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

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- Commissioner Michael Gallen contends promotional materials supporting the half-cent sales tax increase on the June 18 special election ballot are misleading.

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

The nonprofit organization Healthy Manatee PC, which backs adoption of the sales tax increase, is promising "a large portion of the taxes collected will lower property taxes," wrote Gallen, who emphasized he has supported the sales tax increase from the beginning.

But on property tax relief, he wrote: "The board has not formed a consensus to do this."

"If this passes with these promises made, the board will be pressured to either do exactly what is promised or appear like we misled the public," Gallen wrote. "The commissioners are being painted into a corner without any input -- how can we rectify this?"

During the special election, Manatee County voters will decide whether to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for indigent health care when a dedicated fund runs out in 2015. Until now, money generated from the sale of

Manatee Memorial Hospital in 1984 has paid for care for the poor.

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 shifting costs to a broader base.

However, while the first ballot question does mention funding health care for the poor, it does not mention property tax relief.

The political action committee's message is different from what voters hear from the county, contends Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.

"The PAC has a vested interest in what's passed," said Azzara. "We haven't offered guarantees all along ... our messaging has been consistent all along."

Hunzeker intends to make a budget recommendation soon calling for no service reductions or layoffs, modest salary increases for employees, and property tax reductions of up to 26 percent for municipalities and up to 13 percent in unincorporated areas, said Azzara.

The commission will have the option of approving the administration's recommended budget, but "we can't offer that guarantee," he said.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said she is getting complaints from those who thought the commission had already approved property tax relief -- which is not the case, she said.

"We need to clarify that," she said.

A second separate ballot question in the election asks voters if they will approve business property tax exemptions.

If voters approve, 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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