Gallen: Ads for Manatee County proposed sales tax increase are misleading

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 20, 2013 

MANATEE -- Commissioner Michael Gallen is contending that promotional materials supporting the 1/2-cent sales tax increase on the June special election ballot are misleading.

"I'm concerned the Healthy Manatee 1/2 penny sales tax campaign is making promises of tax relief," Gallen wrote in a letter to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

The nonprofit organization promoting the adoption of the sales tax increase is promising "that a large portion of the taxes collected will lower property taxes," Gallen wrote.

"The board has not formed a consensus to do this," he added.

The letter went on to note that if voters approve the sales tax hike, the county commission "will be pressured to either do exactly what is promised, or appear like we misled the public."

"The commissioners are being painted into a corner without any input," he wrote. "How can we rectify this?"

In the June 18 special election, Manatee County voters will be asked whether they approve of a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for indigent health care when current funds run out in 2015. Until now, money generated from the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital in 1984 has paid for indigent care.

If the measure passes, the sales tax would go up from 6.5 percent to 7 percent, generating an estimated $23 million annually, officials have said.

Hunzeker has positioned the tax hike as part of a three-pronged effort to lower property tax rates by 13 percent to 26 percent, by shifting costs to a broader base of payers.

While the ballot question does mention funding health care for the poor, however, that question does not mention ad valorem property tax reductions.

Hunzeker was not available immediately for comment Monday.

A separate question on the ballot asks voters if they would approve business property tax exemptions.

If approved at the ballot box, property tax exemptions would be granted for existing companies to expand or for new companies to relocate here, officials have said.

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

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