Manatee commissioners reject de-linking proposed sales tax hike with property tax relief

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 21, 2013 

— Complaining that residents are being mislead about a proposed sales tax increase to pay for indigent health care, county commissioners Tuesday attempted motions to clarify what is to be decided in an upcoming referendum.

But all the motions failed.

Commissioner Michael Gallen reiterated his dismay that ads put out by a private group in favor of the sales tax increase seemed to promise property tax relief, when the ballot question only concerns financing health care for the poor.

“I felt like we as a board had an obligation to clear the mud,” Gallen said during Tuesday's regular commission meeting at County Administrative Center.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she was appalled at brochures, television commercials and other materials implying a "yes" vote on the sales tax hike would also mean property tax relief.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has proposed a three-point plan that would include property tax relief, but the county commission has not even formally considered it.

Baugh said she would love to tell her constituents she would help bring down their property taxes, but was "not going to take a chance on being deceitful and dishonest.”

One motion called for officials to "cease-and-desist" discussing tax relief in connection with the sales tax referendum, but it failed.

If voters approve the referendum, slated for June 18, it would raise the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent to pay for health care for the poor.

Attorney Jonathan Fleece, commenting on behalf of the political action committee called Healthy Manatee, which supports passage of the sales surtax, said, "We firmly believe that voters and citizens of Manatee County should receive the property tax relief by the passage of the sales tax hike."

"It will bring in an additional $14 million to reduce property taxes," he said.

The committee is supporting County Administrator Ed Hunzeker and his pending budget, which is slated to be presented next week, Fleece explained.

"Healthy Manatee supports the half-cent sales tax and the anticipated budget from the county administrator that will show significant property tax relief, because we're basically replacing the health care budget with the sales tax revenue.”

Ultimately, it's the commission that has to approve the budget, he added.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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