The quality of education, roads, public safety and parks tells a lot about a community. Often these are determining factors for families and businesses to relocate or remain in a community.
If we want Manatee County to continue to prosper, be a special place to raise a family and be a community of choice to start a business, we should expect adequate investment in our public schools and infrastructure.
The Manatee Chamber of Commerce believes the solution to making these investments is through passage of the Manatee County Infrastructure Sales Tax and continuing the Manatee School District Capital Outlay Sales Tax.
Manatee County Government has remained resolute in avoiding property tax increases for more than a decade, and we have one of the lowest tax rates in our region. When our community and nation were reeling from the impacts of the Great Recession, Manatee County was able to continue to provide exceptional service to residents, and at the same time make significant cuts in the size of county government.
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However, now we are at critical point – a crossroad – and it’s time for the county to make significant investments in our public infrastructure.
After years of holding the line on taxes, our community has continued to absorb the impacts of significant increases in visitor and residential population, with the expectation of more to come. Unlike many other local governments, including our surrounding counties, Manatee County does not have a dedicated revenue source to pay for roads, sidewalks, law enforcement equipment, parks and other critical infrastructure.
As a result, the bulk of the revenue to pay for these public resources falls on the backs of property owners. Impact fees can only pay for new growth and cannot be spent to maintain existing roads, reduce traffic congestion or make our roads safer. With passage of the sales tax, more than 70 percent of the estimated $30 million in revenue a year will be directed toward building and improving our roads.
Equally important are the capital needs of our public-school system. In 2002, voters approved a half-cent sales tax for school construction and improvements. During the past 15 years, the school district used these funds to build new schools, rehabilitate existing schools, and successfully complete major renovations and other key capital improvements. The existing sales tax is set to expire in 2017, just as the school district is surging forward on the right path to retain the best teachers and produce the brightest students.
The school district requires this funding source to accommodate growth by building new schools, updating and maintaining existing schools, providing additional safety and security, and improving the learning environment for students with enhanced technology. These capital needs are essential to providing a high-quality education to our community’s children and attracting businesses by providing a ready workforce.
If the voters of Manatee County approve both referendum items, approximately one-third of the sales tax would be paid by visitors. Local residents and homeowners won’t solely be responsible for funding local roads, public safety, parks and schools.
Alternatively, if both sales taxes are not approved, then the county and school district will be forced to consider increasing property taxes to fund these critical public improvements.
The Chamber does not support a tax lightly, but after thorough analysis and careful consideration, we believe that in order to enhance our quality of life and build a strong business environment, we must vote yes on both referendum items on Nov. 8.
For more information, visit: www.mymanatee.org/halfcent.
Robert P. Bartz is the president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at BobB@ManateeChamber.com.