$517.8M Manatee County budget relies on tax vote

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 31, 2013 

MANATEE -- A proposed $517.8 million Manatee County budget includes generous property tax cuts, but voters first must approve a sales tax increase during the June 18 special election, officials said Thursday.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker formally recommended the 2014 budget plan he has discussed publicly since January during a Manatee County Commission work session.

It includes 4 percent more for employee pay, and money for sheriff's office employee salaries, but Sheriff Brad Steube said after the meeting he would still need help to improve staffing levels.

Property taxes for municipal residents with a homestead exemption and property valued at $150,000 would drop from $945 to $707; residents of unincorporated areas would see a drop from $1,037 to $905, according to county documents.

Saying the economy is slowly recovering from a deep recession, Hunzeker said the budget also depends on an estimated 3 percent growth in property values, based on preliminary information from the county property appraiser's office.

"My goals ... are to significantly reduce property taxes without service reductions or layoffs, restructure revenue sources and enhance compensation for our employees," Hunzeker told the commission.

The budget proposal is $54 million. or 11.6 percent, more than the nearly $464 million budget last year, due in part to more than $24 million in additional capital spending, mostly funded by gas taxes, impact fees, utility funds and tourist development taxes.

Hunzeker said more capital spending would "renew our efforts to step up capital investment, while creating jobs and taking advantage of low reasonable construction costs and interest rates."

The proposal included property tax cuts from 13 percent to 25 percent, largely relying on voters approving a half-cent hike in the sales tax to pay for indigent health care during the special election.

Hunzeker said higher property tax values will mean a slightly lower percentage of savings in property tax relief for municipal residents -- from 26 percent to 25 percent, but remaining at 13 percent for those living in unincorporated areas -- compared with the original "26-13 Plan."

The election will determine whether the county sales tax goes up by a 1/2-cent, generating $23 million to pay for indigent health care.

Hunzeker also plans new electric franchise fees and a restructuring of the cost of sheriff's patrols.

Officials slated the election after concluding money set aside 29 years ago to pay for indigent care would be exhausted in 2015.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino asked what would happen if voters nix the sales tax increase.

"The simplest thing would be to go back to the current millage rate of 6.2993," Hunzeker said.

Under the budget plan, the millage rate for a city owner would drop from 6.2993 to as low as 4.7113; unincorporated area owners would drop from 6.9102 to about 6.0309.

Also included in the budget recommendation:

• A 4 percent increase for employee pay raises, with constitutional officers deciding what workers should be given.

"They're going to get something this year, I'd have to take a look at what was unveiled today, and see which one would best fit our organization," said Ken Burton Jr., Manatee County tax collector, whose office employs 94 full-timers.

• Steube requested $7.548 million more than last year, including $3 million to increase staffing. Steube said it "will get me back up to 2011 staffing levels -- I'll still be three years behind."

Hunzeker recommended $3 million for salary increases and left the staffing request unfunded.

• The budget also includes $26 million in grants and $5 million in local funds for an accelerated beach renourishment project this year.

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

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