Manatee may delay vote on half-cent sales tax increase

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 26, 2013 

— The Manatee County Commission voted Tuesday to consider changing the date from June to August for a referendum on a half-cent sales tax to finance indigent health care.

The vote was 4-3 with Commission Chairman Larry Bustle and Commissioners Betsy Benac, John Chappie and Carol Whitmore in favor and Michael Gallen, Robin DiSabatino and Vanessa Baugh voting against.

The commissioners who support the change said they are concerned that too many voters would be out of town in June.

On March 12, the Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 in favor of a referendum on raising the sales tax by a half-cent to finance community health care.

The split vote then was Bustle, Chappie, Whitmore and Gallen voting in favor; voting against were DiSabatino, Benac and Baugh.

If voters approve, the sales tax rate would go up from 6.5 percent to 7 percent. It would generate an estimated $23 million annually.

Speakers discussed the county health care plan the sales tax would support, which called for prevention and care organized through "patient-centered medical homes" as its key components.

The plan is designed to replace current funds for indigent care, which will be exhausted in 2015, officials have said.

People argued both sides of the question, including the timing of a June election.

At the time, Gallen proposed a special election in the fall, when more of the electorate would be in town. But the motion failed 4-3.

The health care plan emphasizes primary and preventive services, early intervention, health education, case management and coordination of health and social services.

Annual incomes of those eligible for the plan ranged from $22,980 for a single-person household to $79,260 for a family of eight, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator. All participants must be Manatee residents, officials said.

It would be administered by the county administrator's office or its designee, and monitored by an advisory committee, it states.

The sales tax hike is part of a three-pronged effort to lower property tax rates by 13 to 26 percent by shifting costs to a broader base of payers, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has said.

The plan's mission was to assure quality health care treatment and preventive services to medically needy residents "of all ages, who lack other health care coverage, and to develop and implement public health programs and policies that foster a healthy community," it said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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