MANATEE -- County officials Tuesday suggested reducing property taxes by about $11.1 million, and instituting potential new revenue sources, such as a franchise fee on utilities.
Also suggested was a reduction in garbage rates for residential customers by $2 a month, which would be offset by a new stormwater utility fee of $2 a month.
"It's revenue-neutral, which means that we're going to have to make up for that by shifting revenue sources, some of the people, or some of our revenue sources, to other types of payers," Director of Financial Management Jim Seuffert told the Manatee County Commission during a work session at County Administrative Center.
The county's tax base has declined by one-third over the last few years and other governmental entities, such as Sarasota County, have already diversified their revenue sources, Seuffert explained.
Should the commission decide to adopt an electric utility franchise fee, the millage rate would decline by 0.6677 mills, or about $11.1 million, saving about $100 for the typical residential customer, Seuffert said.
Such a customer would, however, pay about $52 more yearly for his electric bill, he said.
"The shared cost of government is a discussion the community needs to have, and there are some decisions the board needs to make," said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker. The idea, he said, is to spread the cost over a broader base of payers, in order to provide property tax relief.
Through various other methods, it may be possible to accumulate more than 1 mill of property tax relief -- a 17 percent reduction in the millage rate, Hunzeker said.
"This ... program that we're proposing is one that, if everybody pays a little, nobody pays a lot," Hunzeker said.
The stormwater fee would be paid by owners of properties with impervious surfaces that contribute to stormwater runoff, including some now exempt from property taxes, such as the school district and churches, officials said.
Currently, the $3.7 million cost of a minimal stormwater maintenance program is paid from utility system funds, he said.
A fee study would be necessary to set rates for residential and commercial properties, he said.
"We're talking at a conceptual level," right now, Seuffert said, adding it would not be until April that he would be "looking for some sort of a go-ahead."
County commissioners were gathered for a workshop to review a report about a more economical, more holistic approach to future growth called "How Will We Grow?"
Younger people are more environmentally-friendly than past generations, and may not want to buy a suburban home next to a golf course, said John Osborne, a county planning and zoning official.
"It means a very different lifestyle," he said, adding that demographic studies show trends toward more urban living--walking, biking and use of mass transit instead of car travel.
In order to be more competitive, he suggested, the county might want to "take the handcuffs off our regulations, and allow these things to happen."
Studies have shown that if you want to save money and limit urban sprawl, build up, not out, Hunzeker said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites