Manatee administrator Hunzeker: Sales tax hike means property tax cut

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 12, 2013 

MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners Tuesday reviewed budget documents showing steep declines in property taxes should the voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for health care for the poor.

Property tax revenue will drop from $127.2 million to $92.9 million next year, according to documents provided by County Administrator Ed Hunzeker during a budget work session at County Administrative Center.

Conversely, the amount generated by the new sales tax increase would be about $17 million the first year, which would begin Jan. 1, 2014, said Hunzeker, noting voters must first approve during a special election Tuesday, June 18.

The surtax start date would result in less than a full year's revenue; during a full fiscal year, it would generate $23 million, he said.

Revenues from a proposed utility franchise fee would generate $16.3 million, the documents indicated.

Also listed was a $29.4 million transfer of sheriff's patrol costs from municipal residents to those in unincorporated areas.

"If next Tuesday the sales tax doesn't pass, you have the opportunity to talk about whether you still want to do the franchise fee and transfer of the sheriff -- those are still on the table for you to talk about," said Hunzeker.

Commissioner Michael Gallen asked if county officials planned any hiring or other expenditures in connection with a new health care plan to guide use of surtax proceeds.

"Well, that will come about from future discussions," said Hunzeker. "Because at this point in time the budget that I've presented to you proposes to continue to fund what ... we have paid for in fiscal year '12, we're paying for in '13 and I'm proposing to spend the same thing in '14 and '15, without changing -- hopefully waiting for the air to clear, if that's ever possible in Washington, as to what health care might look like, so we knew what our role was.

"But what we're trying also to do -- without spending any money -- is working with the health care community and providers for how to, emphasizing without spending any money, how to get people out of the emergency rooms and into a clinic setting."

"And do we hire folks to do that? We could."

Commissioner Betsy Benac said: "I don't feel comfortable talking about how this health care will be delivered at this time."

Sales tax proceeds would pay $4.4 million annually in matching funds for Medicaid, the federal/state health care insurance program for the poor; and hopefully much of the $5 million in health care expenses for inmates, said Hunzeker.

They would replace much of about $14 million now drawn from property tax revenues used for caring for the indigent, he said, freeing up money for property tax relief.

Hunzeker's plan is designed to spread the cost of health care among a broader swath of payers, including tourists, renters and the poor who use county medical facilities, he has said.

If voters approve, the ballot measure would increase the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent.

Hunzeker emphasized proceeds of the increase would only be spent on health care.

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

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