue, it first must ask the voters, through a referendum, for permission to do so. However, governments sometimes can find it awkward or untimely to seek voter approval. In that case, they can use a certificate of par- ticipation to avoid the bond issue but still receive money from investors. Essentially, a COP is the purchase of government proper- ty or assets by investors who then lease the property back to the government and share the income from the lease among themselves. Let's use the city's construction of a new po- lice station on Adams Lane as an example of how this process works. Voters approved a $50 million bond issue backed by property taxes for the project, but the city could have

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