Manatee County Commission tries to clarify sales surtax confusion

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- Complaining residents are being misled, Manatee County commissioners Tuesday attempted to clarify the issue scheduled to be decided in a June 18 voter referendum.

But every motion to do so failed.

Commissioner Michael Gallen reiterated his dismay that ads put out by the political action committee "Healthy Manatee" indicate the sales tax increase will provide property tax relief, when the ballot question only mentions financing indigent health care.

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

County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she was appalled at the Healthy Manatee brochures, television commercials and other ma

terials implying a "yes" vote on the sales tax hike would also mean ad valorem property tax relief.

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

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

The referendum, if approved, would raise the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent, generating $23 million annually.

A fund that pays for health care for the poor now is expected to be exhausted in 2015.

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

Attorney Jonathan Fleece of Healthy Manatee 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."

The committee supports Hunzeker's pending budget to be presented next week, Fleece said.

"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," he said.

Ultimately, the county commission has to approve the budget, Fleece added.

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

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